‘Dragon Ball FighterZ’ plays like it looks, and it looks awesome

‘Dragon Ball FighterZ’ is the playable Dragon Ball cartoon we’ve always wanted.

Few cartoon franchises lend themselves better to fighting games than Dragon Ball. Akira Toriyama’s manga, and its various animated spin-offs, has grown to be one of the most beloved anime franchises in the world, telling an inter-dimensional tale of super-powered fighters hurling each other through mountains or, in some cases, just yelling and clenching while they jack themselves up to increasingly absurd levels of power.

Many of the series’ narrative arcs revolve around huge fighting tournaments, so it’s not remotely a stretch to port that directly into a classic fighting game. We’ve seen many adaptions over the years, including the Xenoverse franchise, but Bandai Namco’s latest effort, Dragon Ball FighterZ, feels special. We had a chance to play a few rounds on the show floor at E3 recently and chat with producer Tomoko Hiroki via translator.

First, a point of clarification: the game’s title is pronounced “Dragon Ball Fighters,” not “Dragon Ball Fighter Zee.” This was our first question, evoking a chuckle from the translator, who said they’d anticipated people asking that in particular.

Kameha…

Dragon Ball FighterZ’s aesthetic is instantly striking. Every Dragon Ball game has riffed on the anime’s classic look, but many have tried to do so with 3D graphics — and fallen short. FighterZ is different. It manages to replicate the anime with such detail that you’ll immediately assume its a 2D game. It’s not. Look close enough and you’ll see a polygon here or there, but the flaws are very hard to spot.

All of the Saiyan characters (Goku, Vegeta, and Gohan in the demo we played) start out in their enhanced Super-Saiyan form right from the get-go. Basic special attacks have characters hurling crackling balls of energy the size of a car across the screen. The action is relentless and flashy right from the start of the match, evoking the series’ climactic battles.

Capturing the show’s aesthetic was one of the major design goals for the team. “Recently, a lot of games have been going for a very realistic look,” Tomoko Hiroki explained. “But you can probably tell that this has a very high end animation quality that’s quite different from a lot of the AAA titles that are all around us.”

The game’s character roster draws from across the franchise’s extensive history. “We haven’t really chosen characters from specific points [in the series], rather we wanted to make it really broad, so a really broad generation will be able to enjoy the game.” The version we played included Goku, Gohan, Vegeta, Cell, Freeza (in his final form), and Majin Buu (in his portly form). Hiroki would not confirm any other characters, but we expect to see fan favorites like Piccolo, Trunks, and Android 18 (and hopefully some deeper cuts as well, such as Garlic Jr.).

…me…

The game plays much like another flashy, 2D fighting game: Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Hiroki admitted as much, telling us that MvC3 was a major reference for the game’s development.

At the start of a match, players pick three fighters to form their team. Only one is active at a time, but your teammates can be called in to help with special attacks, or swapped out, tag-team style. This adds a strategic consideration of not just choosing a fighter with whom you are fluent, but also assembling a team that will complement each other well. It allows for interesting play and counter-play, such as swapping in your more nimble fighter to counter a powerful but lumbering opponent.

The action is relentless and flashy right from the start of the match, evoking the anime’s climactic battles. 

The control scheme was simple, with the four face buttons mapped to light, medium, heavy, and special attacks. As with MvC3, much of the complexity and tactical depth comes from the interplay of different characters, rather than having overly elaborate move-sets and form-changes for each individual fighter. “We wanted to make a rather simple battle system,” explained Hiroki, “but make it deeper, so that fighting game players will be able to enjoy it.” Making a game that appeals equally to hardcore fighting game fans and casual Dragon Ball fans was a “main goal for this title.”

Hiroki even has her sights set on cultivating serious, competitive play. “We’re strongly considering EVO [the fighting game tournament], and that’s on our mind the whole time we’re developing the game, so we’re hoping to hear a lot of user feedback.”

…HA!!!!

Dragon Ball FighterZ was a standout in Microsoft’s press conference,  mostly thanks to its vibrant visuals. After getting our hands on it for a few rounds, we’re happy to report that the gameplay lives up to the look, capturing the accessibility and tactical depth of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 — one of our favorite fighting games. Dragon Ball FighterZ will come to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in early 2018, with a closed console beta coming later this summer.