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March 19, 2018

Let’s discuss Dragon Ball FighterZ.

Logic dictates that I use this slot in the schedule to do another post on Black Panther, but that’s going to have some political undercurrents in it.  And given that the last post was most definitely about politics, it’s time for a chaser.  I wouldn’t want anyone to think that this blog was serious or anything.

Of course it isn’t.  I can’t strain my credibility here.  So let’s talk about Dragon Ball FighterZ instead.

I don’t think you need me to tell you that this is a good game.  It is.  That’s extremely hard to debate.  I mean, I’ve put in enough time to see the vaguest traces of the game’s nuances, so I can kind of see how people could raise complaints.  (Universal inputs and a basic combo that works for nearly everyone in the cast might remove the uniqueness of each fighter.)  Still, those complaints aren’t enough to dissuade my opinion, and I’d imagine that the same applies for other gamers.  Well, except maybe for the Xenoverse fans out there.  But they’ve got a hard lock on Jiren DLC, so maybe that’ll tide them over for a while.

In any case, DBFZ!  I’ll be upfront and admit that I haven’t played a ton of online matches.  Arguably, I’ve fought more offline than on, and for more reasons than one (which I’ll get to in a bit).  I don’t know the exact number off the top of my head, but I know it’s more than 20 and less than 40.  In turn?  My win ratio is about 50%.  Much like my online adventures in Street Fighter V, I can never win a certain amount without losing an equal amount.  It’s actually kind of scary.

I will say this, though.  Even if I overlook the general response in the gaming community (fighting game fans or otherwise), I know that DBFZ has landed to the tune of rigorous applause.  Here’s why: as I type this, my brother is in another room, grinding it out with more online matches and -- presumably -- his team of Nappa, Trunks, and Goku.  Last I checked, AKA 1.5 weeks ago, he had logged more than 300 matches.  He’s uploaded videos of Nappa combos that can sap upwards of 75% of an opponent’s life bar.  These days, I can’t walk into the room without him going full tilt in training mode, at least between matches.

He’s a fighting game maniac.  He knows it.  I know it.  Otherwise, he wouldn’t be on his (ballpark) 8th arcade stick.  Despite that, it’s rare for me to see him so passionate about a fighting game.  Sure, he’s a Street Fighter junkie, but the effort, energy, and enthusiasm he’s shown off since the days of the beta is an entirely different beast.  Or, to put it in perspective?  I’m almost certain that, even though the Arcade Edition of SFV has long since dropped, he hasn’t touched it in weeks.  It…may have something to do with the roster’s latest edition.  Possibly.

(Cool theme, though.)

I get it, though.  DBFZ is a game that’s more or less tailor-made for him, to the point where the only game that would be more perfect is a good Naruto fighter by ArcSys (because he’s an anime pleb, you see).  It’s a game where aggression is built into the system; you have a button dedicated solely to rushing in with pinpoint accuracy…unless you or your opponent screws up the timing or combo.  You have many offensive capabilities at your disposal, no matter which characters you choose thanks to universal inputs.  In stark contrast?  Defensive play takes a perceptible backseat -- which isn’t to say that it’s not in there, but you can guess where the effort went.

Coupled with the blistering pace of the game, it leads to DBFZ being all about getting in and beating down your opponent with days-long combos.  Admittedly the speed isn’t so out there that it’s an anomaly; no doubt fans of Guilty Gear and other anime fighters feel right at home.  But compared to others, it’s the difference between a formula one car and a soapbox racer with square wheels.  Also?  This is a game where mindless turtling (AKA hyper-defensive gameplay) flat out doesn’t work.  That doesn’t mean you can’t zone or defend, but you have to rethink your approach.  SFV made a strong lean towards aggressive, up-close gameplay, but DBFZ has taken it to a new level.

And even though I’m one of those weirdos that likes defensive play, I understand the appeal.  I know it, because I started playing Yamcha, and liked it.

Yamcha is -- barring a couple of projectiles -- a straight rushdown character.  His tool kit and strategy is all about getting in and doing fast, hard damage with advancing attacks and the mixups built into his moves (though he’s got some tricky evasive actions and side-switching abilities, too).  I’ll admit that I kind of have a grudge against rushdown characters; setting aside the fact that I’ve been blown up too many times by them when they were in my brother’s hands, I feel like they fracture the spirit of the genre.  If a match in a fighting game is like a match in chess, then playing a rushdown character is akin to getting five moves for every one your opponent takes.  Like, who cares if AE Yun has low health if A) you’ll never hit him, and B) you’ll be dead before you get the chance to try?

The counterargument to my favoritism, of course, is that you shouldn’t think of it as a chess game.  You should think of it pragmatically -- as a war, with a cut-and-dry winner and loser.  Never, ever give your opponent a chance to fight back; at most, you should only have a counter ready for when they try to fight back.  In that sense?  I understand the appeal of high aggression, now more than ever.  I know it’s only a matter of time before my Yamcha gets blown up by the competition, but until then?  It feels good to go on the attack.  It feels good to rack up the damage.  It feels good to press buttons.

