‘Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero’ Marks Long-Awaited Return With Faithful Anime Fighting Experience – Preview

This interview has been edited for clarity. 

15 years is a long time, especially for Dragon Ball fans looking to step back into a 3D arena and Kamehameha-ing everything and everyone in sight. While not without its faults, the Budokai Tenkaichi series has amassed a dedicated following, winning over fans of Akira Toriyama’s beloved animanga with a torrent of fanservice. 

Geek Preview — Dragon Ball: Sparking Zero!

Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero is set to make a worthwhile return in a new coat of paint. Developed on Unreal Engine 5, it will treat returning players and longtime enthusiasts to crisp visuals decked out in the series’ signature cel-shading flair, adding a lustrous shine to its sprawling 164-fighter roster. Goku and the rest of the crew have never looked better, cutting a striking figure with bold strokes, lively colours, and fleshed out rendering – a feat producer Jun Furutani attributes to current-day technology.

“Due to the latest technological advancements, the experience and the characters feel very rich now; they are a lot richer than in the previous game,” he says in interview-cum-preview session held for select Southeast Asia media, adding that there were already plans to work on the game following the release of Budokai Tenkaichi 3 in 2008.

In a brief 30-minute preview, the updated character models and graphics immediately caught the eye. The brawlers, both the good and bad guys, are a splitting image of their anime counterparts, with careful attention given to the finer details, such as subtle facial expressions or hair specifics. The user interface (UI) enjoys some visual polish as well, while the toggling between various characters during the preparation phase proved to be a smooth affair. 

Geek Preview — Dragon Ball: Sparking Zero! (2)

Most notably, the aesthetic overhaul best shows itself in combat. In VS Battle Mode, the only experience available in the preview, Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero was quick to remind players of its fast-paced nature, delivering dynamic animation, fluid combos, and clean dodges. Like its predecessors, it can be difficult to keep up with the frenetic action, especially in a 3D space that features destructible environments. That doesn’t mean the challenge is off-putting; in fact, the upcoming title does a good job at inciting excitement and fighting thrills, particularly since each brawler has a different feel to them.

Android 18, for instance, appears to be faster than the hard-hitting Goku, who has the character-specific ability to teleport behind the enemy and land a strike. Likewise, the evolved forms of Vegeta pack more Super Saiyan abilities. This variety allows for increased gameplay depth than before, all while staying true to the franchise’s beloved, over-the-top action setpieces, as Furutani explains: 

“Our intent was to make sure that the strong characters from the original anime are also powerful in the game, but what this means is the minor characters may be less strong. It’s all about making the character’s strengths unique and intentional, such that players can experience their play styles and feel like they’re playing the characters themselves.”

Geek Preview — Dragon Ball: Sparking Zero! (3)

Citing Goku as an example, he adds, ‘When he charges his Ki, he really shakes and all – the graphics and animation are made as real and close to the original animation. Also when he unleashes Kamehameha, he’ll break environmental objects like buildings in a way that reflects realistic Dragon Ball action.”

Ki, in the Budokai Tenkaichi games, is used to unleash super attacks and other movement, with players reaching Sparking! Mode when the gauge is fully charged. It’s one of the recurring mechanics in Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero, alongside the character-switching system that swaps out party members mid-battle, and more.

Naturally, there are new features in tow. The Skill Count, shown below a character, represents a number that rises if more moves are executed mid-battle, maxing out at six. Revenge Counter, meanwhile, is a technique that lets individuals strike back while absorbing an enemy’s attack. These additions, according to Furutani, craft the “real Dragon Ball experience” and bring more variety to veteran players and newcomers alike. 

Geek Preview — Dragon Ball: Sparking Zero! (4)

Not all abilities are created equal, however. Some will be more difficult to execute than others, but Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero has thrown in some accessibility elements for good measure to reduce the learning curve. These include more straightforward execution of skills and follow-up attacks by hitting the designated button multiple times, as well as customising difficulty levels and controls before heading into Battle Mode.

As a first-timer, the basics came across as largely manageable. Landing blows and evasive maneuvers came with a rush of satisfaction, with the strikes having a punchy feel to them. Make no mistake, though – by no means is the game easy to master. Although easy to pick up, it takes a deeper understanding of the game’s core mechanics to immerse in the depth of its potential. 

The other modes weren’t included for the preview, but franchise fans can look forward to a few treats. For one, Episode Battle lets players choose between eight characters and relive some of the key battles from Dragon Ball Z to Dragon Ball Super, a first in Budokai Tenkaichi history. It also features what-if scenarios that play out as alternative takes on canonical events on some stages, although there are no branching storylines to speak of.

Meanwhile, the world’s your oyster in Custom Battle. “The intention [here] is to give players the freedom to choose between the many characters from the Dragon Ball universe, or stage a different scenario featuring characters who will never meet one another under normal circumstances,” explains Furutani.

“The ultimate option is for them to choose what condition, environment, and which character(s) to pair up with,” he adds, citing the example of adding a healing option.

Finally, Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero is introducing welcome offline multiplayer into the mix, on top of online co-op and single-player modes. It ships with a split-screen feature, so enthusiasts from all walks of life will be able to enjoy high-octane action from the comfort of their homes.

A 30-minutes preview isn’t sufficient to determine the trajectory of its potential, but it made for a highly enjoyable and satisfying time. Still, it won’t be easy living up to more than 15 years of expectations, and only time will tell how much, well, spark it actually packs. 

Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero launches 11 October for the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC via Steam.