Fights don’t last hours and hours, sadly
Last week, I was in attendance at VS Fighting 2017 in Birmingham. Among the many heart-in-mouth brawls on Street Fighter V, Guilty Gear, Injustice 2 and, umm, Puyo Puyo Tetris, I was lucky enough to sit down with a build of ArcSys’ upcoming Dragon Ball FighterZ.
There were a number of units hosting the game, and they were constantly occupied, by a rotating mass of players, for the entire weekend. For many it was an eagerly anticipated opportunity, with some people informing me they had traveled to the show and paid entry just to try DBFZ out.
It is unlikely that they left disappointed, the game is shaping up to be awesome.
The build featured six fighters, Goku, Vegeta, Gohan, Freiza, Cell and Majin Buu, and two stages. Matches are 3v3. The fighters can tag in and out of battle and call for assists, both standard and super (ala Marvel vs. Capcom). Once a character is defeated, a brief cinematic has the next fighters “clash” and the fight is reset, which prevents the new fighter from starting in a potentially disadvantageous position. Once a team of three has been defeated, the match is over.
The first thing that’s instantly striking about the game are its crisp visuals and luscious colours, perfectly capturing the style of the long-running anime series. I can’t do justice to how super-sharp the game looks, it will be astounding in 4K.
The visuals drip passion and authenticity, clearly the team sat and studied hours upon hours of DBZ footage to ensure the fight best captures the chaos of a Dragon Ball battle. Floors crack, buildings shatter and characters are enveloped in coloured flames and auras. Fighters smoulder from their attacks and kick up dust and debris as they dash around the arena. The camera zooms in for exciting cinematics without ever breaking the immersion of the fight.
These effects give fights a feeling of energy, urgency and excitement. The characters are presented as vessels of pure, uncapped power. This also hilariously makes every single character and move feel OP, even though that likely isn’t the case.
The game uses five buttons. Three of these are standard attacks, Light, Medium and Heavy. A fourth is a dedicated “Special” button. This button fires projectiles and can be also used in conjunction with block to deflect any your opponent sends your way. This technique doesn’t require frame-perfection, just mash it the fuck out. This ability can also be used to push back opponents getting too close for comfort.
The fifth button is reserved for interacting with your partners, either to call them in for the MvC-style assist attacks, or to tag your current fighter out of battle, assuming you still have team-mates rested and ready for action.
Pressing a combination of buttons will activate one of numerous universal techniques:
Light and Special charges your Ki Meter, Art of Fighting-style, to a maximum of SEVEN bars. This allows the player to unleash EX specials and insane screen-filling Supers, which have the potential to trigger cinematics of your opponent being nuked clean off the battlefield, and even the planet.
Heavy and Special performs “Super Dash,” a homing attack that sends your fighter careening toward the opponent, wherever on screen they may be. This can be used to follow-up launches, air-dive grounded opponents, or put a exclamation point on a combo string. It is a great move that has both attack and mobility uses. It’s also safe on block!
Light, Medium & Heavy activate “Dragon Rush,” wherein the character dashes forward to land an unblockable auto-combo on the opponent. The game has no throws as standard, and this technique is the replacement. It can be combo’d into, so works as an ender.
A character can also spend meter to “Vanish”; teleporting them right behind the opponent. This technique can be used as a move cancel, a way to cover ground when being zoned, or simply to cross-up your opponent.
Other universal basics include Down & Heavy for your anti-air attack, and Forward & Medium for your overhead, as is standard in many fighting games today. All characters thus far can jump, double-jump, super-jump, dash and air dash.
In terms of gameplay, what I enjoyed the most from DBFZ was the feeling that there were always multiple options available in any given situation. Whether on the attack, on the defensive, in the air, or even mid-combo, I never felt restricted to my next choice of action or that I had to commit to any given plan once it had begun.
Perhaps after leaping over an opponents projectile, you could do Super Dash from the air, land a combo into a launcher, jump after them to continue the combo, then end with an EX move. Or, maybe you could Vanish through the projectile to cross-up the opponent, land a combo, then end it with a Dragon Rush for a close-range knockdown.
The choices aren’t endless, but the fact there are such options, readily adaptable, kept fights fresh and, importantly, rewarded experimentation. It also makes your opponent hard to read, resulting in fast-paced, unpredictable and intense fights, as good Dragon Ball battles should be.
Despite how complicated all these buttons and attacks may sound, the basics of the game can be picked up quickly and easily. Exciting, chaotic and fun fights can be enjoyed by FGC veterans and part-time fight fans. Even Dragon Ball fans who’ve never touched a fighting game will find themselves knocking out their favourite character’s city-splitting fireballs before long.
I can only imagine how the game will feel once the roster is filled out and players get to grips with the game’s core fundamentals. Add to this the recently announced single-player content and any further surprises between now and next year, and ArcSys could have a real winner on their hands.
My only regret with the time I spent with Dragon Ball Fighter Z, genuinely, is that it wasn’t enough, I was left thirsty for more, to experiment with the controls, to see more characters, to get to grips with the potential of seven frikkin’ bars of Ki, to see Majin Buu literally eat his opposition, and to have my eyes and ears continually pounded by the intensity of the aesthetics.
Sure, this might all sound like hyperbole, and you honestly cannot get a true feel for a fighting game until you have sat down with it for hours. But, as it stands right now, this is honestly the most excited I’ve been for an upcoming fighting game in absolute years.
I’m just saiyan’ is all.
Dragon Ball Fighter Z is launching in 2018 on PS4, Xbox One and PC. Beta registrations are tentatively opening tomorrow, August 22.