By: Johnny Big Fudge Marcondes
Over the weekend Arc System Works graced us with an open beta for their latest game, Dragon Ball FighterZ which is set to be released on 1/26/18. Dragon Ball FighterZ is easily one of the most anticipated games of 2018, this upcoming anime fighter has taken the FGC (fighting game community) and fans of the anime by storm. With it’s mixture of fan favorite characters on a stacked/diverse roster, beautifully rendered characters, a promising single player mode featuring a new character designed by Toriyama himself, great music and a touch of MvC meets Guilty Gear like gameplay it’s almost impossible to not fall for this game. While initially the open beta did struggle with server issues as everyone around the world wanted to get in, after a day of trying multiple servers and encountering issues many were able to finally get in. However those who did also found that match making had it’s own fair share of problems which is to be expected in a beta filled with this much demand.
Luckily I was able to get a good amount of matches over the weekend that ranged from a wide spectrum of players giving me a pretty insightful look of what to expect or at least what could potentially become of FighterZ’s online community. Encountering experienced fighters who most likely either had time with a previous build of the beta or players who quickly seemed to take to the games mechanics, to players who you could obviously tell frantically mashed buttons as fast as they could. While playing the beta I got to test out the tutorial mode, ranked matches and casual matches. The option for an “arena match” was there but for some reason didn’t seem to work or at least it wasn’t a real viable option for playing online leaving many just a little confused.
Before we get into the online matches we really have to talk about the tutorial or practice mode of the game. Tutorial mode left something to be desired if I’m being honest, while a straight forward instructional guideline to understanding the games mechanics it definitely felt a little empty. Given that this is a game developed by Arc System Works, you’d kind of expect a little more in depth tutorial similar to what they did with the Guilty Gear series. Perhaps it’s because this was just a beta and the development team wanted you to get a quick understanding of how everything works so you can enjoy your matches online, but I felt as if there could have been just a little bit more there.
Hopefullly it isn’t a definitive look at how they plan to tackle tutorials in the finished game. Guilty Gear has perhaps the best tutorial mode in any fighting game I’ve ever played, hands on and in depth everything within the Guilty Gear tutorial is explained and handled perfectly giving you a real feeling of accomplishment when you do something correctly. For a game as polished as this to have any modes that feel lackluster is a little surprising so I’m a little optimistic things are a little more hands on come time for the full release. Hopefully FighterZ’s tutorial gets the same treatment that Guilty Gear got upon release day as the game’s easy to play but hard to master nature surely makes tutorial mode kind of a necessity.
On the topic of controls, this is where FighterZ really stands out among other games in the genre. Even with the fast paced and hectic nature of the game, it’s a fairly easy one to wrap your head around. This is one of FighterZ strongest aspects as a fighting game when broken down. Each character controls fairly similar to one another using the same layout of controls, special moves and attacks with things like gimmicks separating them. (Gimmicks such as using other characters to attack for you i.e Captain Ginyu, Nappa or Android 18.) There aren’t any charge characters or anything making the roster feel a little lackluster in terms of diverse playability, however given the fact that each character has their own strengths and weaknesses the balancing between teams fills the gap for strategic gameplay. Certain characters like Kid Buu and Piccolo for example help zone in gaps with their reach while others like Beerus for example excels at keep away techniques helping you control the field with orbs and range attacks. FighterZ may have a simple control layout where essentially just pressing one button repeatably chains together a long combo with a super finish but that doesn’t mean the battles you face will be a cake walk.
While playing online the one major take away I got from this weekend with the beta is that you have to almost relearn fighting games in order to really be good at FighterZ. When I first got online I was trying to play FighterZ like I do with any other fighting game. I would go in and try to zone in on opponents or do complex combos with mix ups and get punished for it left and right. At first I went in online trying to play FighterZ like Guilty Gear or MvC and it didn’t really work out, I was almost over thinking what I was doing online because FighterZ really is that simplistic in terms controls that the harder you try to do mix ups or fancier combos the more you will get punished. This isn’t like your typical fighting game where you casually build up meter and use it sparingly throughout your match. FighterZ is all about burning through your meter and using these long combos with assists and meter burns to dominate and deal out massive damage.
Building meter in FighterZ is second nature as a three to four second charge will build you up to two bars and a simple combo by pressing triangle or square (ps4 controls) four times will build up a bar and let you finish the combo off with a special. It’s both exciting and a little disappointing, as someone who plays a lot of fighting games I really do love learning combos and making mine own up as I go but when it comes to FighterZ it almost feels a little forced or like the combos are presets. By pressing a single button repeatedly you’re able to string together an impressive looking combo without doing all of the hard work. Even though mid combo it does give you time to do mix ups with other buttons or assist there just feels like little to no wiggle room to really feel as if you’re in control of these combos. Most of the times I strung a really cool sequence in the game felt as if I was just witnessing a really combo as opposed to executing one if that makes any sense.
Trying to label or pinpoint what makes FighterZ feel special is a little tricky. I’ve heard this numerous times from others online, colleagues and friends where we all describe FighterZ as a simple pick up and play fighting game that anyone can enjoy and pull off some incredible looking combos with but it’s also a game that’s hard to master. I’ve encountered players online that use constant rushes or lunging attacks hoping to land the first hit because that’s all it takes to start chaining a combo. I’ve encountered smarter players who us traditional fighting game techniques like footsie while controlling the flow of battle to sweeps, high and low mix ups, assist switching and timing Z Rush’s. Timing is by far going to be the make or break of the online fighting scene in FighterZ, I’ve personally had some incredible battles online where timing was the deciding factor in each character loss.
