Fighting games can be something of a mixed bag. Some are flashy; some are gritty; some are mired by bad controls; whereas others are as perfect as can be. When it comes to Dragon Ball FighterZ, a fighting game that was recently released by Bandai Namco, the phrase "controlled chaos" comes to mind and the end result is a game that's well worth playing.
Seemingly inspired by the Marvel vs Capcom style of fighting games in which teams of fighters can switch in and out and provide in-combat assistance, Dragon Ball FighterZ is chock-full of intense action, bright colors, and rapid movement in all directions on a 2D battlefield. While this type of setup can easily spiral out of control, one of FighterZ's biggest strengths is that there is a sense of balance between the chaos and the ability to control it. At first glance, the game seems quite intimidating with characters zipping across the screen, throwing punches and energy blasts. Thankfully, the game is easily approachable with even the most novice of players easily discovering how to "Kami hami ha" in due time.
Controls, surprisingly, are much more simple than the on-screen action would suggest. Basic attacks are mapped to the gamepad buttons in a way that one might expect in this genre, as are special maneuvers. Other, more advanced specials are pulled off through short and simple button combinations. Indeed, even effective combos can be pulled of with just a few well-timed button presses. Even character assists and switches are achieved through easy-to-execute single-button commands. Really, Dragon Ball FighterZ's controls are as difficult as the player chooses to make them. That's not to suggest, however, that the game lacks any sense of depth. For as approachable as the controls are, there is a very high ceiling to the gameplay in terms of character management, timing, team composition, and so on.
For as enticing and satisfying the combat and overall gameplay is in Dragon Ball FighterZ, the story mode falls a bit flat. While that's not unsurprising in the fighting game genre, it is a bit of a let down in a game that has the wealth of source material and background as the Dragon Ball franchise.
The gist of it is that clones of the various Dragon Ball characters have begun to appear and (of course) they need to be stopped. While this does bring a wealth of characters on both sides of the hero/villain scale, as well as a number in-between and the newly-introduced Android 21 character, as a plot device it's just not all that appealing. For Dragon Ball fans, it should be quite the treat to see these various characters (not all of whom are playable), the overall storyline just doesn't grab you the way one would like. And despite travelling around an overworld map that promises quite the adventure, players will find themselves fighting ho-hum enemies and lackluster bosses at one stop after another. It's largely all too easy and quickly becomes boring. Those who do play the story mode all of the way through deserve either a medal or a mental evaluation.
Where the story mode disappoints, the audio and visual presentation nearly surpass expectations. Even playing on a not-too-recently constructed home-built rig, Dragon Ball FighterZ wows as it absolutely nails both the look and sound of the anime. The art style looks like it was ripped right from the show, as does the music and sound effects. While the game's dialogue sequences can be a bit of an unwelcomed break and distraction from the action, most everything in this department is well done to a fault.
Where Dragon Ball FighterZ gets some of the most complex and impressive things right, it does somehow manage to get one of the simplest things wrong. Really, it's not that they got it wrong -- it's just over-engineered. Rather than a cut-and-dry menu system where players can just scroll to the feature or play type they want, Bandai Namco wound up deciding on a lobby. That is, there is literally an area where players will find themselves running around in an avatar through a town-like setting and talking to folks in the town to start story mode, online multiplayer, or absolutely anything else they'd want to do. A traditional menu system might not look nearly as fancy, but it's a much more familiar and straightforward way of doing this sort of thing.
Dragon Ball FighterZ also features a loot box system. Before you get your torches and pitchforks at the ready, please note that the loot boxes can only be purchased with in-game currency. No real money is required. The rewards, however, are underwhelming and pointless and include alternative avatars and lobby chat lines. It's not to say that the game would be better off without the loot boxes, but there really isn't any reason to have them, either.
Despite its few issues, Dragon Ball FighterZ is probably the ultimate fighting game for the long-running franchise. Even those who don't care much for the source material should find some enjoyment and excitement with it.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is rated "T for Teen" by the ESRB, and is available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
Final Score: 8 out of 10
A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of review.