For the thirty or so years since its inception, Dragon Ball fans have had to endure countless less than optimal games based on the beloved Akira Toriyama franchise. From the Famicom era ’til today, there hasn’t been a game that could universally be lauded for being great; sure, some have managed to do justice to the franchise, but great? Hardly.
Dragon Ball Fighter Z seems to be where this streak will end. Developed by Arc System Works, the development studio behind the gorgeous and absolutely maddening Guilty Gear and BlazBlue series, Fighter Z is their answer to a question that any Dragon Ball Z fan worth their salt has probably asked at some point or another: what would a DBZ game be like if it looked and played like the anime? Quite simply, that’s what this felt like during my demo at E3, an extremely tight, competent and absurdly beautiful videogame set in the Dragon Ball Z universe.
Like the anime and manga, Dragon Ball Fighter Z basks on the speed and utter insanity of the fights, but without going overboard in terms of letting players know what’s going on. As with any good fighting game, it feels like there’s a lot of depth to be found, but for a newcomer to the Arc System way of doing fighters, it’s flashy enough to make me look competent when duking it out against Majin Buu. The fights are fast and tend to rely a lot on air combos and blocks, much like the show.
Speaking of Buu, it’s really cool how broad of a stroke the demo had in terms of available characters to pick from. Bandai Namco did not disclose what the final number will be, but the six characters available for the demo already felt pretty varied and faithful to their personalities thanks to the beautifully realized cel-shaded graphics. The aforementioned Buu, Vegeta, Cell, Freeza, Gohan, and of course, Goku round out the cast, each with their own set of strengths and weaknesses that seem to play off well with how the fights progress, three-on-three tag-in tag-out style.
Calling in help during a fight comes in the form of the Z-assist, which can be used at any point during a brawl. Similarly to a Capcom Vs. game, using this can also prove fatal, as it leaves you open for a potential counter by your opponent, damaging and possibly killing off more than one of your team members. Still, if used smartly, it allows for even crazier combos, some of which I got to witness during my time both playing and watching other people go at it over at the Bandai Namco booth. The assist also serves as a recover during air combos. It worked out well during my own bout against another attendee who was probably way more versed in Arc System’s game than me, because as soon as I was able to escape his combo, he got me into another. Pure chaos!
Z-change, on the other hand, does what the name implies, tagging in any of your characters who is still available to take over, meaning that at any point in the bout, you’re able to keep things going if a team member is about to bite the dust. Dust is also put into play when a character reaches a certain point in the fight where they’re allowed to transform mid-fight. I only got to see that in action once during my time watching, but it seemed like it could not be pulled off until a specific point in the fight, and not only did it make the game look even flashier, but it gave whoever transformed the expected boost in strength; the one in particular I got to watch was Goku’s Super Saiyan form’s screen-filling fireball. The presentation also showed some of the other characters transformation, such as Freeza’s golden form from the latest Dragon Ball Z full length movie aptly titled Resurrection F.
There’s still so much to find out about this game in the coming months, such as who else is going to be in the roster, how much of a story mode it’ll have and hopefully how strong of an online presence it’ll have, but so far, it’s one hell of a faithful Dragon Ball Z game. It was a huge surprise seeing it coming out of the Xbox press conference, and all signs point to it being finally a fighter based on that anime that not just fans could care for (and not force themselves to), but also anyone who appreciates a technically competent one. If you can’t tell, I’m excited to see more of this one!
There’s still no solid release date, but Bandai Namco promised it would be sometime at the beginning of 2018, for Xbox One and PlayStation 4. There’s no news on a Switch version, but some of the devs have teased on social media that if there’s enough demand, it could become a reality.