Arc System Works put far more effort into Dragon Ball FighterZ than it needed to. What makes the game work is that it's a solid fighter with good technical underpinnings. What makes is great are some great character interactions that acknowledge the series' history. While the Story Mode offers its own original Dragon Ball tale, the interactions extend into Dramatic Finishes and pre-match cutscenes. As a long-time fan of the Dragon Ball franchise, FighterZ is full of great moments and callbacks to historic situations.
Dragon Ball FighterZ's Story Mode breaks down into three different arcs that flow into each other. The Red Ribbon Army is up to shenanigans once again, this time using clones of Son Goku and friends for its fiendish plot. At the same time, a mysterious energy wave is affecting all fighters, leaving them susceptible to a human soul taking over their bodies. That human soul is the player, of course.
This is actually one of the oddest parts of Dragon Ball FighterZ Story Mode. It takes the time to not only acknowledge the player, but it also makes them a part of the overall story itself. You are the unnamed soul that takes over every fighter in order to draw out their power. Within the story itself, you link the fighters together to perform team attacks and your specific in-story abilities actually factor into taking down the final boss in one ending. It's an odd, story-long break in the fourth wall and Dragon Ball FighterZ treats the entire thing as if it's completely serious.
The three arcs focus on different sides of the conflict in FighterZ. There's the Super Warriors Arc, focused around Goku and his team. There's the Enemy Warrior arc with Frieza, Cell, and company trying to take down the bad guy. Finally, there's the Android 21 Arc, where the ultimate villain is revealed as Android 21, a lost creation of Dr. Gero fused with the cells of Frieza, Perfect Cell, and Majin Buu. She's the villain that everyone has to take down together.
What follows is a weird tale that flows through all the arcs. You begin the Story Mode as a disembodied spirit that comes to possess Son Goku. Finishing the Super Warrior Arc rewards you with one ending, with Goku, Vegeta, and the rest of the Z Warriors finishing off Android 21 together. At the end, your spirit leaves the team and travels back to the beginning of events to possess Frieza instead. This begins the Enemy Warrior arc, which involves Frieza gathering the bad guys of Dragon Ball Z together into a single army. In the end, the combined might of Goku, Cell, and Frieza is needed to finish off Android 21.
This leads to the final arc, which is the most interesting of the three. While Goku was the focus of the first arc and Frieza was the lead of the second arc, the third arc is primarily about Androids 18 and 21. For once, Android 18 gets a chance to take the spotlight, something that never happened in Dragon Ball Z or Super. This final arc puzzles out the origins of Android 21 and deals partially with the interesting place that Android 18 has found within the Z Warriors as a powerful warrior, but also a caring friend, wife, and mother. It all ends with a Spirit Bomb (what else?) and Goku puzzling out how they can revive the good side of Android 21, because no one is ever truly dead in Dragon Ball.
Dragon Ball canon has always been a bit fluid—Broly is a side story that doesn't count and Dragon Ball GT has always been up in the air—but we can actually fit most of the events in Dragon Ball FighterZ within Dragon Ball canon. Given Frieza's status and the inclusion of Beerus and Whis, it looks like FighterZ takes place after the events of Goku Black Saga. That puts it after episode 76 of Dragon Ball Super, but somewhere before the next arc really begins.
Where it all fits in continuity is beside the point though. What matters is all the little nods to the past and the interactions fans have been waiting for. I have so many screenshots of my favorites, but there's no way I can fit them all into a single article, even I have tried.
There's the casual savagery of Goku in several cases, where he delivers the cold, hard truth to Krillin, Yamcha, Vegeta, and even Gohan. There's Cell getting excited for a rematch with Gohan, only to realize the latter fighter hasn't been training. Gotenks has a pose-off battle with the Ginyu Force, wonders what they should call Goku and Vegeta in their merged form, and make fun of Nappa for being the only Saiyan involved that can't go Super Saiyan. Nappa insists to Cell that he's not a low-class warrior.
Yamcha gets dunked on in many of the small cutscenes (he even burns himself when talking to his clone), but he gets a chance to turn the tables on Nappa in an alternate version of an iconic scene. (And he's one of the better fighters in the game.) Gohan shows some appreciation for the Ginyu Force's posing, given his history as the Great Saiyaman.
The Dramatic Finishes tend to recall specific moments in Dragon Ball Z history and here Arc System's slavish devotion to the source is shown. Trunks takes out Frieza with his sword and a cleverly-placed Ki Blast, just like he did in the show and manga. Beerus decides to let Goku live after a tough fight in the upper atmosphere. Gohan finishes off Cell with his father-son Kamehameha, following a pep talk from Android 16's head.
All of these moments are well-animated and fully-voiced in Japanese and English. They could've been great if they were text only, but Arc System Works and Bandai Namco Entertainment went the extra mile. It's not enough to just callback to what's gone before, although Dragon Ball FighterZ would've been lauded if it did. Instead, it's about building upon what was already there. Half of the great moments in Dragon Ball FighterZ are little more than fanfiction asides brought to life, but to see them done in a official Dragon Ball product with such care and craft is impressive.
If you love Dragon Ball in any of its incarnations, it's worth giving Dragon Ball FighterZ a spin. I think it's worth a purchase, for sure, but at the very least, a rental will let you experience the story mode. That's around 8-10 hours of content on its own and should give you an idea if the rest of the game is for you. Either way, I remain endlessly impressed with what Arc System Works pulled off here, with a launch fighting as robust and in love with its source material as last year's Injustice 2.