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Article originally published on Spout360. Written by Jonathan Toyad
Bandai Namco and Arc System Works’ collaborative effort, Dragon Ball FighterZ, seemed like the answer to the sorely-lacking 3-on-3 fighting game niche. You’ve seen the E3 2017 reveal and you’ve seen the EVO 2017 showcase: all of them exuberate positive vibes from the fighting game community.
During the past weekend, a select few all around the world got their hands with the 3v3 fighter in a closed beta setting. Does it live up to its cel-shaded ki energy-flashing hype? It’s still too soon to tell, but as far as a beta experience goes, it’s more than a sum of its part.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is what happens when the folks behind fighting game esports wunderkind BlazBlue & Guilty Gear Xrd take the core concept of past 2D Dragon Ball titles like the Butouden series and turn it up to 11. And yes, while the flashiness, fireworks, & frenetic movement of the series are preserved, there’s a lot of depth under this Saiyan car hood.
Saiyan Ain’t So
What’s really insane about DBFZ is that it breaks quite a few conventional fighting game rules, though at the same time it still clearly is grounded to its 2D conventions. Think of it as a logical step for a fighting game featuring high-flying teleporting superhumans.
For example, the game seems projectile & fireball-heavy at first, with everyone having their own variations of ki blasts and Kamehamehas. But you have tools like the Z-Dash (a dash that homes and attacks enemies), the Repel command, and the Teleport to bypass & evade those. Heck, you can use these as potential mixup/crossup tools. However, there are counters to these moves and are easily blocked if you’re predictable with their usage.
Grabs are replaced by Dragon Rush, which is a move that launches your opponents into the air for combo opportunities once it connects. You can still tech them if your timing is perfect. Even the controls for the game are laid out in pretty streamlined fashion: you have your Light, Medium, Heavy, and Special attacks, alongside the Assist 1 and Assist 2 button. The rest of the regular techniques and special moves are your usual two-button presses and quarter circle motion shenanigans you’ve used in Capcom’s Versus series.
The key thing here is that mixups and fast reflexes will dictate how each match is won. The commands are more or less streamlined, yet you still need skill in doing the many motion inputs and also keep in mind the timing and recovery of your movesets. In other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same. If you know how to zone and play footsies, you’ll still do fine here, but your tools and applications are much different and the combo follow-ups will get lengthy.
And you also have to remember that you can tag in/call in assists from two other fighters. It’s a 3v3 game, and your senses are going to be overloaded with all the assist attacks and giant energy blast action flooding the match. Need to heal up? Senzu beans from Krillin’s assist. Need a quick pushback move? Future Trunks’ assist can do that.
Prepping For Z-Battle
Speaking of fighters, there are 10 of them ready for playing during the closed beta. Here’s a basic rundown on all of them:
Goku: Japan’s very own Superman archetype. He’s your beginner character to go to when you want to know the ins and outs of DBFZ. The Ryu of the game.
Vegeta: If Goku’s the Ryu, then Vegeta’s the Ken archetype. Same kind of “jack of all trades but a master of some” movesets. Vegeta has a bit more oomph in the projectile department thanks to his multi-hitting ground & air Ki attacks.
Gohan: Short in size, short in reach. But when he gets in, the son of Goku hits really hard and can keep the barrage of crossups and pressure going.
Frieza: The big bad of the earlier Dragon Ball Z storylines. He has a lot of zoning tools, making him a long-range poker who comes in and out for that extra bit of combo damage.
Future Trunks: Thanks to his sword, he’s got decent reach when in the middle of the ring, and he can hop around the screen quite a bit. He’s not quite Goku in terms of “shoto” appeal, but not quite advanced to use like Android 18. His QCF+AB Super comes out really REALLY quick, so you should always find a way to use it to end a combo.
Cell: With a semi-rushdown playstyle coupled with a divekick and a projectile move that moves him forward, Cell is a jack of all trades kinda fighter, but with a slightly taller hitbox. Plus, he has a command throw follow-up that homes in on you unless you jump out of the way at the last possible second. His wakeup game is kinda bad though; I have seen a couple of matches where a Gohan rushdown & pressure just shuts down a Cell player until he tagged out.
Android 18: She has Android 17 coming in as an additional assist. She’s hard to figure out, but she requires a lot more effort to play compared to Goku & Vegeta. But if you can land in some mixups with Android 17, she can punish you really hard for not guessing right.
Android 16: Every fighting game needs a grappler; this ginger-haired fellow fits the bill. Unlike Potemkin and Iron Tager in previous Arc System Works games, he can home into his opponents easily and play catch-up. Of course, his moves have some startup compared to the rest of the cast, so you need to use him patiently and play defensively if you want to capitalize on that hot grappler mega damage.
Piccolo: I didn’t play him that much, but he seems more like a mid-range fighter with his hand grab move and cross-up elbow. He’s gonna be good with the mixups, plus his Hellzone Grenade Super have useful zoning applications. Just don’t use it as a get-off-me move; it dissipates when you get hit.
Krillin: The oddball character. Short in size, has unorthodox moves like his Senzu beans. Didn’t get to play much of him either, but he might be fun; who knows?
What About The Network
There’s not much to say since closed beta connections are hit and miss, as well are subject to change in the final product. You will have your great smooth matches and you will have your laggy slideshow fights. I will say this though:
- The inclusion of the frame rate drop numbers located at the top of the in-game match timer is a great indicator of how precise or mashy you can get with your inputs
- When the server was down during each of the sessions, there’s an automatic prompt where you can play a match using a random team against a dumbed-down AI. This is a nice touch so that I can train with random characters and get familiar with their play styles.
Kame House Blues
Make no mistake: this is going to be the game that sheds off the Dragon Ball Z licensed game stigma; where each game title for the series is all style with little substance. Even its producer said that DBFZ went 2D in the end because it will appeal to the esports crowd.
Having said that, the game has a long way to go to convince the majority of gamers already burned by past anime game licensed fare. It’s not even DBFZ’s fault in that regard; most anime game fares are aimed towards casual audiences and are usually not taken seriously. Or maybe because Arc System Works, a company revered for standout moments like below in esports history, weren’t collaborating with Bandai Namco at the time for something like DBFZ.
At the very least, DBFZ is already bringing in a couple more fan favourites like Tenshinhan and Yamcha, who were announced last weekend alongside a DBFZ exclusive character, the shapely checker-pattern dressed Android 21. We do hope that film exclusive characters like Broly & Jamba, plus Dragon Ball Super faces like Beerus, Whis, & Caulifla end up in the final roster; a fighting game’s only as good as its plethora of playable characters and their varied fighting styles.
Until then, this game seems to know its audience: 15 to 30-year old plus fans of the manga, anime, and licensed goods that creator Akira Toriyama cranks out to keep himself relevant. And also fighting game fans who want a bit more “anime” in their anime fighting games ala BlazBlue and Guilty Gear. The challenge is to keep at it before and after it’s out in the wild.