The Dragon Ball series is famous, or perhaps infamous, for its bombastic battle sequences. Shirtless space aliens, with absurdly sculpted physiques, scream and launch energy blasts at one another. Villains loudly monologue about their invincibility, before the heroes eventually bring them down after a five-minute-long transformation sequence. All of the attacks have wacky names which fans can recite by heart. Because the series is extremely action-oriented, there have been innumerable Dragon Ball fighting games over the years. Anyone looking to have some fun casually blasting planet-destroying super moves back and forth has more than enough options to choose from. Dragon Ball: The Breakers tries something very unique with the series. We see the world of Dragon Ball not from the perspective of a practically omnipotent Super Sayain warrior, but through the eyes of a regular human begin and it is terrifying.
Dragon Ball the Breakers is a multiplayer survival horror game in the same vein as titles like Dead By Daylight and Evolve. The gameplay is asymmetric. One player controls a Raider, a powerful villain from Dragon Ball’s rouges’ gallery, while seven other players control a group of Survivors, ordinary human beings in way over their heads. The Raider wins when they kill all seven Survivors, whilst the Survivors must either power up a time machine in order to escape or, if they’re able to, work together to overpower and defeat the Raider.
It cannot be overemphasised how refreshing and novel I find the game’s concept. This sort of innovation is exactly what a very long-running series like Dragon Ball, which has been around since the 1980s, needs. Dragon Ball: The Breakers offers a unique perspective on its source material and this is absolutely deserving of praise. It’s just a shame that this fantastic premise is used for a game not interested in exploring its central idea to its full potential. Instead, it seems rushed together in the interest of making a quick buck. Dragon Ball: The Breakers is filled with assets reused from past titles, with a greedy monetisation system that turns gameplay into a grind and definitely does not belong in a $20 title.
A game of Dragon Ball: The Breakers begins with the seven Survivors and the Raider scattered across a large map. This game area is split into several sectors, and the Survivors need to gather keys from each sector and use them to activate a time machine at the center of the map. Once all of the keys have been collected, the Survivors need to defend the time machine from the Raider as it powers up so that they can make their escape. As well as keys, the Survivors can collect charge cubes that make them stronger so they can potentially fight the Raider, accessories that grant them new abilities, and even the titular Dragon Balls.
The Raider simply needs to kill all of the Survivors before they have the chance to flee. When the Raider kills a certain number of Survivors or NPC civilians, they power up and transform into new forms. This provides a gradual escalation of tension as the game goes on: the dread ramps up with each new transformation, playing into the game’s horror atmosphere nicely. The Raider’s later forms grant them new and powerful attacks and enable them to destroy sections of the map, hindering the Survivors' maneuverability and making it harder for them to hide.
Dragon Ball: The Breaker’s gameplay is fun enough. The Survivors are playing a tense game of hide and seek as they duck out of the Raider’s sight long enough keys to allow escape or enough strength to fight back. The Raider, meanwhile, gets to enjoy a cathartic power fantasy as they seek out the Survivors and beat them all to a pulp.
Matchmaking queue times are incredibly variable: sometimes games can be found very quickly and sometimes the wait can last several minutes. The Raider role is significantly more popular, and queues to become a Raider are often significantly longer than those to become a Survivor.
The game has no real story mode, but it does feature a few episodic adventures that are released alongside new patches. This is not a huge issue, as the story of Dragon Ball has been told and retold a nauseating number of times across a bewildering number of games. All the same, the absence of a story may be something that discourages potential players. This game is designed to be a multiplayer experience and not a single-player one.
Players can make their own customisable avatar or choose from a small selection of Dragon Ball characters. The characters on offer here are not those that would typically be playable in most Dragon Ball games. Initially, players can control Oolong the transforming pig, and Bulma the scientist. Bulma was the second character introduced in Dragon Ball and the deuteragonist of the original series, but despite this, she is playable in an incredibly small number of games because she is an inventor rather than a fighter. Having the chance to play as non-combatant characters like this, who are usually kept out of the spotlight, is honestly quite refreshing. Frustratingly, many of the other characters, such as Chi-Chi and Yajirobe, are either locked behind paywalls or dangled out of the reach of many players at the highest levels of the game’s battle pass system.
The avatar customisation system is another area where Dragon Ball: The Breakers employs monetisation. By default, players are stuck in an eye-wateringly ugly orange and blue jumper. Purchasing a less hideous outfit requires grinding away at several matches to raise enough in-game money, or else simply purchasing something with real cash. The game’s best outfits, such as costumes worn by characters in the show, need to be purchased using a premium currency which is earned (very slowly) through gameplay.
The most unfortunate aspect of Dragon Ball: The Breakers is its monetisation system. It would be frustrating but understandable if microtransactions were used exclusively for cosmetic purposes; alas this is not the case. New skills are unlocked through items called “transpheres”, which enable Survivors to transform into characters from the show and use their attacks. Transpheres are purchased from an in-game machine that distributes them randomly using a gacha system. This means that players willing to fork over large sums of cash will have a significantly broader arsenal of techniques to draw upon than players who don’t spend any money. “Free to play" players will be forced to gradually grind up large sums of currency to earn the same techniques.
The transphere system also provides a frustrating gameplay experience. Only three can be equipped at once, meaning Survivors will only ever have a small pool of attacks they can use. This results in the Survivors chucking out the same moves over and over again when they attempt to bring down the Raider. This quickly grows stale and repetitive and turns what should be the most climactic part of the game into a slog.
The game also employs a battle pass system. Unlike some games, this battle pass is not divided into premium and free tiers. Theoretically, players can earn everything on the pass without spending a penny, though in practice this would be very difficult. The battle pass has a very large number of ranks and resets each season. A player would need to be very devoted to rank all the way up and unlock the highest-tier rewards (valuable new character skins).
Of course, it is possible to buy your way to the top of the battle pass system, as ranks can be purchased with real-world cash. Dragon Ball: The Breakers, like so many battle pass systems before it, preys upon the sunk cost fallacy and the player’s fear of missing out in order to squeeze more money out of people who have already bought a $20 game.
For all of its flaws, is it worth it to buy Dragon Ball: The Breakers? Maybe. If you’re a diehard Dragon Ball fan, this game does offer a unique take on the universe and the chance to see the horrifying power of its villains from the perspective of a terrified bystander. Just be aware that you’re heading for an experience that is a bit choppy and is aggressively monetised. If you’re not someone interested in the idea of fleeing from Frieza or bolting away from Buu then there is little about this title to appeal to you.
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