For games based on an anime exclusively about training and fighting, the Dragon Ball series hasn’t established itself within the highly competitive world of the Fighting Game Community. Developer Arc System Works is looking to change that with the impending release of Dragon Ball FighterZ.
ArcSys, known for their Blazbue and Guilty Gear franchises, have earned a reputation for well-made fighting games with graphics that look like you’re watching an anime, and that achieve long-term viability in the fighting game community. If anyone could make a Dragon Ball game, it would be them. The game is already having an impact with people signing up in droves to compete at upcoming majors like Combo Breaker.
The source of a fighting game’s lasting competitive appeal differs between titles. Some games, like Street Fighter V, benefit from a developer backed competitive circuit. Other games, like Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3 and Super Smash Bros. Melee benefit from famous characters and universes, and inspire die-hard communities willing to do whatever it takes to support a game well beyond its sell-by date. While these are difficult to achieve in their own right, some games, like the Guilty Gear series, eschew the uncertainties and attain longevity by just being really, really good.
“DBZ has always been a big part of everyone’s anime life. There have been hundreds of DBZ games over the years but none really brought the FGC in,” said Alex Jebailey, head organiser of the renowned CEO and CEOtaku fighting game tournaments and FGC consultant for Dreamhack.
Previous DBZ games haven’t managed to achieve the kind of longevity that makes for an FGC classic. While the titles benefit from being tied to an incredibly popular franchise, sometimes the games aren’t that great and the characters are all that they have going for them. Plus, a rapid release schedule has left the games feeling pretty disposable.
DBFZ stands apart from other games bearing the Dragon Ball name. The most recent title to see wide international release was 2016’s Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 which has developed a thriving online community. While the game does offer head to head competitive play, its main focus is cooperation and letting gamers feel like they’re a part of the Dragon Ball world.
The Xenoverse games offer a fundamentally different experience from their more competitive counterparts. They aren’t about learning matchups and testing new techniques like competitive fighting games. A typical Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 session involves finding some squadmates, doing a mission, hopefully getting that loot drop you wanted (loot can include new moves, cosmetic items and other collectibles), spending your experience points to get stronger, and then repeating the process with an even tougher mission.
You’re part of a community that exists in a vibrant hub world. The draw is working together with other players to improve your avatar who you’re role playing as, not necessarily to improve yourself through training like most fighting games.
“They have communities that play the DBZ games, but those guys wouldn’t get into other games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. This game is built to appeal to the FGC, but it’s going to get more people involved on both sides,” said Jebailey.
When it was officially revealed at E3 2017, DBFZ captured the FGC’s attention in a way that other Dragon Ball games couldn’t. The game seemed to reach out to fans who felt disenfranchised by news that Marvel Vs Capcom: Infinite would not offer 3 on 3 combat like Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3, and a disappointing Story Demo for the game.
Non-Dragon Ball fans in the FGC liked the look of the game, Dragon Ball FighterZ would fill the 3-on-3 void left by MVCI. FGC patrons who were fans of the anime rejoiced because trusted studio was finally taking the reins of the franchise, this could be their game to excel at. The more casual players who loved the world of Dragon Ball and the competitive players looking to scratch an itch were both staking a claim to the game, and both sides had very different reasons to be excited.
“There are two prominent Dragon Ball games right now: DBFZ and Xenoverse 2. XV2 is a casual game but community members moving to DBFZ will have a chance. It’s so easy to pick up. With auto combos, you can just ‘push square’ and be fine, making it accessible to everyone. But to deliver that true damage, you have to be able to take the heat and stick around to learn,” said Quincy Ndukauba, a YouTuber and occasional Twitch streamer who creates Dragon Ball focused content.
Ndukauba, his online handle, has only a casual interest in fighting games, but tried Dragon Ball FighterZ at E3 and participated in the game’s beta tests. While he hasn’t personally had problems transitioning from the casual focused Xenoverse 2 to DBFZ, being wary of an impending flood of Xenoverse players has become a meme on FGC Twitter.
Posts range from wishing for casual players to drop the game quickly, to berating new players for their poor performance. For such a niche community, this seems like a counterintuitive way to increase its numbers. In his personal experience, Ndukauba hasn’t had problems when reaching out to established FGC members for help.
When asked about the Xenoverse detractors, he laughs before responding.
“I’ve seen people being goofy about it, but I understand where they’re coming from. Xenoverse is not a traditional fighter by any means, but we have no idea who might emerge from the Xenoverse community and, for all we know, might be the god of Dragon Ball FighterZ.”
DBFZ has an original story mode and its dramatic finishes, shot for shot recreations of famous moments from the anime, provide ample fan service. Whether that’s enough to make casual fans stick around remains to be seen. For better or for worse, Dragon Ball FighterZ will be a lot of people’s first ‘true fighting game.’
“FGC is going to play this because it reminds them of [ Marvel vs. Capcom] and it’s a huge IP. On the flipside, casual players going to an FGC event are probably going to get destroyed their first couple of times and that might scare them off,” said Jebailey. “But [the game is] on my radar, it’s on Dreamhack’s radar, and the T.O’s are ready. If we can bring these new players in and they enjoy the game, the sky’s the limit. We’re one of the most fun and diverse communities.”
Tournament organisers (T.Os) are the ones behind the scenes who make sure events run flawlessly. They’re the driving force behind the fun, competitive experiences that drive FGC growth and have an opportunity to positively impact gamers taking the first step towards becoming competitors. They provide the events, but it’s up to the community to help new players who want more out of the game. Memes aside, social media has also been a wellspring of FGC veterans explaining concepts to appreciative new players.
YouTube is already full of guides aimed at grooming novice players into competitive ones. Popular online personalities like Maximilian Dood have taken their experiences with the game and created tutorial content, which might benefit from a little more plain language, since useage of terms like ‘fireball forward’ will be alien to newcomers.
“It’s because of this game that I got into Guilty Gear. After the closed beta, I needed my FighterZ fix and people recommended Guilty Gear because it had a similar art style. I figured I’d give it a shot, and you know what? I freakin’ LOVE Guilty Gear. I’m hoping other people will have that same experience,” said Ndukauba.
Dragon Ball FighterZ has almost no barriers to entry. It’s got accessible controls which, as other games have proven, won’t have an impact on its skill ceiling, easily recognizable characters, a full single player experience, and there is a ton of educational content already available.
DBFZ has captured the attention of people who are and aren’t fans of Dragon Ball and it appeals to those both in and outside of the FGC. Whether or not it captures the competitive consciousness, it’s rare to see games go for such a large scale crossover attempt. Not every game is going to be Super Street Fighter II Turbo, played at a competitive level for over two decades, but Dragon Ball FighterZ’s release this week has the potential to grant a wide range of gamers’ wishes, with no need to summon Shenron.