That’s true of every character, though -- and the fact that you can press buttons with your favorite DB characters is an extra helping of secret sauce.  I’ll be a Piccolo main until I’m in the grave; that much is non-negotiable.  But because I’m likely to find someone I like in the cast each time I hit the training mode, I’m inclined to explore and branch out.  See what other cast members can offer me.  I can’t rely on Android 16 and Vegeta forever; that would make me predictable and complacent.

So yes, Yamcha is definitely a part of the rotation.  But so is Gotenks, because he’s got some nasty tricks tucked into that tiny body of his.  So is Beerus, because his projectile game might fill a defensive itch I need to have scratched (also because his Level 3 is the coolest ever).  So is Android 18, because even if I have no clue how to reconcile adding 17 into my combos (for now), she’s still way too cool…and the owner of the best theme in the game.  So is Frieza, of all people, even if I’m always afraid I’ll kill myself with his pizza cutter projectile.  So is Android 21.

And on that note?  I finished the game’s story mode.  So let’s talk about it, because it’s --

Wait for it…

Wait for it…

Wait for it…

Yeah. S’all right.

It’s fine.  It’s not bad.  Not amazing, but it got a smile out of me a few times.  Granted my perception might be tainted, because the last fighting game story I complete was the abysmal one from Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite -- the one I’m convinced made me physically ill for days on end -- but I didn’t hate the story in DBFZ.  It’s still behind the NetherRealm games and their stories -- and take from that what you will -- but hey.  It’s a perfectly inoffensive showing that more or less did exactly what it needed to.

The setup is that clones of Earth’s mightiest warriors -- and its deadliest threats -- have begun roaming the planet and wreaking havoc.  You’d think that the Z Fighters would be able to put a stop to them in an instant, but you’d be wrong; for whatever reason, mysterious energy waves flood the planet in tandem, and have knocked out Goku, Piccolo, Krillin, and the rest.  Who’s the culprit?  The mysterious Android 21, who not only has a revived 16 by her side, but has used the Namekian Dragon Balls to bring back the canon’s deadliest foes.  The Earth’s only hope?  The power of linking, which lets a human soul -- AKA the player -- take control of a fighter’s body and unlock the power that the waves have suppressed.  Now it’s up to you to save the world, in the most blatant wish fulfillment fantasy possible.

Like, it’s an actual gameplay mechanic to have you rank up your S. Links with your favorite characters.  Throw a nice cafe in as a background, and suddenly you’re playing a dating sim.

Really, the main problem with the story is the way it’s told.  It’s split into three separate arcs, which is fine, more or less; each one plays out in a what-if format, so the events in them are never 1:1.  You start as Goku and the good guy crew, then switch to Frieza and the baddies, and wrap it up with the androids.  The problem is that the road to the second and third arcs -- and honestly, playing through the story itself -- requires you to burn through an absurd amount of filler.

You can’t just go save your friends, or find out what Frieza’s up to, or take on Android 21.  You have to fight the clones.  Many, many, many, many, many clones.  Each chapter sets you as an icon on a map with branching paths, and clearing it means you have to beat the boss in a set number of turns (and each move on the map takes a turn). How do you get to the boss?  Beat the clones.  And then, more often than not, the boss is just a bunch of clones.  All clones, all the time.

Outside of the requisite leveling up, there are only two major advantages to fighting the clones (though if you’re smart/lucky, you can clear maps with only two extra fights).  The first?  You gain competency with the character of your choice, which is why I’ve got an affinity for Yamcha now.  The second?  If you have the right characters on your team, you can get an extra pre-fight scene that fleshes them out.  Though as a corollary, leveling up your fighter of choice unlocks “Link Events”, I.e. your Social Link conversations.  They’re a nice touch that I wouldn’t mind seeing more of.  Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut I can’t, because I finished the story and at most only got to Phase 3 of those events…out of a potential 7.

The amount of filler in DBFZ’s story is beyond belief -- or maybe not, because I’m pretty sure the anime knew how to drag things out, too.  I wouldn’t fault anyone for crying that it’s a cheap way to pad out the game’s runtime; clearing one arc took me nearly 4 hours, and I can tell you right now that there is NOT enough of a narrative to justify that.  But it gets so bad, it actually reaches a point where the plot itself says “gotta beat more clones to get stronger!” and then goes on for two or three more chapters.

Hey, he said it, not me.

It’s a shame, because what’s in the game -- and actually matters -- isn’t half-bad.  The story is absolutely not going to win any awards or change the way you look at the canon forever.  It’s not going to spark a revelation or bring you one step closer to enlightenment.  In a lot of cases, the story boils down to “Oh no, evil waves!  Let’s save our friends and get stronger!  Beat those clones!  Beat the baddies!  Beat this guy!  Beat that guy!”

But the story does exactly what it needs to do: sell you on these characters, whether it’s for the first time, for another round, or for the first time in ages.  There’s a reason why Goku, Piccolo, Krillin, and the rest have endured for decades, and DBFZ goes a long way to show why.  The banter and trash talk between these guys is full of charm, yet still manages to show some healthy glimpses of who they are besides spiky hair and planet-leveling superpowers.  Having watched -13 episodes of DB Super, my appreciation of Android 18 is higher than they ever where when Z ruled the airwaves.

