One of the highlights of Microsoft’s E3 press conference last week was the reveal of an all-new fighting game for the Dragon Ball Z universe. Now, there’s been quite a few DBZ fighting and action games over the years — nearly 150 titles in all. The long-running anime hasn’t always had a stellar reputation for quality, but Dragon Ball FighterZ, as the newest title in the franchise is called, should change that.
In the reveal video, we saw an explosive and disorienting fighting game that has characters teleporting left and right, doling out massive doomsday event-style energy blasts, and throwing punches and kicks at blistering speeds. It was clear from just 30 seconds of gameplay that developer Arc System Works has achieved something special: an art style and flow that made the game feel like the first true video game adaptation of an anime.
After spending some time with a stripped-down version of Dragon Ball FighterZ at E3 earlier this week, I can say that it’s equal parts fun and ridiculous. With its eye-popping art style and commitment to the anime’s over-the-top theatrics, it truly is the closest a fighting game has ever come to capturing the show’s signature look and feel. The game returns the series to a more classic 3v3 format and brings back 2.5D, a term for how the game’s camera and animated sequences manage to reorient itself on the fly for special moves, combos, and character swapping. It’s a style and game engine that Arc System Works perfected with its two prior fighting game series, Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, and it looks like FighterZ will incorporate many of the same art and design elements on a bigger and more ludicrous scale.
This marks a big change from more recent DBZ games that have gone full 3D. Like the popular Naruto games of the last few years, 3D DBZ titles have focused on recreating the anime’s biggest showdowns with dashes of interactivity, rather than actually feature a traditional and competitive fighting game system. Now, with Dragon Ball FighterZ, it’s clear Arc System Works are bringing the series back to the Budokai era, and targeting the Marvel vs. Capcom community with an longer-term eye on e-sports.
“I think it's really easy for people to consume, be an audience for, and spectate," producer Tomomi Hiroki said on a Twitch livestream earlier this week. "We took really good elements in the e-sports space — 2D fighting games obviously are a huge element of e-sports — and Dragon Ball, which is of course a really great platform I think for which 2D fighting game tournaments can be held on. So we tried to merge these two elements that were really a match made for each other."
What makes Dragon Ball FighterZ feel like a welcomed departure for the competitive fighting scene is how accessible it is, especially for a game that looks so complicated. In my hands-on demo, I could choose up to three characters from a six-character pool that included Goku, Gohan, Vegeta, Freeza, Majin Buu, and Perfect Cell. Each have similar move sets, with a couple combo-generating special attacks, two “super” special attacks, and one super special that drains three energy meters and initiates a quick cutscene. In true classic fighting game form, you can rely on your other teammates for assists, which can amplify special attacks and lock your opponent into some pretty devastating combos, or you can swap them in to try and counter a particularly tricky foe.
The game retains some classic DBZ elements, like the ability to perform a stationary power up to raise your power level from zero to as high as seven. Those meters let you perform any number of attacks and moves — teleporting behind your enemy drains one meter, while an Instantaneous Transmission Kamehameha attack from Goku would drain two.
What stood out most to me was how easy the game was to pick up. Most attacks could be pulled off with simple button combos that could be used across characters, with a few minor tweaks to take into account their respective differences in fighting styles and strengths. It’s unclear if this level of ease will translate to the final game, where the character roster is expected to be far larger. But what is evident is that Arc System Works is targeting fighting game newcomers, Marvel vs. Capcom diehards, and old-school DBZ fans in equal measure with what look like the best game the franchise has seen in ages.