Whether you like the anime or not, the new Dragon Ball game looks set to be one of the best fighting games of 2018.
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The problem with making a licensed video game is that they often put off as many people as they attract. Star Wars can usually get away with it (although you’ve got to wonder whether EA now regrets the enormous cost of acquiring the rights) but other than that the only console-based tie-ins that usually get made nowadays are for anime. And while things like Gundam and One Piece might be huge in Japan, the UK is the worst market in the Western world for them. But things should be different for Dragon Ball FighterZ.
Despite Britain’s relative disinterest in anime culture, especially compared to America and European countries such as France, games based on Naruto and Dragon Ball are still major hits for Bandai Namco even here. A lot of them are pretty good too, but Dragon Ball FighterZ is the biggest effort in years to make a game which everyone can enjoy, whether they know anything about the franchise or not.
Most of what we know about it comes from playing video games, but while we did recently get to play the story mode for the first time what interests us the most is still the gameplay. There have been plenty of Dragon Ball one-on-one fighters before, but this is something special. It’s being developed by Arc System Works, creators of Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, and it could be the best thing they’ve ever done.
Most of Arc Systems Works’ previous games have been aimed purely at the hardcore fighting game crowd, but Dragon Ball FighterZ is clearly meant to attract a broader range of people. As such it’s a 2D fighter that works very much like Street Fighter, which is not a new idea if you’ve ever played something like Super Dragon Ball Z on the PlayStation 2.
Although to be more specific, the game it seems closest to is Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, since the main multiplayer mode allows you to select three different characters and switch between them at any time. While not in use their health will recover up to a certain point, and they can also be called out for an assist move rather than switching them out permanently.
The basic super moves are all very easy to work out, and you’ll be able to guess most of them without even looking at instructions if you’ve played a Street Fighter-esque fighter in the last few decades. There are also more complex systems, with an equivalent to the Roman Cancel used in most Arc System Works games – which can instantly recover a move – and a homing dash.
The similarities to other licensed Capcom fighters continues with the use of the titular Dragon Balls. You collect them by performing combos, and once you have all seven the dragon Shenron appears to grant a wish, which in the context of the game can be things like increasing your attack power or recovering health.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is clearly a great fighting game. Not really an original one (unless you count the fact that it’s a licensed game that’s actually good) but we had lots of fun with it despite having no emotional attachment to the characters at all.
But while you’ll stay for the gameplay the most obviously impressive thing about the game is the graphics. They may not look like anything special in screenshots, but in motion they look exactly like the anime. Everything from the sometimes stilted animation to the over-the-top impact effects is recreated absolutely perfectly, and you have to actually remind yourself you’re looking at 3D graphics and not 2D animation cells.
The story mode is split into three sections, where you play as the heroes, villains, and clones, and seems to suggest a sizeable amount of content. We were only able to play as the good guys, but even ignoring the story elements we liked little touches such as the tutorial style challenges that pop up while you fight. These work very well at teaching you more complex moves in a useful context, while still making them optional.
But don’t just take our word for it, as Dragon Ball FighterZ is due to have an open beta from January 14th to 15th next year (January 13th if you pre-order). We strongly advise giving it a go, no matter what your level of interest in the franchise, as this could well end up being the best 2D fighting game of 2018.
Formats: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Arc System Works
Release Date: 26th January 2017
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