I don’t want to sound like a predictable videogame reviewing cliche, but anything that involves creating mutant hybrids from Dragon Ball characters is usually OK with me.
Naturally I was quite excited, then, when asked to review Dragon Ball Fusions, a game built on that very concept. This idea comes direct from the various fusions seen in the TV show that gave the Dragon Ball franchise its fame, whereby two (or sometimes more) characters do a cute little dance and then merge into one ultra-powerful warrior.
Fusing two of your favourite characters is an inherently exciting concept - when Dragon Ball Z was first pounding its way into the consciousness of New Zealand’s impressionable seven-year-olds, fused characters were a thing of awe and mystery. Images of Vegito, the end result of a Goku/Vegeta business merger, sent playgrounds across the country into a spin – who is this guy? It was as mysterious as when Nintendo first released images of Pokemon’s second generation, where children across the globe pretty much unanimously decided that Marill was called Pikablu, because, well, it looked like Pikachu, and it was blue. Vegito’s hair is also blue. Coincidence? Probably. Why didn’t we call him Blugeta? Morons.
The point is I am familiar with the franchise and the fusions that exist within it, but this title takes that a step further; in the TV show fusions are relatively rare and limited to certain characters and situations. Now through a process called Ex Fusion, pretty much any combination of characters is possible.
Combined with RPG-based character progression and turn-based combat, there’s a fair amount to pick up here. With such a theoretically deep gameplay system, does Dragon Ball Fusions mesh its delivery with its promises?
Dragon Ball Fusions begins with character creation. There’s a good range of options, with four races to choose from, each with different perks – standard RPG stuff. You can be an Earthling, a Saiyan, Namekian or Offworlder and choose different hairstyles, faces and heights as well as whether you are male or female.
The game begins with you and friend/rival Pinich using the Dragon Balls to summon the great dragon Shenron and wish for the greatest martial arts tournament ever to discover who is the strongest warrior in the universe. This narrative wins zero prizes for complexity, but arena combat to determine the world’s strongest fighter is a solid combat choice according to The Hunger Games, Gladiator, Ratchet and Clank, Shadow of Rome and Paul Phoenix from Tekken.
In an entirely unprecedented twist, things don’t go according to plan. A Timespace Rift is opened, distorting time, space and quite often logic, forcing you into combat with a myriad of opponents from across the Dragon Ball universe. Despite all that stuff about torn universe fabric, everyone agrees it’s best to still go ahead with the tournament. Although the whole point was to discover the world’s best fighter – singular – for whatever reason the tournament is going to be decided in teams of five versus five. Alright.
To bolster your ranks you need to recruit characters, either through story progression or by beating them using special finishing moves. The more team members you have the more energy you can hold, which in turn can be used to unlock additional areas for more quests, battles, and rewards of more allies and clothing options.
Although the story is original, the battles do vaguely follow the progression of the Dragon Ball Z series, starting with battles against the overly-confident Saiyan duo of Raditz and Nappa, and culminating with the likes of Cell and Frieza. However don’t expect to load your bench with ki-soaked Z beasts; the characters you recruit prior to the end-game are mostly lesser-known fighters (to the point where I’m not sure if they’re lesser-known or custom created for this game) which is disappointing.
There are many things that would have worked for this game if they had been pulled off right. Travelling around the open world in an aura of flaming energy, complete with classic sound effects, is an extremely satisfying experience for franchise fans. The range of characters is also really good, even if you can’t get most of them until after the main story is completed, where there’s little use for them. Unfortunately there are some glaring issues that make enjoying the good things almost impossible.
Ex Fusion is the game’s biggest point of difference, and franchise fans will get extended play by experimenting with character combinations. I played most of the first half as a Saiyan/Namek before fusing with Majin Buu to become the fleshy pink Saiyan monster I was born to be. But even this is mired in difficulties - in order to Ex Fuse with certain characters, a range of conditions must be met and some of these are extremely time consuming and will definitely not be done by the end of the game. In order to fuse with Goku/Vegeta/Cell/anyone that I would have liked to fuse with I’d have to grind harder than Tony Hawk on a dancefloor, and I don’t have that kind of energy.
Side-quests flesh out the game, but they’re seemingly glitched and annoying. Dragon Ball Fusions is one of the first games I’ve ever played where a “find some lost property” quest genuinely feels like the game’s developers have lost some property. Multiple times quest items failed to spawn on the map, and only after completing apparently unrelated story events did they spawn. If it’s not a glitch it’s a super frustrating design option.
The combat system is turn-based and is the meat of the game, and is also its saving grace. Fast-paced, fun and tactical, melee attacks and ki blasts are used to charge power to use special moves and do some serious damage. This includes an extremely powerful, five-way Ultra Fusion. All the classic techniques are there including the traditional kamehameha, and defeating opponents with a ring out gives you a chance to learn more moves. It’s a shame the combat is mired in the game’s wider problems as the system has promise.
For fans of the Dragon Ball franchise I can see this game having some appeal. For everyone else, there are just far too many problems to put up with, and some parts feel unfinished or ill-considered. If you’re curious about this game and the promise of fusion-fury with your favourite Dragon Ball Characters, it could be worth a try. If you’re a franchise newbie that wants a good RPG, look elsewhere.
Brendan received a digital copy of Dragon Ball Fusions from Bandai Namco for review.