Dragon Ball FighterZ: Full mechanics breakdown and analysis

Now that E3 has come and gone, we have had a chance to see how Bandai Namco and Arc System Works’ new fighting game, Dragon Ball FighterZ, plays. It appears to be a refining of classic “franchise fighter”-style controls, adapted for tournament play by adding in a hefty dose of Guilty Gear and Marvel vs. Capcom mechanics.

Let’s take a deep dive into everything we know about the new game so far. 

Buttons and Special Maneuvers

First, let’s talk about the buttons. DBFZ is a four-button fighter at its core. Your main buttons are light, medium, heavy, and special. Characters can chain light attacks into heavy attacks and some can chain standing attacks into crouching attacks and vice versa. This simple gatling chain serves as the basis for most combos in the game.

The special button allows you to throw a volley of quick fireballs. These fireballs do very little damage, but serve as a tool to prevent your opponent from advancing. They can be deflected into the foreground and background, causing persistent environmental destruction while avoiding any damage to your character.

Aside from these core buttons, characters can also perform a variety of special maneuvers in combat by pressing button combinations, similar to Persona 4 Arena.

The flurry attack has you pummel your opponent with a flurry of blows before launching them into the air for an air combo. It works basically the same way as the dust attack in the Guilty Gear series, except two characters that flurry at the same time will trade blows and bounce off each other to the far ends of the screen.

The homing attack allows your character to rocket toward the opponent from anywhere on the screen. If it hits, you can then transition into a basic gatling chain. On the ground, the homing attack is very easily interrupted. If you knock your opponent into the air, however, it is a great way to continue a combo that you couldn’t otherwise. A very simple use of this combo is to wall bounce the opponent with a heavy attack and then homing attack to pursue and continue the combo in the air.

Combos use the same hit-stun proration system that Guilty Gear and Blazblue do. Each successive hit in a combo brings the opponent closer and closer to being able to tech out of it. When the hit-stun proration hits 0, the opponent can press any button to right themselves in mid-air and start attacking back.

Players also have access to one burst per match. This burst immediately breaks any combo and puts your character into a kaioken-style power-up state that lasts quite a while. It immediately shifts the tempo in your favor, putting your opponent on the defensive. However, you lose this state if your character dies, so you don’t necessarily want to save your burst until the last minute.

Assists, Meter, and Supers

Then there are assists. As we saw before, DBFZ is a three-on-three tag team game. Players can call in their characters in reserve to assist, basically at any time. You can even have both assists on screen at the same time! The catch? Each character only has one assist and some are much more useful than others. Assists also have an extremely long cooldown time, so you can’t spam them the way you can in the VS series. You can also tag characters in through DHCs (comboing one character’s super into another) and you regenerate life by sitting in reserve, so tagging often is recommended.

One notable difference from the VS. series is the way that DBFZ handles character death. Instead of continuing the match when a character dies, the action breaks for a brief second. The next character plays an intro and both characters start at half a screen width apart, just as they do at the beginning of a math. This effectively removes tag-in mix-ups from the game, making it harder to completely shut your opponent down.

DBFZ’s super meter is one of the biggest we have seen in fighting game history. You can charge it up to a whopping seven bars. Simply attacking and defending will likely see you hovering around 3 or 4 bars the entire match. To really get to the higher levels, you need to use the iconic Dragon Ball Z-style ki-charge, which causes your character to stand in place and scream for a while. This leaves you completely open, but you can call assists to cover you during your charge.

Meter is primarily used to DHC, allowing characters to tag in while remaining relatively safe. However, you can also spend multiple bars on more powerful, more cinematic supers. For example, Goku’s Super Saiyan 3 super costs three bars, while Gohan’s Family Kamehameha costs five. There is even rumor of Guilty Gear-style instant kills that will cost seven bars, though they haven’t been shown in the demo.

Because the meter is so large, level 1 supers aren’t actually that powerful. In fact, damage is fairly low across the board. Without a particularly long combo, you’ll find yourself only taking off small portions of the opponent’s health. While this sounds frustrating, it’s actually awesome. It means that effective play requires you to consistently use your characters’ signature attacks, making each match look more like a fight from the anime. Your general goal is to maneuver yourself into a position to execute a high-level super, since they do a lot more damage. Heck, Gohan’s Family Kamehameha takes off nearly half of a health bar! Once again, this feeling of trading blows before one decisive maneuver faithfully recreates the pace of the anime and manga. If you manage to finish off a character with a super, you’ll even blow up the map, causing a stage transition into a fiery wasteland. It’s really cool.

Transformations and Projectiles

Many DBZ fans want to know how the game handles transformations, and unfortunately I have to report that it doesn’t handle them well, if at all. Goku’s Super Saiyan 3 form only shows up as a cinematic portion of one of his supers. Neither Gohan, Vegeta, Cell, or Buu can transform in the middle of a match at all. Gohan is forever in Super Saiyan 2, Vegeta in Super Saiyan 1, Cell in his perfect form, and Buu in his fat form. Frieza can transform, but only from his perfect state into his golden state as an install super. It appears as if transformations won’t be a major part of the game in general.

First impressions coming out of E3 make the game seem incredibly fast. There is going to be a ton of projectiles flying around at all times, cluttering the screen with beams and explosions. However, this is exactly why the game is so technical. While, yes, you can call in your assist characters at any time, simply spamming them is a recipe for disaster. Nearly every character has a full screen beam that they can use without any meter, making it easy to hit multiple characters at once! Spending meter only makes these attacks more devastating. Catching a whole team in Gohan’s Family Kamehameha is basically an instant match win. Thus, assists will have to be called carefully and purposefully, usually using your main character to cover them once their attack is over.

Dragon Ball Fighter Z has a ton of potential. It feels like an e-sports worthy game, not another throwaway franchise fighter. Granted this is just a demo and things can change quite a bit from now until the game’s final release. However, I’d say this is the fighting game to look out for in 2018. It’s fast, technical, and absolutely gorgeous. Marvel vs. Capcom better watch out, because Dragon Ball Fighter Z might just take its place as the king of tag team fighters.