Who doesn’t love anime?
Okay, well, a lot of people. But for whatever reason, even if you don’t love anime you probably love Dragonball. Or at least like Dragonball. C'mon. It’s become as important to pop culture as any comic book or blockbuster movie franchise, if not more so. It’s also one of the few anime to have such crossover appeal. While we’ve received many Dragonball-related video games in the past, all of them varying in quality, almost none have been as exciting to fans of the series as Bandai Namco’s upcoming Dragonball FighterZ.
From the moment it first leaked onto the internet it’s been hard to contain the hype for the 2.5D fighter. Arc System Works, the developer behind the game, has a consistent track record of creating deep and exciting fighting games that appeal to the hardcore fighting game community. Behind games like BlazBlue, Guilty Gear, Persona 4 Arena and others, it’s an exciting decision from Bandai Namco who has normally had the Japan-based Dimps in charge of Dragonball-related fighters.
Even more impressive is how faithful Dragonball FighterZ looks when compared to the original anime it's based on. Focusing on Dragonball Z and Dragonball Super, Dragonball FighterZ uses the same technique as Arc System Works' most recent mainline Guilty Gear title by animating characters in cel-shaded 3D. It also uses various framerate techniques like using 24fps for various anime-style animations to look and feel like the show.
Of course though, this is the internet, and so people have still found things to complain about.
For some, Dragonball FighterZ’s roster of 27 characters isn’t enough and, while that criticism may seem a bit indulgent at first glance, there’s some important factors to keep in mind. Mainly, the fact that the game will be a three-vs-three brawler. Like King of Fighters or Marvel vs Capcom 3, the three-vs-three dynamic can make for exciting and complicated matches with tonnes of variables to keep track of. More importantly, it puts an emphasis on team dynamics over individual character selections which can make the 27 characters in the game feel a bit smaller than if it were just a one-on-one fighter like your average Street Fighter game. It makes things even worse when you consider that the game features many different variations of the same characters to fill out its roster.
For someone unfamiliar with the series, it can be a bit odd to see multiple versions of characters popping up in the character select screen. As someone who just introduced their parents to Dragonball for the first time over the holidays, I can understand the confusion. Sure, each different version of the character will most likely play wildly different than one another. For instance, the first version of Goku is balanced pretty well across the board while his SSGSS variant could be considered a glass canon — a character with a lot of power but not a lot of health. Yet even with these considerations, casual players may begin to wonder what’s the point with all this tomfoolery?
The answer is beyond just Dragonball FighterZ, but stems from one of the biggest problems the medium of anime, what many fans know of as “power creep”. Other shōnen like Naruto, One-Piece, and My Hero Academia have all struggled with this in their own way. Dragonball itself perhaps being the poster child — it’s arguably the one of the most influential shōnen of all time, and has perhaps become the most referenced case of power creep in anime.
When the original Dragonball first started in 1984, it began as a loose adaptation of the classic Chinese novel, Journey to the West. Its main character was a young monkey-boy with a stick who went on an adventure in search of the magic dragon balls, which have their roots in ancient Asian folklore. As the series progressed, action became a more integral part of the story and forced its creator, Akira Toryiyama, to age-up the protagonist Goku to draw more compelling action scenes. The original Dragonball manga ran from 1984 to 1995 and its anime adaptation eventually created a sequel series to cover the portions of the manga from 1988 and onward.
It’s a series that ran continually for over a decade, with fans seeing its main characters grow over the course of its run. Over that time, characters fought everything from villainous kung-fu masters to super-powered aliens from other worlds. Eventually things became so insane that the most intimidating villains of previous story arcs were killed in an instant in the following arc. To put it bluntly, Dragonball is about as consistent as your average internet connection.
For many long-running shōnen like Dragonball, however, that’s all part of the appeal. Watching characters grow from small, humble beginnings is something unique to the serialised format of long-running anime. Even in other shows with similarly lengthy runs, it just wasn’t the same. It’s not like we saw Frazier go from a mild-mannered psychiatrist in Cheers to a world-demolishing super-God in Frazier, despite how badly I wish we did. It can make the mundane even more enjoyable by contrast, as filler arcs like the Great Saiyaman Saga where Gohan goes on to become a high school super-hero are just as beloved as the important bits.
This delineation of time is the root of Dragonball FighterZ's multiple repeating characters and, for as much as some fans may complain about the other characters that could be taking up those spots instead, I think it’s a vital part of what makes Dragonball so, well, Dragonball. In a world where the “Super Saiyan” power-ups have their own inner hierarchy of power ups, including Super Saiyans 1, 2, 3, 4, Super Saiyan God, and Super Saiyan Blue, what other choice is there for anyone wanting to play one of the many different versions of Goku throughout the years? It’s a part of what makes the series so mythic, constantly creating new rules to circumvent the ones they’ve already established to take the tension to newer heights. Is it silly? Of course, but what kind of world would this be if it didn’t have the silliness of Dragonball?