Are you the strongest warrior?
Dragon Ball Fusions on Nintendo 3DS
Dragon Ball is quite possibly the most popular anime to ever come to the West, so there’s no surprise that there are so many video games set within its alien warrior-filled universe. Yet most of those games follow the same fighting-game formula, and most of the few releases that don’t never fared too well. Knowing this, when Dragon Ball Fusions was announced, I must admit that I was a bit skeptical. A turn-based RPG with a bit of action thrown in for good measure, chibi designs of all the iconic characters, and 3DS exclusivity had me wondering if this was a recipe for disaster. Yet it somehow all works, although it isn’t without its issues.
Dragon Ball Fusions kicks off with you creating your own adorable addition to the Dragon Ball universe. You can choose from five different overall races, all of which allow you to customize their color, hair, and name. When the story kicks off, you’re talking to a young boy named Pinnich as you guys find the last Dragon Ball. Pinnich wishes for an ultimate tournament that would once and for all decide who is the greatest warrior of them all. It’s a silly wish that sets the tone for the rest of the game as you and Pinnich are pulled into a world revolving around this tournament.
The world itself is set up like a tower of sorts, made of open areas capped by invisible barriers that serve as the driving force behind all of Dragon Ball Fusions’ main mechanics. In order to progress and actually take part in this ultimate tournament, you must gather a team of five warriors and prove your worth by gathering energy. The catch is that the amount of energy you can carry is limited by the amount of each of the races you manage to recruit to join your team.
This is where things got interesting in Dragon Ball Fusions. In a way it’s very similar to a monster collector, where you gather up tons of different fighters although you know you’re only going to use a select few. You can only use five characters at a time (including your created character) but you can collect hundreds, ranging from random NPCs created just for this game to iconic fighters like Bardok and Broly. To recruit more fighters you’ll have to face them in battle, and that’s where the fun of Dragon Ball Fusions lies.
Battles pit two teams of fighters against one another. In the beginning you’ll be alone, but after the first hour or so you’ll have a full team of five. Battles are turn based and run on a move timeline very similar to that found in Child of Light. Based on a fighter speed, and any other buffs that may be in play, their picture will move along the timeline and dictate when they get to act. You can affect this by knocking them back with attacks, and move your allies closer to the front. That’s the basic nature of it, but it actually becomes more interesting once you realize the position of your fighters on the field is important, as battles become games of table hockey using Dragon Ball heroes and villains as pucks.
When you go in for an attack, you don’t just return to where you were. You stay there. Throughout a battle, all of the characters on the field are constantly moving around. When you go for a Ki Blast you can move your fighter to where you feel they’ll have the most effect, even catching multiple foes in one blast. Melee attacks put you up close and personal with your opponent. A quick meter pops up on your screen and you have to decide what angle to approach as your enemy decides which side to block from. Manage to attack a point that’s not blocked and you’ll have a successful attack, mess up and you’ve just put yourself in enemy territory while doing very little damage.
When you are successful, though, you can knock characters towards other fighters on the field, and they act as solid objects. You can actually knock enemies into allies or other enemies to create combos that send fighters flying all about the field. It adds a layer of positional strategy as you figure out which direction will set things up best, and whether it’s worth going into a group for a melee attack knowing you’ll be stuck between damage dealing bumpers when all is said and done.
I must say, though, that while the combat is fun and engaging, it becomes repetitive when you realize you need to throw yourself into these battles in order to recruit characters you don’t want, just so you can have energy. But it feels as if the folks at Ganbarion (developer of Dragon Ball Fusions) knew they had to make the endless grind worthwhile, and that’s when the game’s namesake comes into play. Sitting front and center of the title’s mechanics are the very fusions that will prove to be the silliest yet time consuming part of your experience.
If you’ve seen the anime, then you’ll know that the wrong combination can lead to a dreadful fusion. Major fighters in Dragon Ball Fusions can only fuse with specific individuals, but your created character can fuse with literally anybody, often times ending in hilarious results. This gives a purpose to all the useless fighters you collect, allowing you to increase your own powers and unlock the ability to use more skills if you fuse with a type and race that is different from your own. I probably spent more time trying out different combos than anything, and it added quite a bit to the experience as I created teams of nothing but fusions. The developers took the idea and ran with it, and I’m happy that it turned out better than most would imagine.
The problem is that there isn’t much else to Dragon Ball Fusions than its solid combat system and hilarious fusing of characters. The game that’s built around these mechanics is relatively devoid of life, simply tasking you with fighting more and creating more fusions, which isn’t what I expected of an RPG. I expect to be a major part of the narrative, not to just be along for the ride, and I want a world that is more than just a place to fight NPCs in.
While the visuals certainly are impressive on the 3DS, allowing you to fly through empty worlds with iconic locations dotting the maps, and the use of cuter models rather than what you’d see in the console fighting games is a smart move on the handheld hardware, I couldn’t help but notice that it was primarily empty. I moved through these worlds going from quest to quest and found myself relying on fast travel after a while just so I could try to ignore that I was alone. The random NPCs flying around are faceless until you enter battle with them, and magnifies how little is existing outside of my battles.
I must give credit where credit is due though. When locked in battle and creating my mad scientist fusions, I was definitely enjoying myself. JRPG mechanics fit the Dragon Ball universe much better than I anticipated. And as a fan of the source material, I was pleasantly surprised by how many different characters filled the roster. But when I was left out in the world, looking for my next quest, the excitement was gone. The mechanics are there, but an RPG requires more than a great battle system and interesting fusion mechanic. If anything, this was a great first step and I seriously look forward to how Ganbarion build on what they have here.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to ignore the lacking story and largely dead play areas. If you’re a fan of Dragon Ball in general you’ll find smiles and some fun here, but if you’re looking for an amazing RPG experience, you may want to look elsewhere.
Score: 3/5 – Fair