Dragonball FighterZ (PS4) Review

Throughout its storied history of video game adaptations, Dragon Ball is a franchise that has always had more hits than misses. Handheld offerings like Legacy of Goku and more full-on platform fighters like the Budokai Tenkaichi and Xenoverse games far outweigh the lackluster disappointments in entries like Supersonic Warriors, Sagas and whatever that Kinect thing was. So it comes as little surprise that Dragonball FighterZ sticks to the rule rather than the exception, being both a solid fighting game in its own right and a highly successful adaptation of the source material.

Mechanically, the game hews close to established fighting game standards with a left-vs-right battle system and reliance on combos, power attacks and dodges (so pretty much Tekken with more yellow hair and aliens), as opposed to the full 3D movement used by the recent Xenoverse entries. Your team of three fighters - chosen from a possible unlockable roster of 24 characters, excluding any future DLC - is pitted against an opposing team, and through a variety of punches, kicks, ki blasts, kamehamehas, floating death balls, sword strikes and wrist explosions, your job is to hand them their asses. Making things even more fun is the combo attack mechanic, where other members of your team can sub in for tag-team attacks or switch your character out entirely to freshly kick some butt.

Though the game employs a number of in-depth tutorials to quickly get new players up to speed, where FighterZ excels is its easy-to-learn fighting styles. Each character has a number of button combos which unleash devastating attacks, but unlike the vast majority of other fighting games, those combos are germane to every single character. The need to memorise fiddly individual combos for an oversized roster is eliminated in favour of learning a single set of skills that employ different abilities depending on the character; the same button prompts will unleash a super attack as Goku, Cell or Android 18. This, in turn, changes how those skills can be used; for example, Vegeta's mash-the-square-button combo is a heavy set of punches, while Trunks's is a more strategic combo involving his sword. Given that the game is based on trios of characters battling, players are also discouraged from picking one character and sticking to them, perfecting their fight with only one 'toon. If you can't learn at least three different fight styles, you're in for a whuppin'.

For those with an eye for fidelity, FighterZ is probably the closest you'll ever come to enacting a fight scene straight from the anime. There's a slightly stilted use of graphics for movement and attacking, with characters punching and kicking with jerking motions rather than the more fluid 3D movement employed by past games like the Budokai series. Combined with some painstakingly authentic visual design in characters, locations and attacks, the rapid-fire punches, grand, lightning-fast energy attacks and super-fast instant transmissions make you feel like a character from the show, rather than a fighting game sprite clad in the CGI skin of one. I was wary of this stilted movement at first, but in practice FighterZ makes it all work well on both a stylistic and technical level.

There's further authenticity in the sound design, where every blast, block and battle cry has been faithfully recreated from the series. Both the Japanese and English voice casts are on hand to increase the immersion, delivering their customary power-up grunts while iconic sounds - like Freeza's live-electrical-wire death attack or the ka-chuck of Android 16 removing his hands for a Hell's Flash attack - echo across the battlefield. If there's a check mark against the great sound design, it's the music; near as I can tell, it employs neither the classic music from the original Japanese version of the anime, nor Bruce Falconer's 90's hair metal guitar stylings from the English dub. The game's music gets pretty repetitive, particularly in the main lobby with the same chords played ad infinitum while you select your game mode or customise your team - perhaps it's a tactic to get you playing the game quicker, but you may want to mute the TV if you need a bathroom break, lest the echoes follow you down the hall.

As both a fighting game for genre diehards and another successful video game entry for fans of the series, Dragonball FighterZ immersively emulates its beloved franchise in every way except one: it is, mercifully, without any filler arcs.

- Chris

Dragonball FighterZ is available now for Playstation 4 and Xbox One.

Review copy kindly supplied by Bandai Namco Entertainment.


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