Republished on Wednesday, 11th January, 2023: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of January 2023's PS Plus line up. The original text follows.
Ever since Dragon Ball FighterZ was revealed, it feels like the hype train has never stopped rolling – and for good reason. A Dragon Ball fighting game crafted by genre specialists Arc System Works, using the same incredible looking Unreal Engine 4 tech as the Guilty Gear Xrd series? It's no wonder fans have been losing their minds over such a promising project.
Dragon Ball has been around for what feels like an eternity. It's an evergreen property that's spawned more video game adaptations than we're prepared to count, but only a small handful of them could be called great fighting games. For what it's worth, we still think PlayStation 2 title Dragon Ball Budokai 3 is the best of the bunch – although the much more recent Dragon Ball XenoVerse games are also very enjoyable.
On paper, Dragon Ball FighterZ has everything it needs to blow its predecessors out of the water. A team-based, three-on-three fighter, it's got the speed, the look, and the fan service to be something truly special. It also aims to walk that fine line between accessibility and depth, offering players of all skill levels a chance to have fun. Much like Gohan, the potential is gigantic.
Fortunately, that potential is realised. Arc System Works has created a brilliantly slick and stylish fighter that's simply a blast to play. Shockingly easy to pick up but agonisingly difficult to put down, Dragon Ball FighterZ takes anime adaptations to the next level, combining fantastic gameplay with a crystal clear passion for the source material.
The game excels in its ability to please both casual players and fighting game veterans. This is something that even the heaviest hitters of the genre can struggle with, but by keeping its button inputs simple and allowing newcomers to run riot with automatic combos, FighterZ is built to please at all levels of play.
Although the game may seem relatively basic on a surface level, there's still more than enough room for the competitive side of things to flourish. As with any fighter, spacing becomes increasingly important at an advanced level, especially since just about every character has access to some form of projectile attack. Mixups are also prevalent, as you can easily get caught out by an opponent who attacks low or throws out a surprise overhead technique.
On top of these traditional genre mechanics, you've got specific strategies to consider. Team composition is something that's worth exploring since certain super attacks chain together a lot better than others, and naturally, there are things like timing your character switches, combo cancelling, and parries to think about. FighterZ doesn't try to match the open-ended combo madness of Guilty Gear, but improvisation and on-the-fly adaptations are still hugely important. "Easy to learn, hard to master" is a cliche, but the phrase rings true here.
Meanwhile, the character roster may not be the biggest – especially when it comes to anime fighters – but each character is well realised, unique, and superbly animated. Forming your ultimate team takes time and practice as you slowly figure out what you like about each combatant, but the process is thoroughly enjoyable just because of how fast and fluid everything is – not to mention how satisfying. Smashing your opponent through a mountain with a heavy attack will never get old, and the title does an impeccable job of replicating the action that Dragon Ball is famous for.
So what is there to do in Dragon Ball FighterZ? Well, it's certainly not lacking in content – even when you're playing offline. The game's story mode takes a fair amount of hours to complete for starters, and it's fully fleshed out with loads of cutscenes that detail its own original narrative. As far as we're concerned, this is pretty much the best original story that we've seen in a Dragon Ball fighting game. It can seem a little convoluted at times, and those unfamiliar with the source material won't have a clue what's going on, but for fans, the whole thing will definitely strike a chord.
Split between moving across a map, fighting bad guys, watching cutscenes, and beating down bosses, the story mode's got a lot of meat on its bones. As you progress, you unlock more characters for your team, and you level them up through finding victory in battle. It's not your usual cinematic story mode and that's a good thing – we've sat through the various arcs of Dragon Ball Z countless times now, and FighterZ does a surprisingly great job of offering something different and ultimately quite addictive.
Elsewhere, arcade mode has you covered when it comes to testing you skills against some tough computer controlled competition. There are three courses to try and hard versions of each course to master. The more convincing your victories, the stronger your next opponents will be, but keep on winning and you'll attain a higher score and subsequent rank. Seeing just how far you can push is good old fashioned fun.
Next up, you've got a versus mode where you can duel a friend or CPU opponents of your choosing. You can also set up 16 player tournaments both online or offline with the artificial intelligence filling any gaps. Last but not least, you've got practice mode, which features a full tutorial and free training as well as combo challenges. When it comes to single player stuff, Dragon Ball FighterZ simply can't be faulted.
Of course, online multiplayer is the other side of the coin, and it's an impressively robust offering. If you're connected to the internet, booting up the game will take you to an online lobby, where you'll be able to see other players running about as little Dragon Ball character avatars. You can send each other stickers (which are basically Dragon Ball-themed emojis), check out statistics, watch replays, spectate, and get into fights. It's a charming system, and one that, in a lot of ways, sets the bar for social interaction in fighting games.
Both casual and ranked matches are available when you want to get down to it, and we've thankfully found the netcode to be very reliable. Arc System Works has a great recent record when it comes to netcode — Guilty Gear Xrd: Rev 2 is rock solid — and Dragon Ball FighterZ appears to continue the trend.
Utterly stunning in motion and effortlessly capturing the essence of Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball FighterZ is a masterful video game adaptation. Its combat system is relentlessly entertaining, fusing anime sensibilities with traditional, competitive fighting game mechanics, and its accessible controls allow anyone to get in on the action. Meanwhile, the online portion of the release is robust, and really sets the bar for social interaction when it comes to fighting games. Dragon Ball FighterZ is pretty much the best anime fighting game ever made.