On January 26, Bandai Namco Entertainment will launch Dragon Ball FighterZ for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Dragon Ball FighterZ is the latest fighting game taking place in the Dragon Ball universe. One key difference this time is the publisher relied on the talents of Arc System Works, the studio behind the Guilty Gear and BlazBlue fighting franchises, to develop this title. The result is a 3-on-3 fighter that plays remarkably well, while also capturing the rich history of Dragon Ball.
What if you've never been into Dragon Ball Z or its related shows though? Perhaps you're a fighting fanatic who wants to get in on this action. Maybe you're someone new to fighting games and Dragon Ball, who just wants to be prepared for the weekly scrums that will happen between your friends once the game comes out.
And you can't get by on memes alone, my friend. That's like coming to an upscale party without having read every issue of The New Yorker for the last six months. Preparation is everything.
So What is Dragon Ball?
Dragon Ball was the name of an adventure manga started by creator Akira Toriyama back in 1984. The original story was a rough version of the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West. Mix Journey to the West's protagonist Sun Wukong the Monkey King with a little Jackie Chan, and you have Son Goku, the protagonist of Dragon Ball. Toriyama didn't expect Dragon Ball to last all that long and sort of plotted the series on the fly, pulling references and ideas from his own life.
The focus of the series was Son Goku wandering the world with his friends, coming of age and searching for the Dragon Balls, which can grant a single wish when brought together.
In chapter 32 of the original run, the series hit the Tenkaichi Budokai martial arts tournament that would become the focus of the series later on: Son Goku and friends versus a cornucopia of interesting villains that steadily grow in power. Toriyama wasn't interested in doing a fighting manga, but he ultimately relented to popular demand for the rest of the series. Money talks.
What is Dragon Ball Z?
Dragon Ball Z is the most well-known part of the Dragon Ball universe, but it was actually just a new title for the animated adaptation of the last two-thirds (325 chapters) of the Dragon Ball manga. This is the series that Dragon Ball FighterZ draws the most from, with additional characters from Dragon Ball Super, the currently-airing sequel series.
Dragon Ball Z is a never-ending fight that builds on itself to absurd levels. Goku and friends meet a new foe, get beat hard, train for a bit, learn something new, and return to beat the foe. Rinse and repeat for the entire run of Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Super.
You still with me? Good.
Despite Son Goku's genesis as roughly inspired by Sun Wukong and Jackie Chan, later facets of the character remind folks of an American myth: Superman. It's later revealed that Goku is actually an alien from another planet called a Saiyan. The Saiyans are a powerful, warlike alien race who ran into a stronger race, got owned, were nearly exterminated, and became drafted in that race's slow takeover of the galaxy. Goku was sent to Earth to conquer the place, but obviously that plan didn't work.
Within the Saiyan race, there's talk of the legendary Super Saiyans, those who can increase their strength, speed, and endurance by achieving another level of power. All the golden spiky hair you see on the covers and screenshots for Dragon Ball FighterZ? That's the Super Saiyan trademark: characters usually begin with black spiky hair and gain the gold coloring upon transitioning to the Super Saiyan level.
This began as super-special moment earlier in the series, but due to Shonen Power Creep, it's long been surpassed by several levels. These levels are represented in the game by three versions of Goku: Super Saiyan Goku, Super Saiyan 3 Goku, and Super Saiyan Blue Goku. The "why" of all this isn't very important. What is important is shinier hair is better and more hair is better, until different colored hair is better. It's all about the hair.
That's it. Dragon Ball Z is about fighting and various levels of colored hair.
What is Dragon Ball FighterZ?
Somewhat like Marvel vs. Capcom, Dragon Ball FighterZ is a 3-on-3 fighter. Each player picks three characters that they can swap in and out of the battlefield at will. Players have three basic attack buttons at their disposal (Light, Medium, and Heavy) alongside a dedicated Special Attack button.
