This weekend marked the first open beta phase for Dragon Ball FighterZ, the latest fighter in the Dragon Ball universe. I played the game previously in the closed beta, but I wanted to wait for this larger beta to sum up my impressions of the game. There were some problems since I couldn't get in on the early access period—pre-ordering games I'm going to review is rare—and the first day of the full open beta was fraught with server issues. Despite that, I spent much of the evening of day 1 and most of day 2 diving into everything the open beta had to offer.
As the title says, Dragon Ball FighterZ is probably the most aggressive fighting game I've played in a while.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is developed by Arc System Works, the folks behind Guilty Gear and BlazBlue. As such, the game slots into a space in-between those titles and Marvel vs Capcom 2. With Ki Blasts, Super Moves, and Assists flying around, there's a lot happening onscreen, but the game is heavily predicated on finding those small holes in your opponent's defense and punishing them heavily.
Dragon Ball FighterZ feels like a game built around a lot of pressure and rushdown. (Rushdown is a style of play where you consistently attack your opponent, using mixups to find holes in their defense.) In most fighting games, characters have a specific range they're built for: some are melee range grapplers or combo-heavy fighters, while others excel at zoning in mid-range or long-range. The fighters in Dragon Ball FighterZ are built in the same manner—Goku can operate at a number of ranges, Piccoli lives at melee and mid-range, Beerus is all about controlling space with his orbs—but the entire game is built around a few mechanics meant to keep you in your enemy's personal space.
Super Dash is biggest addition. In most fighting games, melee characters usually have a gap closer, a move that's intended to get them from long range into the melee range they want. (In contrast, long-range characters usually have a move that makes space.) With Super Dash, performed by either hitting the Right Trigger or Special + Heavy together, every character in Dragon Ball FighterZ has a gap closer. Super Dash doesn't cost anything and it's omni-directional: if your opponent is above or below you, it still works. (The best comparison would be the Homing button in the older Arcana Heart games.)
Then there's Vanish, which instantly teleports you behind your target and performs a knockback attack. Unlike Super Dash, Vanish does cost one bar of your Super Meter, but it's a fairly quick teleport and it's not like Super Meter is in short supply.
Together Super Dash and Vanish mean that every character is always rushing in. Ki Blast attacks are long-range, but they're relatively weak and more about seeing if you can't open up your opponent easily. Some characters play at long-range, like Beerus, but once they get a hit confirm, it's about dashing in to pull off big damage combos. Super Dash and Vanish are also key in keeping combos going or adding more pressure to a cornered opponent. And combo damage in Dragon Ball FighterZ is huge, just like Arc System Works' other fighters: a full combo can see a fighter losing half their life easily.
Many matches of low-level players will begin with both characters Super Dashing at each other. Then it tends to breakdown into alternating Super Dashes, with the occasional Dragon Rush, which is Dragon Ball FighterZ's version of a throw (which also advances, I might add). Super Dash can punished with an anti-air attack, but most low-level players don't know that or don't have the timing down.
What's interesting, is that for such a combo-heavy game, there is no Advancing Guard mechanic like Marvel vs Capcom or Combo-Breaker like Killer Instinct. There is the Guard Cancel Tag, but that calls in one of your Assists, costs one bar of your Super Meter, and is pretty open to punishment. Sparking Blast is probably the closest move for this purpose, offering a bit of pushback, but like X-Factor from Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, it can only be used one per match. It's best to save it for the damage boost.
Even in expert level games (shown above), once you fall into a combo, you just take it. Players have to sit back, wait for the hole in offense, and counter it properly. As such, Dragon Ball FighterZ isn't just aggressive, but you can also see huge swings in the flow of match, where one player can lose one or two characters, only for the same to happen in reverse 30 seconds later.
If you can roll with all that, Dragon Ball FighterZ is an immensely rewarding fighting game. Arc System Works has made a game that feels right in terms of Dragon Ball. In the manga and anime, fights tend to run in two directions: big-ass final attacks or high-speed, teleporting melees. Dragon Ball FighterZ gets as close to this as possible while still retaining a solid technical base. Some of this is slight of hand—heavy attacks and Dragon Rushes are smashes that send players flying through mountains and buildings in mini-cutscenes—but it all works. Against your friends, it'll be damned fun, but it also feels tournament-ready.
For Dragon Ball Z/Super fans, Arc System Works also clearly understands those who have stuck by the series all these years. Most of the Super Moves are callbacks to direct scenes from the anime. Character interactions acknowledge their histories: if Goku and Frieza fight each other on Namek, Krillin will die in the opening cutscene (if he's not on your team). Put Teen Gohan up against Cell and you'll get a short cutscene where Android 16's head hypes him up into Super Saiyan 2. If Goku defeats Kid Buu, you'll get the final Spirit Bomb attack he used in the anime. This game bleeds love for Dragon Ball Z and Super, similar to CyberConnect2's work on the Naruto: Ultimate Ninja series.
Basically, I've come out of the closed and open betas being immensely happy with the direction Dragon Ball FighterZ is going. Best of all, we don't have to wait very long to play the full game. Dragon Ball FighterZ is coming to PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on January 26, 2018, with an upcoming additional open beta period happening sometime in-between now and launch.