Through the horrendous UI and the awful server, problems stand one of the best-looking fighting games I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s easy to learn hard to master mechanics stand out of the crowd and make what is on the surface an incredibly daunting game quite easy to get into.
Let me start by setting up some context, I’ve never really gotten into DragonBall Z, I’ve watched the odd episode and I’m aware of its significance in the anime community.
But I’m exposed to a lot more DragonBall z memes than I am actual episodes of the show itself. So, I’m approaching this with a very mainstream viewpoint and tackling this more as a fighting game itself rather than as a hardcore DragonBall Z fan. However, for the full review, I’ll be attempting to clue myself up on DragonBall by going back and watching as much as I can possibly wrap my head around.
As far as fighting games go I’m a big Dead or Alive and Mortal Kombat fan, the ridiculous and outrageous storyline of DOA pulls me into every instalment and the grotesque nature of Mortal Kombat just can’t help but thoroughly entertain the psycho within me. But I’m also pretty clued up on Guilty Gear thanks to the many Handheld versions on the PSP and Vita, I’ve always enjoyed them and the insanity they portray but I’ve always been relatively confused as to what the hell is going on most of the time. So when I heard that DragonBall FighterZ was going to be handled by the same team I was intrigued. The core of Guilty Gears combat system was fantastic and it never fails to make you feel like you’re doing something insanely cool even if you don’t have a clue what you’re actually doing. My main issue with Guilty Gear though is exactly what I have just said. Most of the time you don’t have a clue what’s going on, so much is happening at once and mix that with the crazy Japanese theme/UI and it becomes a challenge to figure out what is taking place on screen. Thankfully, for the most part, that’s not an issue in DragonBall FighterZ and what we have here is a significant improvement on the Guilty Gear formula.
The base gameplay revolves around using the 4 face buttons (each of which corresponds to a Light, Medium, Heavy and Special attack) in a variety of combos to defeat the opponent. However, as is the key to any fighting game, the main gameplay comes from not just randomly bashing the buttons to create combos but strategically learning each combo, time when they should be used and when you should block your opponent. Of course, there are all sorts of finishers and Power combos which add to the depth of the game but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. What is interesting is the use of collecting the 7 DragonBalls. Much like the Smash Ball in the Smash Bro’s franchise if you collect all 7 DragonBalls on screen during a fight you trigger an event. This event spawns the infamous dragon Shenron to grant you one of 4 wishes that can range from reviving a teammate to getting regenerating health. It’s a rare and unique event that really changes up the gameplay when its brought into play.
Each fight uses a 3V3 team-based system in which you can switch out characters and combine them to use to special combos. As far as 3V3 combat goes is nothing revolutionary, its much more akin to Marvel Vs Capcom’s glory days than it is anything new, so if you felt like you were missing out on that standard team fighting gameplay in MVC Infinite this should hopefully fill the void. I’ll be able to go more in-depth on how each character plays upon full release but for the short time I managed to get into games I found that most characters played pretty similar. With the odd exception, most characters shared the same move lists meaning that if you can happily main one character it would be pretty easy to pick up and start with a second. However, this is a double-edged sword as it means that there’s little challenge for people who are looking for a more competitive element to the game. This does make me question where it will stand in the Esports community but as it’s early days in the game’s lifecycle I’m sure we’ll see where people take it. If I was to pick out any standout characters at this point it would be Beerus, Android 18 and Adult Gohan mostly because they are relatively different to play as when compared to the rest of roster. I’m hoping that when we get access to the full line-up you’ll be able to notice the differences between a lot of characters but as of right now I’m noticing a lot of similarities. The lack of character variation didn’t really bother me that much what did bother me though was the Hub World.
The Hub world the game uses as a menu is the game’s biggest misstep, it’s an overcomplicated ugly mess of a system that serves no purpose other than to confuse the player. You’re placed on a server that is normally full with around 60 people, all of which are running around and trying to do the same thing you are. If you want to fight online you have to navigate your way to the arena part of the hub and then find the guy you have to talk to to start it. Sounds simple enough, except the guy you have to talk to is the same height as all of the other characters meaning that on average there’s around 20-30 people surrounding him at all times. I spent many an infuriated minute attempting to locate the menu to play the actual game, an annoyance I shouldn’t have to deal with. The graphics for the hub are also something I’m not keen on, while the fights themselves play out like an episode of the anime the hub seems like its some poor phone game or cheap MMO. It’s a very unattractive outer shell for a game as beautiful as DragonBall FighterZ. Not only that it serves no real purpose. You can’t fight anyone in the hub directly, you can only communicate via a series of set greetings and the whole thing just feels like it’s padded out to fill content (With the fact that it’s confusing to navigate only makes things worse). It makes no sense to not just have a regular menu system that utilises the art assets from the actual game, this may seem like an unnecessary criticism but having spent multiple hours in the hub world alone you really start to notice its issues. This game is a daunting experience to come at blind anyway and with a UI system like this, it’s not helping to qualm those feelings at all.
Now while the UI might be horrendous the graphics themselves are breathtakingly gorgeous. The game often looks identical to the latest iteration of the Show DragonBall Z Super and at times even outshines that. The game recreates moments from the anime with seamless transitions, just taking part in an actual online multiplayer fight can feel like you’re watching the show rather than playing a game. This is of course helped by the fact that the game runs at a smooth 60 FPS throughout which only adds to the feeling that you’re watching the show. If nothing else it makes up entirely for the poor UI you have to deal with.
It should be noted as well that throughout the Beta the servers were both unstable and unreliable. When I could get into a game (normally after around half an hour of waiting around) I often experienced disconnections and the odd frame rate drop. It’s a very disheartening experience to be dominating in a fight you’ve waited half an hour to play only to be disconnected at the last moment. Obviously, this is only a beta so there’s a chance this could be all be solved upon full release but if it’s even half as bad as it was here, then I can see this game being unanimously scrutinized for its online play.
As a whole, DragonBall FighterZ is a solid if unstable fighting game. Even as a complete newcomer to DragonBall I found some real enjoyment out of the easy to pick up and play mechanics. Like any fighting game if you come in with little to no experience the game is daunting and its clunky UI and unnecessary Hubworld do nothing to help combat that. But if you’re a fan of DragonBall or are just craving a 3V3 fighting game (Something to fill the Marvel Vs Capcom hole) DragonBall FighterZ surely has something to offer you, whether the game will be as unstable as it was in the beta though well have to wait until release to find out.