-Platforms: Steam, PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One
The first licensed video game to come out following the show's US debut was the Dimps-developed fighting game, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai. After it came to the GameCube in 2003, I pretty much jumped at the chance to try it out. After all, if there ever existed a property just screaming for a truly awesome fighting game adaptation, it was Dragon Ball Z. Sadly, however, Dimps wasn't quite up to the task.
Budokai was a bit of a let down. It didn't really do proper justice to the series. Despite this fact (and the tepid reviews), Dimps was allowed to go right on churning out a slew of lackluster, half-hearted sequels, year after year, for well over a decade. With so many titles that lacked even so much as a hint of additional effort or enthusiasm from Dimps, and no sign of a developer change on the horizon, it seemed like Dragon Ball Z was doomed to an eternity of uninspired shovelware video games.
Dimps DBZ games could not hope to achieve the kind of acclaim that Arc System's games were receiving because they simply weren't offering any of those things. For 15 years it seemed like a pipe dream that Dragon Ball Z fans would ever get a game of a caliber even approaching a series like Guilty Gear or BlazBlue. But with Dragon Ball FighterZ, Arc System Works themselves, have finally given us exactly that. (And I couldn't be happier about it!)
Okay, while the title may leave something to be desired, the game more than makes up for it in nearly every other way possible. True to Arc's pedigree, the visuals are a Super Saiyan sized step up from the somewhat unattractive 3D renderings of previous DBZ games. Instead of going that route, Arc decided to try and achieve a look that appears remarkably similar to what you see when you watch the actual anime. To accomplish this feat, Arc's extremely talented art team utilized a very similar method to the one they had already come up with for their most recent Guilty Gear games. This method involves making special stylized 3D renderings, enhancing them with overlays and various precision adjustments, and then displaying it all in 2D. The results are astoundingly convincing and go a very long way towards giving Akira Toriyama's beautiful artwork the respect it truly deserves.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, Dragon Ball FighterZ totally blows the Dimps games away. Instead of the extremely basic ground mode/hover mode option, and fighting moves that basically consisted of either staying back and spamming the blast button or getting up close and spamming the attack button(s), Arc System Works took the time and effort to build their Dragon Ball Z game into a tournament-ready, arcade-quality 2D fighter with deep tactical combat options that you can actually take time to learn (if you so choose). Furthermore, developer could have merely limited the game to a simple one-on-one fighter and they still would have had a winner on their hands. But being Arc System Works, they decided to kick things up to (over) 9,000 by making it into an entertainingly sophisticated, fully-character-swappable, three-on-three arcade-style fighter (and they even threw in a somewhat decent story mode as well)!
The roster options, while plentiful for a one-on-one fighting game, can't help but seem a touch sparse for three-on-three fighting. Additionally, while Super Saiyan Goku and Vegeta are definitely appreciated, it would've been nice to have the option to play in their non-Super Saiyan forms as well. It would have also been pretty cool to be able to fight as The Great Saiyaman, or even the one-armed, alternate-future versions of Gohan, in addition to just plain old no-frills adult Gohan.
Perhaps some of these issues will be addressed through future DLC and/or updates. Even if they aren't, they're pretty minor issues anyhow. When you consider everything that Dragon Ball FighterZ gets right and, especially, the absurd number of years it took to finally get such a fantastic Dragon Ball Z game, it's hard not to feel pretty excited about it. (I know I sure do!)
Graphics & Audio
The graphics are absolutely phenomenal. The characters are the most visually-faithful anime representations that I have ever seen in a game. Most of the voice talent from the show is present and accounted for (in regards to both the Japanese and the English options). The music, while unfamiliar (unfortunately), is still pretty decent, and always appropriate.
Mechanics & Playability
Deep and tournament-ready. The best Dragon Ball Z game ever made. End of story. I'm actually surprised an arcade version hasn't been announced yet.
Options & Extras
More characters and/or skins would have been appreciated but weren't vital by any means.