I caught bits and pieces of Dragon Ball Z back in Toonami’s old heyday, but I was never all that much into it. Yet even with such minimal exposure, little me still thought about, and badly wanted, the bonkers fighting game that I knew the series had in it. It’s not often that the world fulfills dreams so completely, but it makes me happy to say that it did, in fact, happen this year.
Day 2 of the 12 Days of Anime 2018
It’s not like Dragon Ball Z has not been the subject of video games before. Actually, DBZ has a storied legacy of games under its belt well before this year. That’s especially true of fighting games, in fact, going back as far as the Super Nintendo, and with the Budokai and Budokai Tenkaichi games probably the most well-known series holding this mantle since the PS2 era.
However, from the little that I’ve played and/or seen of many of these games, it seems pretty safe to say that they don’t come quite that close to truly nailing the zany energy and impossible theatrics from the show. All indications are that they have the fan service game down pat—characters and multitudes of transformations galore, for example!—which is rewarding in its own right, but it’s not necessarily the same thing as playing a game that feels the same as witnessing some of the epic shit that goes down in the show.
Which brings us to Dragon Ball FighterZ. Such a comparatively slim-ass roster that somehow ends up being like one-third made up of different Gokus! But it’s got serious mechanical chops driving all of the action, courtesy of an Arc System Works doing an inspired take on Marvel vs. Capcom’s team-vs.-team thing, and finally, we’ve gotten a game that is not only insanely fun (this beats the pants off all those Budokais and Ninja Storms, easily), but comes legitimately close the genuine article! Playing this feels like Dragon Ball Z, down to its very essence.
And for how slim it may be from a quote-unquote “content” perspective, its presentation is still thoroughly steeped in DBZ goodness. ArcSys took those cel shading sprite-like animation tricks they had developed through the Guilty Gear games and turned it into sheer gorgeousness. The soundtrack and wider sound design is friggin’ awesome. I absolutely love that they turned the stupid mile-a-minute fist-and-footfight moments from the show into the game’s throwing technique. The teleportation attacks are as deliciously dramatic as they deserve!
Now, we could spend a long while running down a whole additional list of things that do DBZ proper justice, but really, probably the surest indication that ArcSys utterly nailed it is that it’s one of those rare video games where spectating it is just as fun as playing it, and in a particularly Dragon Ball way at that. My fiancée and I went to an anime con over the summer where Dragon Ball FighterZ was one of the few non-rhythm games in the game room, and we had a total blast just watching people throw down against each other. It was like watching actual DBZ fights go down in real time.
Long story short, I am extremely glad that this game exists. If I could go back in time to contact my kid self, I could actually have the pleasure of informing him that the Dragon Ball Z game he pines for will actually exist one day, and that it really is as wonderful as he imagines. Assuming that he believed me rather than eyeing me with total suspicion, I’m sure that he’d be quite pleased.
Then again, maybe it would still be better to keep him in the dark. Let him witness the majesty firsthand himself.