If we were told, before E3, that a Dragon Ball Z game would be one of the highlights of the show, we wouldn't have believed it, but that's exactly what happened. After the usual big names at the show, Dragon Ball FighterZ turned out to be one of the games with more buzz around it than any other, and it was a very positive buzz at that. The game made a great first impression at E3, and reinforced that position during Gamescom, where we played a newer version. Now we've had the chance to play it again, this time during the recent closed beta tests.
If you're not familiar with Dragon Ball FighterZ, it's a fighting game being developed at Arc System Works, the studio that brought us BlazBlue and Guilty Gear. That's a resume that speaks for itself, and the fighting system should therefore turn out to be good. Following in line with what the studio has put out in the past, Dragon Ball FighterZ works as a 2D fighting game, despite using fantastic 3D graphics. It uses the Unreal Engine 4 to great effect, presenting what is - by far - the best graphics ever in a Dragon Ball game. There are times when the 3D models look like 2D drawings, and if they removed the game interface, it could easily pass as an episode of the anime.
Dragon Ball FighterZ will include solo modes, but the beta was naturally focused on the online aspect. We were able to explore the online hub, or at least part of it, accessing some of the features players will be able to use, allowing interaction with and combat against other players. The overwhelming majority of the features were disabled, but the hub still allowed us to check how the avatar system will work; you can choose which Dragon Ball character will represent you in this online space, from Goku to Vegeta, via Cell and Piccolo. Each character includes a series of gear colors, so they are even more easily distinguishable.
In this hub you will be able to access a news service, where you can gather information about tournaments, updates, and other relevant pieces of intel. In the replay area you will be able to watch some of the best fights from the community, with tools that allow you to see which buttons are being pressed at each moment by the two players. The interaction with players was, however, limited. In short, you can leave simple predetermined messages, accompanied by stamps from the characters.
Having the opportunity to explore the online hub was a nice surprise, even if it was still quite limited in terms of features. The big attraction was naturally the fights, though.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is a three-on-three fighting game, although only one character from each team is present at a time. With the triggers you can call in support from the other two characters, or if you keep pressing the buttons, you will swap characters. When your fighter loses health, it's represented by a yellow bar, but a blue bar is also visible. This bar represents the health that the character can recover if they are swapped out and stay away for a while. This opens up a certain strategic element to the gameplay, and managing the three characters in order to optimise their health will be crucial to winning.
The gameplay itself seems relatively simple, more towards button combinations than large movements with the analog stick. You won't be doing something like "foward, back, foward" or "half-moon + forward" to pull off special moves. Instead, you will have to press buttons together, like weak attack + medium attack at the same time, or strong attack + special attack, for example. Some special moves do require special analog input, but they are very few and simple. We liked the system, which seems to be simple to play, but complex in terms of timing, counter-attacks, and combat reading. Incidentally, Dragon Ball FighterZ is a frantic fighting game with many effects on screen, and will require a good dose of concentration from the player.
A word regarding two very specific elements from Dragon Ball games. First, we can confirm you will be able to "charge" up energy in the very particular DBZ style (standing with an aura). You can do this by pressing two buttons together. As for transformations, like Goku going from Super Saiyan 1 to Super Saiyan 2, you won't be able to do it. Well, not really. Transformations are already set when you choose the character, but they can occur as part of a special move, ending when the move is over (like Goku going SSJ3).
Dragon Ball Z is possibly the most famous Japanese animation series ever, but in terms of video games, it never really reached the same heights. The Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm series has so far taken hold as the best in terms of video game anime adaptations, but Dragon Ball FighterZ shows potential, possibly even threatening the Naruto games, and more importantly, doing right by the Dragon Ball name. Now we need to see how the final roster will look, and what other game modes will feature, including of course the prospect of a story mode.