Let's look at the control layout.
|Attack Type||PlayStation 4||Xbox One|
|Light Attack (L)||Square||X|
|Medium Attack (M)||Triangle||Y|
|Heavy Attack (H)||Circle||B|
|Special Attack (S)||X||A|
|Dragon Rush||X + Circle||A + B|
|Ki Charge||X + Square||A + X|
|Sparking Blast||X + Circle + Square + Triangle||A + B + X + Y|
|Super Dash||Square + Triangle||X + Y|
|Vanish||Triangle + Circle||Y + B|
Look, a bunch of buttons and terms that make no sense! Let's go through them. The Special Attack button uses your character's Ki Blast. These are generally weak fireballs, allowing you to keep an opponent off balance from far away. With good timing you can actually Deflect an opponent's Ki Blasts by hitting Back + Special Attack.
Every character also has unique Special Moves. These are generally activated with a quarter-circle (rolling the directional pad from the down position to either forward or back position) motion and one of your four attack buttons. Play around to see what each character can do, or use the in-game move list.
Assist 1 and Assist 2 call in the other two characters you chose to do a single attack. Each character has a different Assist move and it has a short recharge timer. If you hold either Assist 1 or Assist 2, a character will tag into the fight completely. This gives your current character a chance to rest and regain the blue parts of their health bar, while also allowing you to press your advantage or change the flow of the fight. In addition, your Assist characters can be attacked when they pop out, so be careful. Knowing when to use your Assist is key.
Dragon Rush is the name of Dragon Ball FighterZ's throw. Press the button combination listed above to dash towards your foe and throw them. This is unblockable. If you see a Dragon Rush coming your way, you can use the same button combination within the right timing to break out of the throw.
The Ki Charge button combination can be held down to charge your Super Meter. The longer you hold the buttons, the faster your meter will charge, but while you're doing that, you can't attack or defend. The Super Meter can be charged up to seven times. Each character has a set of Super Moves that will consume one or three bars of the Super Meter. Super Moves are activated with a quarter circle motion and two attack buttons. (Some require two specific attack buttons, but many allow for any two buttons.) You can also use bits of the meter for EX special moves, which are stronger versions of your command attacks.
Sparking Blast is intended as a way for players to come back in a fight. Hitting all four attack buttons will knock your opponent back, increase your attack damage for a short period of time, and recover your blue health. The fewer characters you have available, the longer Sparking Blast lasts.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is a game that's meant to be up in your face, because a number of encounters in the Dragon Ball shows are at melee range. Super Dash is a way to quickly close space and get up in your opponent's face. Perform the given button combination and you'll fly at your enemy at high speed. Watch out though, as the Super Dash can be Deflected or countered with certain attacks. It doesn't make you invincible. Super Dash can also be used to keep a combo going if you're on a roll.
Finally, there's Vanish. These attacks are sort of tied into the feel of Dragon Ball Z, where characters frequently use short-range teleports to get behind foes for attacks. Activating a Vanish Attack (Triangle + Circle on PS4, Y + B on Xbox One), will teleport you behind your target and do a single attack. This costs one bar or your Super Meter, but sets your opponent up for combos and it can even bounce them off of the stage walls.
There are a few additional moves you need to know before we wrap up here. A Guard Cancel Tag is when you switch in one of your Assists while blocking. The method is the same as tagging in an Assist normally—just hold the Assist buttons listed above—but you have to do it while blocking an attack. Since this is a unique occasion, a Guard Cancel Tag actually costs one bar of your Super Meter. Down and Heavy Attack will act as a basic anti-air attack, preventing folks from simply jumping in on you. Forward and Medium Attack is a basic overhead: if your opponent is blocking low, the overhead will come in over their block and damage them.
Dragon Ball FighterZ has a decent pace (check out the video above) and there's a lot going on in a single match. Your best bet is to play the game's Story Mode and practice in order to get a feel of how fast the matches can be. No one has a problem if you take it slow and steady.