Dragon Ball FighterZ: Changing the face of its own video game history
When it comes to adapting manga and anime into video games Dragon Ball has a large number of titles under its name. Branching out to various genres of gaming such as action platformers, role-playing games, card based games and of course, fighting games. The fighting in the Dragon Ball franchise is so iconic that even people who have little knowledge of the series can recognize it for the action and combat. In time though questions were beginning to arise about the proper approach on the Dragon Ball fighting games. Not in terms of which games are good and bad from an objective point of view, but rather the best direction for a Dragon Ball fighting game to go for. Should Dragon Ball video games be allowed to advance and grow to appeal to skilled players? Or should the games stick to fan service to appeal to fans and casual players? There was really no middle ground as players have always been divided on what makes a great Dragon Ball game even when it comes to titles that they all love, the debate about appealing to either the professional players or casual players continued to linger through the years. That is about to change though for on June 9th, 2017, Bandai Namco announced a new Dragon Ball game published by Arc System Works that is already gearing to not only change Dragon Ball fighting games but even make a name for itself among the entire genre is simply known as Dragon Ball FighterZ.
To say that the hype surrounding Dragon Ball FighterZ has been astronomical would be an understatement. Since its introduction people including YouTube creators Maximillian Dood and Team Four Star could not stop talking about not just how authentic the game looks but how it is the biggest Dragon Ball 2D fighting game to hit home consoles in almost a decade. While many Dragon Ball games released on home consoles before this particular title’s announcement they have never received this much coverage. That is not to say that the best titles released before were bad but as mentioned earlier most of them were usually catered towards casual players and fans for easy accessibility. So what is it that FighterZ has people so pumped up for this game now then compared to the titles of the past? The best way to understand it is to look back on the history of Dragon Ball’s video game lineup.
To cover the entire line up of Dragon Ball’s video game history could fill up an entire encyclopedia’s worth as there are almost over 100 titles, many exclusive to Japan before the series gained international popularity in the late 1990’s. Trying to cover all of those titles would be a very daunting task to say the least. So for the purpose of this analysis, four Dragon Ball video game series will be used in terms of their gameplay, accessibility and legacy in comparison to what FighterZ has to offer upon its release.
Developed by Dimps and published by Bandai and Atari, The Dragon Ball Z Budokai series is the most well-known in North America as the first title was made for the Playstation 2 in 2002 and the Nintendo Gamecube in 2003. The Budokai series approached its concept of a fighting game like the Japanese exclusive Butoden series and Hyper Dimension but had players fight on a 2.5D plane. Meaning characters could move around similar to the Tekken series but can also use super attacks through the usage of ki bars and characters can transform to become stronger and gain new attacks. Players could also customize their characters with capsules that can affect and change their stats to affect the outcome of a match. Modes included in the first title were a story mode where players could relieve the series up to the Cell Games including alternative stories that present different outcomes for the three villains of the game. Duel mode lets players fight one on one while World Match that let’s players fight against the computer tournament style that can go towards in-game currency that can be used at the shop for items. And finally the Legend of Mr. Satan (name changed to Hercule due to religious and cultural sensitivities) that serves as an arcade style game where players play as the joke character of the game, Mr. Satan himself, and take on fighters through ten rounds of various challenges and limitations. The reception for the first title was mixed at best but it sold enough copies to earn a sequel.
Budokai 2 released a year later with various changes such as cel-shaded graphics to mirror the look of the show while the game’s main feature was its focus on bringing in characters from the Majin Buu saga since they weren’t used in the previous title. The reception fared better than the previous title but not by much as it was mostly a roster and visual upgrade, it wasn’t then until Budokai 3 came out the year after that it made itself the definitive Dragon Ball Z game for many years.
Budokai 3 took the lessons learned from its predecessor and not only expanded on its roster and content but made the gameplay experience much smoother with its high production value to make it a huge success. Enough so that years later it was given a High Definition port in November 2012 for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 along with the first Budokai title. For years this was the game that many declared the definitive Dragon Ball fighting game for its content, engaging charm and easy to approach combat that helped players think of strategies later on. The major downside to the Budokai series though is that despite the improvements they made in time the characters can all feel the same keeping it away from being a definitive fighting game despite its gameplay mechanics. In games like Street Fighter II characters like Ryu and Chun-Li would have their own moves and gameplay style, Ryu is a well-rounded fighter and Chun-Li emphasizes on strong yet fast kicks. Giving the characters not only their own identity but makes the matches more unique each time the player plays with those characters more. Basically Budokai 3 is a fan service game first and a fighting game second. Despite the fall back though Budokai 3 can be commended to last this long as one of if not the most popular Dragon Ball game of all time.
