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Dragon Ball FighterZ beginner’s guide

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Learn the fundamentals to make the flashy stuff work

Arc System Works/Bandai Namco

With the release of Dragon Ball FighterZ, a lot of new players — both fans of Dragon Ball and people taken in by the game’s stunning animation — will be trying out a fighting game, possibly for the first time. However, online multiplayer will be a shark pit of veterans who will immediately master this game’s complex systems and vaporize newbies as effortlessly as Trunks once did to Frieza. That’s just how it goes in competitive games. Don’t let it get you down.

The goal of our Dragon Ball FighterZ guides is to help with that. By explaining fighting game basics, as well as systems that are unique to Dragon Ball FighterZ, we want to give beginners a leg up against their experienced competition. Rather than the flashy stuff, we’re going to start from the fundamentals that you need to understand to make the flashy stuff work. Remember: The only way to raise your power level is to train hard.

That being said, this series does assume basic familiarity with the game. We recommend you run through the tutorial for starters.

Understanding the circle of life in fighting games

The first read that experts make on new players is that they’re “probably just going to mash buttons.” It’s understandable: When faced with a game like this, most people do. However, to the expert, the opponent who just mashes buttons and hopes for the best is like a rock-paper-scissors player who yells “ROCK!” before the game has even begun, and who continues to yell “ROCK!” forever. All you have to do to beat them is say “paper.” This is a free win.

This is because fighting games are, at their core, much like rock-paper-scissors. The three main actions in most fighting games have a similar relationship. In a good fighting game, every move has a counter.

Blocking beats attacks. Throws (in this game, that’s Dragon Rush) beat blocking. Attacks beat throws.

So if I think you’re going to mash buttons (like above) and hope for the best, I’m going to sit back and block until I see you leave yourself open with a big move. Then I’m going to attack, land my combo and keep on attacking.

On the other side of the coin, if I think you’re going to block for a bit, I’m going to try and swoop in with the Dragon Rush (like above). Its function is basically the same as throwing in other fighting games, and it’s harder to avoid the closer in you are. Attacking the Dragon Rush as it comes in, preferably with a fast light attack, will either counter it or cause a clash that leaves both players at a neutral distance from each other.

There are, of course, many more moves and counters than this in Dragon Ball FighterZ, but it’s important to understand the core relationship. Everything comes down to expectations and your opponent’s guess of what your next move is going to be. When we get to “I knew you thought I was going to do that,” that’s when the game gets truly interesting. If you only play rock, you’ll never get to see that extra dimension.

Initiative, or first hit wins

While Dragon Ball FighterZ is a game where the attacker has the upper hand, raw aggression doesn’t mean much if you don’t know when it’s time to attack and when it’s time to block.

Let’s say you have an opponent knocked down, but again, they’re really committed to mashing buttons and hoping for the best. This is an ideal situation for you as the attacker. Approach and time your attack for the moment they stand up, and if your opponent really is mashing buttons and not blocking, you will hit every single time.

This is because in most fighting games, the first hit to land is the one that wins. Without getting into the frames of animation and fractions of a second involved, speed usually kills. If you’re already standing and your opponent is in the process of standing up, who is going to be able to throw a punch first? The answer should be clear.

During the Dragon Ball FighterZ online beta, the number-one reason I saw players losing was that they insisted on pressing buttons while standing up from a knockdown. In the example above, the CPU Cell is set to press heavy attack over and over again, which is easy to thwart with Gohan’s attacks.

Rather than repeating this folly, deal with an opponent’s attack by blocking and waiting for your opening. Many moves will leave an attacker open to a riposte when blocked. Observe and practice with every move to find your chances to counter.

Blocking high and low

While it is true that blocking beats attacks, it’s very bad to think of blocking as some kind of impenetrable shield through which nothing may pass. It’s just one of the tools we use, and attackers can even break through your block with smart guesses. A player who keeps attacking, attacking and attacking against their opponent’s block will inevitably find the right move and break through.

Most characters’ medium attack while crouching is a low hit (as you can see above). This means that even if your opponent is blocking while standing, they’ll still get hit. Imagine their feet being swept out from under them. The low medium attack almost always leads to a combo that will do big damage, so you need to be especially wary of this one landing. When I fought against other players in the beta, the second biggest mistake they all made was consistently failing to block low.

Every character can hold forward and press medium attack to do a high attack. Generally, you’ll see the character hop into the air and strike downward with clasped fists (as you can see above). Even if your opponent is crouching while blocking, they’ll take this hit. Think of those fists coming down on the head of a crouching opponent. These attacks are frequently also called “overheads.”

The basic overhead does minor damage on its own, and players can’t cancel it into any other moves. When it’s used by itself, you don’t need to worry much about it. It’s a lot better to take a weak hit than to block in anticipation of a weak hit and get slammed with a huge combo instead.

However, with the help of the right assist, attackers can turn even a basic overhead into big damage. If you see them hop and then see an assist pop out, stand up and block.

Because you can tie nearly any hit into a big combo in Dragon Ball FighterZ, you need to be especially vigilant while blocking. Most players start their barrage with a low hit, so it’s good to start with a low guard while looking out for the opponent to try a high attack. However, no defense is absolute. When you’re blocking, always be thinking about how you can turn the tables and land a counter hit.

Leaving yourself open

Dragon Ball FighterZ is a game where every move flows into the next move, and when you start pressing buttons, you don’t have to stop until there’s a big explosion on the screen. However, savvy fighting game players are always looking for an opening.

The most obvious case is the big, unguarded pause that players make after a Meteor Attack (as you can see above). This is an example of risk versus reward: You can try playing the trump card, but if you fail, you’re going to pay dearly. Using a random Meteor Attack out of the blue is generally a good way to get hurt badly.

This applies, to a lesser extent, to other moves. Goku’s charging punch (seen above) is a powerful surprise overhead attack that he can cancel into a super attack. If it hits, the reward is great. However, if it doesn’t, and Goku doesn’t have meter to cancel into a super attack or Vanish, he is forced into a defensive posture. He’s not open for long enough to take a hit, but he is open for long enough that the opponent gets to attack, and Goku can’t do anything about that but block. Were Goku to attack at this point, he’d be counter hit no matter what he did.

In short, you take a risk to get a reward. Don’t throw out extremely risky moves out of nowhere unless you have a very good reason. When a move has a lot of recovery, like Goku’s punch, don’t keep mashing buttons. Understand when you’re leaving yourself open unnecessarily, and you’ll improve your game dramatically.

These frequently overlooked fighting game basics will not only help you out in Dragon Ball FighterZ, but in most other fighting games as well. Give them a shot and see if you don’t find something new in your favorite game.

In our next guide, we’ll offer intermediate advice about points that specifically apply to Dragon Ball FighterZ, like the Super Dash, the tag system and Vanish.