Pummeling brain-dead clones may have turned into a slog, but the sheer number of times the dialogues put a smile on my face very nearly justified it.     

The real MVP of the story is Android 21, even if it’s a long while before you get to go hands-on with her.  In the first two arcs, though, she still manages to establish herself as a major presence; she may be an OC newcomer to the canon, but she carries more menace than some of the OG villains.  Part of that has to do with the graphics, I’d say; her body language and especially her facial expressions go a long way in proving why she deserves to have a whole game built around her.

To be honest, I was more invested in her story than the overall narrative -- not just because the game dangles a carrot on a stick vis a vis her origin, but because there’s more to her than a cackling villain.  The truth is that 21 -- while originally human -- was used by Dr. Gero and his autonomous computer to become a fighting machine even stronger than Cell.  To make that magic happen, the computer altered her body as well as infused her with cells from Buu.  No way that could backfire. 

21 comes out just as strong as the late doctor would have hoped, but as a result of the Majin cells, she’s unstable.  She’s consumed by a desire to feed that corrupts her, and progressively breaks her mind into pieces.  Crucially, the Android arc reveals that 21 -- the real 21 -- is actually a well-mannered, soft-spoken lady.  Admittedly her shtick comes off as waifu-bait, but given that the canon is almost entirely bereft of that feminine touch, it’s a change of pace I’m willing to accept.

And it works better because it’s offset by the other Android 21.  Whether it’s through the other two arcs, gameplay videos, or promotional materials, it’s not hard to find 21 looking like a total psychopath.  But she’s only a psychopath because of forces beyond her control.  The kindhearted researcher for the Red Ribbon Army (or so she claims in the good guys’ arc) is forced to have an obsession with power and strength -- with gluttonous consumption and the joy that comes from it.

In a way, she’s a tragic mirror of everyone’s favorite idiot.  Goku’s a fight-loving goofball who typically and willingly makes things harder for everyone so he can have his fun and excitement -- but at least he’s in control.  At least he has a reason to want to get stronger.  At least he knows what he’s doing, and can course-correct as needed.  21 can’t.  You get to see her lose her mind, struggle to repress the corrupting influence of the Majin cells (and fail), and even commit horrible acts against her friends just because her tummy-tum started to rumble.  It’s a level of complexity you wouldn’t really expect from anything with the DB brand.

Also, side note: boy does 16 get a raw deal here.  It’s bad enough he died in the canon, but this rebuilt version of him proceeds to die in all three story arcs.  It’s like he took notes from Groundskeeper Willie.

Repeated android deaths or otherwise, I’d say I’m in a good place with the story.  I can’t totally vouch for its quality or pardon its foibles -- the first two arcs seriously start to drag when you have to rescue every playable character and then explain everything that’s going on, over and over -- but when it’s actually focused and pushing forward, it’s not bad.  There’s a part of me that’s dreading playing through it all over again so I can use Android 21 on both my account and my brother’s (for when we play together).  On the other hand, there’s a part of me that’s legitimately interested in playing through my file some more so I can see the extra scenes I missed.

Then again, I could just use YouTube.  So maybe I’ll do that in the interest of time.  Nier’s not gonna finish itself.

For what it’s worth, I’m generally very happy with DBFZ.  I wonder what kind of future it has with the FGC, because there’s always the chance -- however slim in this case -- that support could dry up and it’ll crumble into dust while hanging from its tree.  But even if that dark future awaits us, what matters is that the excitement and hype are here.  Right here, right now.

So yeah.  Thanks, ArcSys.  Thanks, Bamco.  You’ve not only made the best DB game I’ve ever played, but also helped reignite my passion for the franchise.  So maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaybe this isn’t the last time you see DBZ on this blog.

See you guys around.

Actually, you know what?  Hold on.  There’s something I’ve gotta address.  Everybody makes fun of Yamcha for getting killed by one of the Saibamen because lol memes, but that’s some revisionist history bullshit.  Yamcha actually beat his Saibaman decisively -- maybe not flawlessly, but decisively -- and only lost because the little green man snagged him in a kamikaze attack while he got cocky (though he kind of had the right to be cocky because of his win).  Then he goes on to -- alongside the other dead Z Fighters -- beat the shit out of the Ginyu Force, one of which nearly killed Gohan, Krillin, and Vegeta.  

Really, he only loses ground during the Android Saga, but only because A) Dr. Gero/Android 20 rushed him first, and B) everybody gets their asses whooped by 17 and 18.  After that came Cell, and I don’t think I need to tell you how that turned out.  So really, dumping on Yamcha means either dumping on someone who didn’t deserve it, or, more appropriately, dumping on anyone who isn’t Goku, Vegeta, or otherwise blessed with that ever-so-convenient Saiyan blood.

I just wrote a paragraphs-long postscript in defense of Yamcha.  I…I don’t know if this a new personal low, or a new personal high.

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