For a while the Budokai series was the definitive way to play Dragon Ball in North America, that was until the developer Spike decided to take the series into a different direction and gave us the Budokai Tenkaichi series for the Playstation 2. Also known as Dragon Ball Z: Sparking in Japan, this series changes not just the gameplay but also the entire mechanic to separate itself from the series that came before. The Budokai Tenkaichi titles use the “behind-the-back” camera perspective, similar to most 3rd person shooter titles. Meaning that players can move around more in an open 3D environment as they can dash, fly, fight and fire blasts in a larger arena. Another difference was the gameplay mechanics with its larger roster, the series removed transformations but now characters under various classes can have different abilities that can either strengthen or hinder the match making the player think of strategic ways to win a match. For example, large characters will not flinch from smaller characters’ melee attacks, and artificial humans can only regenerate ki in time at a consistent rate but can also be filled from landing melee attacks. With a total roster of 58 playable characters including 90 playable forms, the first Tenkaichi provided great content for fans of the series. However, the common criticism of its complex controls held it back from being a popular title among casual players. So while the first Tenkaichi game attempted to advance the feel of combat in the series than the Budokai series did, its own ambition were proven to be its own fault.
Another year passed and in 2006 Budokai Tenkaichi 2 came out not just for the Playstation 2 but was also one of the launch titles for Nintendo’s smash hit console, the Wii. The sequel plays the same but with an expanded roster of 129 characters, 135 in Japanese and PAL Wii versions. The one stand out for this game is on the Wii version as it is the first Dragon Ball video game to make use of the system’s motion controls. Using the Wiimote and Nunchuk together players were able to control their fighters by carrying a remote/nunchuk combo and mimic iconic moves from the series such as the Kamehameha and Galick Gun. The sequel’s reception had better praise from critics but shared the same criticism its complex controls like its predecessor.
Its sequel, Budokai Tenkaichi 3 once again makes some improvements from the 2nd game and expanded its roster. To this day not only is this title the franchise’s highest roster count with 161 playable characters but the game also has one of the highest roster count in the entire fighting game genre, 2nd only to Tobal 2 whose roster count is a staggering 200. The 3rd Tenkaichi game was praised for bringing in characters not just from DBZ, but also many from the original Dragon Ball series including Arale from Akira Toriyama’s other creation, Dr. Slump. This game just oozes content to make it feel like the ultimate Dragon Ball toy box experience, though much like Budokai 3 its major downside is that its characters all feel the same with the additional problem that some feel like model swaps. But its toy box aesthetic is what makes this particular title so appealing to rival Budokai 3 for the crown of the best Dragon Ball video game. Not for its fighting gameplay compared to other arena fighters but for its ability to let the player do whatever they want. There’s a reason fans love this game for its insanity.
Released back in February 2015, the Xenoverse series is a unique approach to the Dragon Ball franchise where this series takes elements from the Japanese and South Korean exclusive MMORPG, Dragon Ball Online and the Japanese arcade games, Dragon Ball Heroes. Developed by Dimps and produced by Bandai Namco, Dragon Ball Xenoverse is the first major title of the series to let players across the globe emerge themselves into the Dragon Ball lore as their own original character. The gameplay mechanics is similar to the Tenkaichi series as a 3D arena fighter but what makes this series stand out is its story and customizations.
To summarize the story, the entire timeline of the Dragon Ball world is being distorted so the Time Patrol, lead by Future Trunks and the Supreme Kai of Time, calls forth for a new hero to help them in their quest to restore the timeline and save everyone. This is the heart of the Xenoverse games, players making their own avatar representative to not only interact within the story of Dragon Ball but allowing them to do all sorts of activities. Go on missions, fight or team up with other players online, earn money to earn gears and skills to change their avatars and even learn moves by training under iconic Dragon Ball characters as their instructor whether they’d be hero or villain. Speaking of customization, one of the unique aspects about the Xenoverse games is the ability to customize their characters not just by gender but also by species as they have five choices to pick from with their own strengths, weaknesses and certain abilities each can learn. Earthlings are more balanced with offense and defense, Saiyans have low health but high attack power and they get stronger when on low health and revived, Namekians have high health and stamina but low attack, Majins have high defense but low stamina, and the Freeza race are fast but have low attack. It is up to the player to decide how they want to play and customize their character to make them as strong as possible with an effective strategy.
