It is the rare licensed game that grants you greater insight into the source material.
And the greatest insight offered by Dragon Ball FighterZ? The exact mechanisms of why Krillin sucks.
First, let’s talk about the dragon in the room: Dragon Ball FighterZ is a good game. Not only that, but it’s a good Dragon Ball fighting game. And this might be a first! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I have played a lot of Dragon Ball (mostly Z) games. I am a DBZ nerd, and have been since approximately sixth grade. It’s like wrestling! Except everybody can fly and shoot lasers out of various appendages and orifices! I am all about that! So I’ve dutifully purchased practically every DBZ game that has come down Dragon Way, going all the way back to Dragon Ball GT Final Bout (a game that featured nearly the whole breadth of Dragon Ball history, but was released in America when Goku had barely reached Frieza. Who is this little chirping pink guy? And why is Vegeta a baby?). But one constant through the DBZ game pantheon is that, unfortunately, they’re not very good. Some of the RPG/adventure style DBZ games are pretty great, but the fighting games… not so much.
And Dragon Ball FighterZ seems to clearly elucidate why: DBZ games shouldn’t follow DBZ. Okay, yes, you need to have Goku and Cell and all kinds of crazy “he’s moving too fast for saiyan eyes” flurry punches, but you absolutely have to drop the many “this happens every episode so it should be in the game” quirks of the series. Flight? It sounds cool, but grant your fighters the ability to “stand” on different planes, and everything gets too… chase-y. Just let DBZ fighters feel like regular fighting game characters, and maybe add in a homing punch or two. And beam fights? It seems like every DBZ fighting game has had some desperate need to make big, dramatic moments out of two dudes grunting and shoving lasers while the player is expected to hammer buttons or rotate a joystick. And that has never been fun. Ever! DBFZ makes it clear that you could get an amazing DBZ fighting game out of a traditional fighter, and you can still include DBZ tropes. Just showing a little restraint for the sake of genre helps.
But this isn’t to say DBFZ is just Guilty Gear reskinned as Dragon Ball. While Goku and Vegeta seem to have a weird (appropriate) Ryu/Ken thing going on, the cast is unmistakably themselves, with Tien focusing on measured counters, and Yamcha whipping out ridiculous auto-combo moves. Frieza can summon planet-wrecking balls of energy, and Kid Buu is a whirling dervish of destruction. And even newcomers to the series firmly establish themselves with their movesets: Hit is cool and collected, and Goku Black’s ki scythes tell you this dude is bad news. Going back to Street Fighter 2, the most important thing a fighting game can do is ground its fighters with their moves and abilities (you know, the stuff you see every nanosecond when you’re actually playing the game), and DBFZ does that in an obvious and amazing manner. No two characters are exactly alike, and this is in stark contrast to previous DBZ fighting games containing seventy characters that all “punch a lot and shoot beams”. And that is why nobody likes you, Turles.
So it’s only natural that all these fighters wind up in a pretty sprawling story mode. Arcade modes are the lifeblood of fighting games, but DBZ has always been two parts muscles dudes to its 98 parts soap opera. Of course we have to have a new villain and an excuse for why only two people can fight each other at one time (as opposed to how, in the series proper, only two people can fight at a time because… uhh… senzu beans?). The excuse du jour is that the previously unseen Android 21 has activated some random machine that Dr. Gero left behind, and now “a human soul” must bond with DBZ heroes and villains alike to grant the fighters access to their innate super destructive muscle powers. Nobody was expecting “the hero is the player” meta shenanigans from a DBZ game, but, hey, it works in this context. And it grants us an excuse for Goku to be “level 1” even though he has successfully fought his way through multiple realities at this point (and thus should be capable of punching Captain Ginyu straight through to the Sailor Moon universe).
But it’s this leveling system that is the most DBZ thing to have ever graced a videogame. Like many JRPGs, only “active” characters receive experience. And, also like most JRPGs, your party grows as time goes on. You start with you initial lil’ dudes, but it’s inevitable that you’ll wind up with new, more interesting party members as the game progresses. It’s only natural that Vegeta isn’t available in the first “dungeon”, because, come on, you’ve gotta earn a rude boy like that. And since the new characters are objectively better than the old characters, well, here’s a screenshot of my party from shortly before the final battle…
Zoom in! Enhance!
Yes, the rest of the party is Level 30-40, and Krillin is Level 3. Tien and Yamcha aren’t much better. Assuming I were to take any of these dudes out to challenge the final boss, a creature that is firmly level 50, my bald little hero would die. He would die immediately.
And that’s canon!
Sure, we all say we want to see the return of the Dragon Ball OG characters. Yes, we all claim we want to see the humans take the spotlight again, and shake these damn saiyans off their high perch. But you know what? Krillin is cool, but Toriyama already told his story. You could even claim some of the latter DBZ characters have completed arcs, too (Gohan comes to mind here). But the story keeps going, and the main character keeps finding new worlds and universes. Bald Guy and Bald Guy with Three Eyes are neat, but there’s a God of Destruction on the table now, and he’s a kitty cat, so what’s his deal? Silent assassin from another universe? Sounds good, too. Goku, but genocidally evil? That’s a cool story! And… I already know Krillin’s story. He’s a guy that likes porn and is always going to be second banana to Goku. I don’t need him in my party right now. Even his wife tosses a better destructo disc.
Krillin, I love you, and you’re great… but you suck. And there’s a big, green science experiment that wants to be part of my party now. Please understand.
Dragon Ball FighterZ helps me to comprehend how it feels to be Goku. DBFZ helps me to recognize that, even if you care about some bald little buddy, sometimes you have to ditch him for the entire story, because, come on, who doesn’t want to team up with Nappa? He doesn’t have any hair and he’s taller. There’s really no choice at all here…
FGC #382 Dragon Ball FighterZ
- System: Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Also, Gameboy Advance if your PC’s power is subpar.
- Number of players: Two players controlling six total fighters. But only one at a time! It’s pretty much Marvel vs. Capcom rules… and that’s just fine.
- What’s in a name: The title is pronounced “Dragon Ball Fighters”. This is because the good people at Bandai Namco have no idea how letters work.
- Story Similarities: For some reason, every time the party retreats to Bulma’s ship and chats about the next move, I am reminded of another franchise.
- Other Story Issues: Look, I understand that it wouldn’t make “story sense” for there to be clones of the androids, or characters from other universes, or anyone that is already a corpse possessed by a god, or whatever, but the billions of fights against Clone Yamcha in story battles seem to necessitate using the entire roster for that mode. There aren’t even Clone Young Gohan or Clone Majin (Fat) Buus running around! A little variety is important when you’re fighting three a match.
- Favorite Fighter (this game): I’m going to say Hit, but only because he kind of represents Champa, the Garfield of the Dragon Ball universe. Champa for DLC!
- A Quick Word about Krillin: Krillin isn’t all bad. He is a great friend, an attentive father, and an excellent husband to a previously murderous cyborg. However, he is also the one guy in DBZ with the highest death count. To be clear, that is not a kill count, what that means is that Krillin has been killed the most times in the Dragon Ball franchise. He was once killed by a tambourine! Strongest human in the universe or not, Krillin knows his place in the world, and it’s in the Home For Infinite Suckers.
- Did you know? Speaking of Hit, he is an assassin from another universe. In other words, he is a hitman. Hit the hitman. Someone should be in jail for DBZ naming schemes.
- Would I play again: I’m still playing it! Story mode might be over forever, but maybe I’ll throw Krillin a bone for some online matches. Least I could do for the little guy.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg for Nintendo Gamecube! Now that’s an eggcelent choice! Please look forward to it!