Dragon Ball FighterZ is out, spawning countless brutal online battles between players eager to rise to the top of the leaderboards. But fret not, multiplayer-phobic fighting game fans — the game's lengthy and demanding story mode is an excellent way to delay the inevitable multiplayer beat-down.
Rather than rehash familiar storylines as countless Dragon Ball games before it, FighterZ features an original story centered around an all-new character. Clones of the series' most powerful fighters rampage across the planet, and a mysterious energy leaves the originals powerless to stop them. In the first of three story arcs, the player is cast as a disembodied soul that finds itself inhabiting the body of pointy-haired protagonist Goku.
The cutscenes are freaking gorgeous.
With Bulma's help (because Goku never would have figured it out on his own), we discover that linking our soul with Dragon Ball's heroes and villains is the only way they can battle the mysterious figure behind the chaos. And so Goku and the player embark on a mission to rescue his allies from the clones, getting the band back together to face the growing threat.
Story mode plays out as a sort of board game. Each chapter is made up of several maps. The player has a limited number of moves to make it to the map goal. Using characters unlocked as the story progresses, players form a party, assign power-ups and battle their way across the map, one space at a time.
Initially, map-clearing is pretty easy. Battles in the first story arc are really basic, with low-level AI combatants that leave themselves open far more than they should. Many of the stops on first arc maps are tutorial battles, requiring players to perform certain tasks for a bonus reward.
The first arc's battles were so easy, in fact, that it wasn't until I was a quarter of the way into the second arc that I realised my characters' health did not fully recharge between battles, requiring me to swap in fresh fighters while the others idle and heal.
Once the difficulty rises, choosing the right player skills becomes essential. Collected by winning story battles, player skills are slotted items that either buff the player's team or debuff their enemies. The right mix of skills can make a difficult fight much easier, or make low-level characters that haven't seen much action much more effective against stronger opponents.
The first arc is learning the ropes. The second is embracing strategy. The third — well, the third requires spoilers.
OK, so arc one, the Super Warrior Arc, is the story of what happens when the player's wayward soul enters Goku. Arc two, the Enemy Warrior Arc, is the story about what happens when the player's soul gets stuck in Frieza instead of Goku, amassing an army of villains (at least initially) instead of heroes.
Both stories lead to a confrontation with the game's major villain, the delightful new character Android 21. She transforms warriors into snacks and eats them. She is the best.
The first two arcs each reveal a little bit of the story of Android 21. The third arc, appropriately called the Android 21 Arc, reveals the true secret of the new character.
Or so I am told. The third arc is really tough. Instead of gathering a horde of warriors and picking and choosing which three fight while the others rest, there are only two characters — Androids 16 and 18. There's no subbing in a fresh character while either of those two heals, so having a powerful health recover skill equipped is a must.
If the battles are going smoothly, the player can slot an experience gain skill to help level the two up faster, making map battles a little less challenging. It's very tense.
I like it. I'm about 70 per cent through the third arc, and I sweat every time I go into battle, terrified of having to start a whole map over. It might not have the fun character interactions of the first two arcs, but this is the end game — there's no time for frivolity.
You shush Ginyu
I'm nearly done with Dragon Ball FighterZ's story mode, after fighting 137 battles over the course of 9 hours. Once I'm done there'll still be plenty of hidden story interactions and special scenes to unlock. I'm excited to experience all the mode has to offer.
There's no need to be afraid of Dragon Ball FighterZ online multiplayer mode. I've played several bouts since the servers went live, and even when I lose it's a damn good time. Maybe don't think of the story mode as avoidance. Think of it as training for the main event. Lots of deep and challenging training that has nothing to do with watching your name slowly sink to the bottom of the rankings.
Look for our full review of Dragon Ball FighterZ this week.