There have been so many Dragonball (Z or otherwise) games that it's hard to tell most of them apart. While the latest Xenoverse titles attempted to spin out Akira Toyama's characters into alternate universes with online play, Dragonball FighterZ is an easier-to-explain premise: a 2D fighter with the anime's top-flight characters, with assistance from the same talent that made BlazBlue and Guilty Gear, both well-regarded competitive 2D fighters.
DFZ aims to be a properly crafted fighting game, but one with a huge injection of creative thought and polish. Producer Tomoko Hiroki explained to Engadget how the team focused on making the new game feel and look as close to the anime as possible.
Hiroki says that the way her team tried to re-create this anime look centered on what she calls 2.5D: a 3D-rendered game (made in the Unreal engine) that plays in 2D. Battles include camera-angle changes and other adjustments to add cinematic flourishes to high-powered attacks, finishers and other moments that would get special attention if a fight were actually in an animated feature.
My favorite of these comes when you defeat a character from your rival's three-player squad. Instead of the next character nonchalantly stepping into the stage to continue the fight, there's a dramatic pause, and your character turns around to see another enemy fly toward them at high speed.
Making the game with the Unreal engine meant that the team could add light effects to the characters mid-battle with ease, as well as increase the scale (smashed-in buildings, demolished planets etc). These techniques and graphical additions, Hiroki says, were only now possible due to current-generation consoles.
It's not only technical skill that inches the game closer to looking like a standalone anime: Games like Naruto: Ultimate Storm are also approaching the style of the cartoons and comics that the characters are born from. However, what's most notable with Bandai Namco's latest Dragonball game is how the creators have intentionally made frame-by-frame animation a little rougher during cinematic close-ups and special moves. This matches how animators add a sense of speed and movement by a technique known as double-framing.
It's tricks like this that seem to fool my eyes into making the game seem closer to Japanese animation than any I've played -- even the same company's other new title, Ni No Kuni 2. The team even used recent Dragonball Z animated feature films for inspiration, noting both the framing of characters during battle and how animators ramped up the dramatic tension during battles.
It's not a completely flawless transformation just yet. Pesky jagged lines on characters break the anime illusion at times, but it looks just as insanely bombastic as the teaser trailer when you play it in person. These extra cinematic touches (like we've seen in Street Fighter 4 and 5), all add to the drama of the fight.
Dragonball FighterZ will launch in public beta testing this summer, aimed at balancing both the characters, as well as inviting broad feedback from fighting-game enthusiasts and Dragonball fans. It then has six months or so to ensure it's ready for pro-fighters and fans alike when the game formally launches in early 2018.
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