Dragon Ball FighterZ interview: producer Tomoko Hiroki talks art styles, casual players and eSports ambitions

By Alex Donaldson, Thursday, 31 August 2017 08:21 GMT

The development team of Dragon Ball FighterZ have quite the task on their hands, but they’re rocking it.

Dragon Ball FighterZ is shaping up to be a pretty damn exciting fighting game, a high-octane tag-based three on three fighter featuring the flashy visuals, spirit bombs and over-the-top attacks of the much-loved anime series delivered with a shocking degree of accuracy. It’s no cheap cash-in, however – it’s coming from Arc System Works, the studio behind the likes of BlazBlue, Guilty Gear and Persona 4 Arena.

ArcSys know how to make a damn fine fighting game, and Namco know all about being the custodian of Dragon Ball Z. Heading up the project is Producer Tomoko Hiroki, and though she has quite the task on her hands it seems to be working out quite well so far – positive press impressions, E3 best-of-show awards and fans clamoring for new information on the game all seem to be pretty good signs they’re on the right track.

We sat down with Hiroki last week to talk about the game, touching on everything from their appearance at EVO and eSports ambitions through to just how difficult it was to get that anime-accurate art style working in real time. You can find our chat below. Dragon Ball FighterZ is out early next year.

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VG247: So, this is a team based game rather than one-on-one… what was the genesis of that? Dragon Ball has all sorts of fights, but team stuff isn’t necessarily the crux of the franchise, so I figure it’s an interesting choice…

Tomoko Hiroki: One of the biggest reasons we decided to do three versus three is simply because in the anime of Dragon Ball there’s obviously characters that are just stronger than other characters, right? So for example if Krillin goes one against one with Goku, obviously he can’t win. But if we simply balance that out so that he can win that’s not going to be good in terms of being true to the Dragon Ball world itself. But yet… if he can’t win, I mean, that’s not fun as a fighting game.

That’s why we wanted to make a team match rather than a one-on-one – so that for example even Krillin… his stats aren’t as high as Goku, but he has specific attacks and skills that can support his team mates. For example, the senzu bean which he can throw to recover his team members. We believe that if we make it a team match we can balance the game out so that it’s faithful to the anime without becoming unbalanced.

This makes me wonder – did you at any point consider having characters who might be so powerful they take the place of two characters? Take up two character slots, or even three, on a team?

I mean, it may differ for the players, but what we believe is that what’s fun about having those character slots and thinking about which character to put in there – it’s more fun when we have a very huge, broad roster of characters that you can choose from.

So for example Dragon Ball Z Extreme But┼Źden (a more casual 2015 3DS-only 2D DBZ fighter) is one of those games, but when it comes to a really hardcore, genuine 2D fighting game we want players to really use their minds not in terms of the slots but in terms of memorizing each of the character’s attacks and the mind games between each of the characters. As such, we thought that for this game having a slot system wasn’t the best match.

Was it a difficult proposition saying let’s go back to 2D for a console Dragon Ball fighting game? Did it take much persuasion internally?

In terms of internal discussion or negotiation it wasn’t that harsh – especially because we had the strong will of why we needed to make this game. Recently like you say, we did have a lot of 3D Dragon Ball games… but the roots of Dragon Ball – we believe they’re in 2D. We also did receive a lot of voices from fans saying that they did want a 2D game.

While we were developing this game with Arc System Works who obviously have worked on BlazBlue and on a lot of other 2D and animated expression games, what we always tend to say is that the evolution of 2D games isn’t 3D games. What we want to say is that by using the power of current consoles we can deliver to users a new evolution of 2D games in 2D.

“The whole concept of this visual at first was to simply reproduce the anime. But the thing is … if we were to simply reproduce it as-is and put it into the game… it doesn’t look that great, to be completely honest.”

I have to talk about the art style of this game, since it’s incredible. How difficult was it to get it to look so accurate to the original anime?

To be completely honest, we had a lot of trouble building up the graphics to what we have now! This is especially because… well, the whole concept of this visual at first was to simply reproduce the anime. But the thing is, since the anime was running 20 years back if we were to simply reproduce it as-is and put it into the game… it doesn’t look that great, to be completely honest.

This is because in the user’s mind, they constantly kind of… refresh it, freshen up their memories. We see people on the internet saying ‘it’s exactly like the anime’, but it’s not – if you compare the anime and the game, it’s totally different.

What was most difficult was that – trying to reproduce the image that they have in their head, which is very difficult, as you can imagine. There’s lots of communication we’ve been doing with Arc System Works – where even the smallest bits of detail we’ve been adjusting and improving in order to build it up to this level.

After like weeks, months of adjusting, the first build that we recieved was Gohan’s. When Gohan launches Father-Son Kamehameha… so this is a 2.5D game, but the camera moves in this move are quite dynamic – and the visual is dynamic as well. That was the point where we finally thought we’d got to the point where we could satisfy the users.

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You guys were at EVO (the Evolution Championship Series fighting game tournament) – how do you see the future for Dragon Ball FighterZ in eSports?

Alright, so, eSports is something we’ve been looking into ever since the first day of the development. However, one of our main goals is… well, going into eSports is very important for us, but what we want to do is… look, it’s Dragon Ball. It has tons of casual fans across the globe. But fighting games… they can often have some high hurdles. I wouldn’t say it’s niche, but… if you’re not that good, you’re going to go online and get beaten up, and you don’t want that, right? It’s quite difficult.

So what we want to do is have those casual Dragon Ball fans use Dragon Ball FighterZ as a tool in order to first experience the joy of fighting games. If we can succeed at doing that we believe we can maybe bring a new trend to the eSports scene – that’s where we’re trying to head.

I do think with the art style, the fact it’s Dragon Ball… it has the potential to be really easily watchable as an eSport, too.

That’s a great comment, thanks! That’s really what we’re putting a lot of effort into as well, so… it’s visually fun, but not only fun to play, but a lot of fun to watch as well.

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