Dragon Ball Xenoverse makes fans feel like they’re kids again when playing the game as they can interact with the series much more than ever before, but even Xenoverse has its fair share of flaws and sadly it is the flaws that holds it back from being the definitive Dragon Ball game. While the experience is fun for fans and new players the gameplay can get repetitive and monotonous when not fully ready. One problem is the reward system where players have to complete tasks in a certain way to have a good chance to not just get a high score but to earn an item they want, meaning if they don’t get it they have to play the same mission multiple times to get what they want. It’s a gamble and a waste of time. In addition if a player’s stats are not ready for high level opponents they will lose constantly even when they’re prepared to how their opponent works. Xenoverse 2 attempted to fix those problems by adding in more moves, fixing the reward system and adding content years later that coincided with the release of Dragon Ball Super, but the sequel is really just a more polished and updated version of the last game. Despite its flaws though Xenoverse 2 to this day is one of the most played Dragon Ball games in recent years for its online multiplayer approach and giving players the chance to create their own characters to interact within the Dragon Ball universe. The series may not be perfect but at the end of the day its approach will always be endearing to fans aplenty.
When analyzing these games made by Dimps and Spike it is clear how they contributed heavily to the lineage of the Dragon Ball games. However, there is one series that has been swept under the radar of most players today and can arguably be considered the most critical since this is the same developer that is developing FighterZ, Arc System Works.
Released in June 2004, Arc System Works teamed up with Cavia to create Dragon Ball Z: Supersonic Warriors exclusively for the Nintendo Gameboy Advance. Famous for producing the Guilty Gear fighting game series, their first attempt with a Dragon Ball game especially for a handheld console was nothing short of remarkable. After the abysmal failure of Dragon Ball Z: Taiketsu for the same system, Supersonic Warriors fared better with controls that were easy to use despite a limited button control scheme for the handheld. Even utilizing characters to work as a team of three similar to the Marvel vs. Capcom franchise. The game also provides the usual content for players such as several modes including story, Z battle, challenge, training, free battle and remote battle so they can play with others who have the game and console. In addition the game’s story mode also provides many “what if” scenarios that encourages players to play the game more to see how each story is told uniquely outside of the series canon. The game’s combination of smooth gameplay and unlockable content made Supersonic Warriors a fan favourite for those who owned a Gameboy Advance as it received positive praise upon its release.
A year later Supersonic Warriors 2 released for the Nintendo DS made once again by Arc System Works and Cavia to give players and fans an advanced version of their previous game. Not much has changed aside the visual upgrade, improved gameplay, new modes and an increased roster. The game proved popular in Japan as critics loved the tag-team action and thought it was better than the last game, however the reception was average in North America as critics were more critical towards the setup, such as criticizing that the buttons should have been replaced with the touch screen controls. Regardless of which format would have worked for the sequel or not this game shows how Arc System Works is capable of utilizing what fans love about Dragon Ball. Providing content ripe with fan service and smooth controls to offer easy movement to recreate the speed and action the series is known for, and for their first works on two Nintendo handheld consoles that’s an impressive feat.
Upon the announcement of Dragon Ball FighterZ 2017 had a lot of fighting games released that year with titles such as Injustice 2 and Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite to name a few. The early footage of FighterZ presented last year had people comparing it to Marvel vs. Capcom with its 3 vs. 3 tag team format and fast paced action. The major difference that made people immediately prefer Dragon Ball FighterZ instead of Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite was its strong presentation. Infinite was strongly criticized for its lackluster visuals, characters looking plastic, questionable roster and its focus on the story mode resulting in a lack of single player content and shallow presentation. When comparing the two games many felt Capcom was afraid of changing with the times and instead chose to be conservative with their decisions. Whereas Bandai Namco along with Arc System Works was going all out with their latest title showing not only effort but dedication to both the Dragon Ball and fighting game communities. So much so that many people are claiming that not only would this game be an immediate but also a worthy title for tournaments such as the Evo Championship series as well as one of the best fighting games in recent years, a first for any Dragon Ball game that not even Budokai 3 was able to meet such recognition.
With all that said and done, Dragon Ball FighterZ shows how the developers behind the game not only know their own history with the franchise but also how to appeal to both casual players and dedicated fighters as this title may finally help both sides reach a common ground between fan service and skill in Dragon Ball games. Only time will tell now for pending on this game’s success if the same developers can break their limit once more in the future.
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