Dragon Ball FighterZ (Switch) Review
I suck at fighting games. I’ve always sucked at fighting games. I dunno what it is — maybe I’m just not dexterous enough, maybe I have terrible situational awareness, or maybe I just suck at games. Whatever it is, I’ve always had a very rocky relationship with the genre. Because of this, games like Smash, or Tekken, or Street Fighter have all failed to grab my attention for more than a couple matches before I give up and never touch it again. However… I am a huge fan of Dragon Ball. It’s been a huge part of my life for the better part of two decades, and I’m always up for a good Dragon Ball game, and, sadly, most of them are fighting games. When I played the Dragon Ball FighterZ beta demo, something happened. For the first time in my life, I was totally enraptured and engaged with a fighting game. So when the opportunity to review the game was offered to me, I said yes, without a single doubt. I’m extremely pleased to say that the full game is just as fun, just as engaging, and just as gorgeous as the demo — though there are some small issues that stand in the way.
I spent most of my time in the story mode, so let’s start there. In Dragon Ball FighterZ, the Earth has been affected by mysterious waves of energy, stripping both heroes and villains of their power, while mysterious evil clones of said heroes and villains run amok. To combat this, Goku and friends enlist the help of a mysterious spirit, who has the ability to enter the bodies of fighters and unlock their abilities. So basically, it’s a Dragon Ball plot, through and through. As your progress through the story, you’ll unlock more characters to fight with, more villains to fight, and get little glimpses of a moderately interesting tale involving the frankly weird Android 21 — the only new character in the game. I feel a little conflicted about Android 21; she’s got an interesting enough storyline, and she’s certainly fun to play as, but she’s a bit, well, gross. There’s no easy way to put this, but the often infant-like personality and the sheer, almost sexual, glee she gets from devouring other characters is nothing short of creepy. Your mileage may vary, but her characterisation rubbed me the wrong way, and as the only new character in the game, I was a little let down.
The progression in FighterZ is a little weird; although it takes time to level up, and the levels of enemies get progressively higher, most enemies don’t seem to use any sort of strategy or abilities, meaning you can brute force your way through even the toughest battles with just a bit of patience. There were times where the enemy I was facing was as much as triple my own level, and yet I still had no issue taking them down. It’s a little disappointing that the difficulty curve is so flat, but in a game so heavily focused on other aspects, it’s forgivable, especially when it looks so damn good.
And it does look incredible. It’s hard to stress just how pretty FighterZ is in just about every moment of gameplay. You’d be forgiven for thinking screenshots of the game are taken straight from the anime, and that’s the clear direction taken here. Despite using 3D models for just about every aspect of the game, it looks like the fluid, action-packed 2D animation you’d see in Dragon Ball Super, so much so that I’m surprised by it every single time I boot up the game. The character animations in particular are incredibly authentic, with an intentionally pulled-back, cinematic frame rate and a heavy use of smear-frames, resulting in what might just be the prettiest game on the Switch to date — especially since it runs at a resolution and frame rate nearly identical to other consoles.
It’s no surprise, then, that with that much attention-to-detail given to the visuals, the mechanics of the game are just as polished and enjoyable. As mentioned in the opening, I’ve never really gotten deep into fighting games, and a large part of that is just how overwhelming their mechanics can be. In some games, there are dozens of characters, each with their own unique move pools, combo sets, and mechanics. Dragon Ball FighterZ is no different in principle — there are a tonne of characters, and all of them have their own move pools and abilities. But where FighterZ differs is in its streamlining of player input. See, even though each character has a markedly different play style and move set, the inputs and combos for activating those moves are consistent across each and every one of them. That means that the combo required to perform Goku’s Kamehameha is the same as the combo required for Krillin’s Destructo Disc, Vegeta’s Galick Gun, and Piccolo’s Special Beam Cannon. What results is a battle system that is both approachable to newcomers like me, and offers enough depth for veterans to the genre. It’s also just incredibly fun, which is probably a bit more important than anything else.
Learning the mechanics in the first place, is another story, however. FighterZ has one of the worst tutorials I’ve ever seen in a game. Accessible from the lobby is practice mode, which contains a series of mission-like tutorials to complete. There are a dozen or so tutorials, but each of them suffers from the same problem: they’re horribly under-explained. Text will pop up on the screen in each tutorial telling you what to do, but it often leaves out exactly how to do it, leading to a lot of confusion when trying to learn even the basics. Perhaps the most egregious example of this is the tutorial that requires you to collect the Dragon Balls and summon Shenron. The text that appears on the screen is just “Collect the One-Star Dragon Ball,” which is laughably vague and not at all helpful. Bringing up the pause menu explains that you can get Dragon Balls based on the number of consecutive hits you land, but no matter how many consecutive hits I landed, I couldn’t seem to earn a Dragon Ball through that method. The other method was to complete a particular combo, which would be fine… if it didn’t require hitting the enemy. I tried this tutorial a dozen times before finally completing it because I kept accidentally defeating the enemy. It was extremely frustrating, and it’s incomprehensible that the game shipped with such a terrible tutorial, and that it wasn’t fixed between the initial release and the Switch release.
The lobby system is a little bit confusing too, but at least it’s easy to wrap your head around it. In a lobby, you can pick from a select set of activities, or just start up a “Ring Match,” in which a ring appears around your character, and other players who step into the ring can join the fight. There’s no explanation for this, but once I explored the options a bit more I came to the conclusion that it’s a pretty clever system. Certainly not anything groundbreaking, but interesting and unique enough to be memorable. Once you’re online and in a match, things are pretty great. I played half a dozen matches with random players, and didn’t see any sort of issues with latency or performance. It was just like the story mode — fluid, exciting, and fun — except I found myself winning a heck of a lot less. It’s worth noting that there’s also local wireless multiplayer, but since I live in rural Tasmania, 90 minutes away from anyone else who might even have a Switch, let alone a copy of the game, I was unable to try it out. Given the polish on the rest of the game though (tutorial excluded), I’m certain it works just fine.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is an incredibly fun fighter for both beginners and veterans. Its utterly gorgeous visuals truly capture the look and feel of the Dragon Ball anime, and its streamlined mechanics make for a remarkable gameplay experience. The tutorial leaves a lot to be desired, and the difficulty curve in the story mode is a bit too flat, but if you can get past that, this is the perfect game for fans of both Dragon Ball and the fighter genre.
+ Absolutely gorgeous visuals
+ Lots of single player content
+ Streamlined inputs
- Android 21 feels a bit gross
- Shockingly bad tutorial
- Lobby system is a bit confusing