It’s easy to get caught up in the games glitz and glamour as it’s such a beautiful game visually and the special attacks do look incredible but the game is so much more than just fast fights. There’s a genuinely great fighting mechanic in the game that’s so appealing visually and given how smooth each character moves there’s no doubt in my mind that FighterZ will become one of the biggest games at EVO and other fighting tournaments. Timing in these battles makes or breaks everything, every character has a rush attack and it’s easy to chain their combos but to master timing and learn the individual character strengths is going to set the casual apart from the hardcore.
Characters like Kid Buu with his reach, speed and sheer power will make him a solid member to any team, using him as my last member I was able to turn the tide of many battles. With that being said, I also encountered other Kid Buu users who used him differently and tried to play him as they would say Vegeta or or Gohan which made his movements predictable and easy to stop. Kid Buu is best used as a mid range/fake out character where his extending kick can not only bait people in but be used as a dash movement. Frieza is another character that could be used to rush in like most characters but really understanding him and his attacks can help make or break the battle as well. From high to low fake out sweeps to his bounce back off his death beams giving you enough time to dash in to combo there’s so many ways a character can be played. It’s things like this that really shows the potential of the game and it’s roster.
Playing the beta this weekend was incredibly fun but while it’s easy to get wrapped up in all the excitement it’s still a beta. With that in mind the game is incredibly polished but it’s not without faults that hopefully get addressed or fixed by the time the game launches. Each battle I played did feel smooth but a few things stood out to me as a little off. For example when learning to dash and super jump the game does use the same press forward/backwards twice to sash and down and up to super jump mechanic but there were noticeable differences depending on how you did them. I tried this on two controllers as well as spoke to a friend and fellow writer here on the site about it. Using the D-Pad to dash and super jump felt noticeably smoother than it did while using an analog stick. On the stick dashing and super jumping worked fine but felt as if you had to put a little extra effort into them.
Again, this is a small complaint but still something myself and others have noticed. Dashing aside, another problem that kind of bugged me during the beta was the lack of cancel/burst attacks that allow you to break from being on the receiving end of combos. While a burst attack/mechanic similar to the one found in Guilty Gear was there it didn’t always seem to work properly. There were numerous times where I would find myself either on the receiving end or being the own to dish out a combo and couldn’t break free. It’s not a major issue but it something that should be noted and fixed for the final game especially if they plan on having FighterZ be a more competitive title. Other than a few characters needing to get rebalanced (adult Gohan and Kid buu are broken.) I couldn’t really see any issues with the game.
Character hit boxes seem to be on point and even at some frame rate dropping the game runs incredibly smooth. When it comes to the online aspect which Namco Bandai will surely want to be pushing there should be a focus on those who “rage quit”. Rage quitting was fairly common when playing ranked matches on the beta, I encountered a few people that upon losing decided to quit. This isn’t anything new as rage quitting is fairly common in almost every game. When rage quitting the beta didn’t seem to punish those who did, players would keep their BP (battle points) which needs to be updated. Having people who rage quit lose points would be the band-aid that the game needs in order to start moving forward with fixing this issue.
When it comes to this beta I have nothing but praise for it but even all that praise can’t make up for my utter disdain of the dragon ball/Shenron feature in the game. By landing a sequence of light combos and attacks you’re able to “pick up” dragon balls, gather all the dragon balls and Shenron himself will revive you or fallen alley. This aspect of the game feels completely like a gimmick and really made some of the fights I’ve encountered a little less fun. Players would scramble trying to get these dragon balls and spam attacks making it more of a who can spam the fastest fight. It’s a gimmick that isn’t really needed as the game is strong enough on it’s own to succeed or be fun without it.
The dragon ball mechanic in the game is fine and all and I could even see it being a fun feature in the story mode or offline battles but to incorporate it in online battles is a bit much. Having a shared revival mechanic gives anyone an unfair advantage or becomes a fight for the gimmick as opposed to each other. Personally I never cared for revival mechanics in fighting games so seeing this being a heavily utilized feature is something that never sat right with me. Imagine spending all match trying to gain these dragon balls and you almost have them then your opponent swoops in and gets the last ball getting the wish and reviving a character. It’s just a really weak gimmick that could have been implemented a lot better. Perhaps each player has to gain all the balls as opposed to it being a shared task, having each player earn the dragon balls individually and who ever reaches seven first gets a wish would be a better mechanic. After the wish is granted the mechanic should disappear until the game is rematched.
All in all the time I spent with the beta made me even more excited for the full games release. I can’t wait to get back into it and see what the rest of the roster can do because this was some of the most fun I’ve had in an online fighter in some time. Everything about FighterZ feels like a genuine fighting game that’s a love letter to fans. Arc System Works really made a game that’s the ideal fighter for people of all ages and skills sets. With the easy to pick up controls and harder to master aspect for core fighters/gamers there’s something there for everyone. Beautiful aesthetics and smooth controls make FighterZ in the forefront for not the best looking fighting game but perhaps the best controlled and thought out in some time.
[Photos and videos of my time with the beta coming soon. Bear with me!]