Humor is an element of the Dragon Ball series that often goes overlooked in games. Where many Dragon Ball Z games effectively showcase superpowered combat, Dragon Ball Fusions is an attempt to embrace the sillier side of Dragon Ball in gaming form--though, sadly, it falls victim to repetitive combat and dull progression systems.
In some ways, Fusions feels like a companion game to the Dragon Ball Xenoverse series. Much like those games, you start off by designing a custom character based on one of the various races from the show, picking facial features, a hairstyle, and an accompanying voice. Once you're done, you’re immediately thrust into the colorful world of Dragon Ball. The bright, often surreal environments and structures from the Dragon Ball universe are beautifully rendered on 3DS, and although the ability to view the game in 3D had to be sacrificed in the process, it's not a huge loss.
Your adventure begins as you and your pal Pinnich--an original character created for Fusions--find the last of the Dragon Balls, earning the right to make a wish. Pinnich is a pretty simple-minded type: he wants to have the biggest, baddest tournament ever to determine the strongest warrior in all of the Dragon Ball universe. Before you know it, a wide range of the series' locales are combined into a towering vertical universe, and everyone from across the franchise’s history is now trying to find teammates for the upcoming brawl. Pinnich has gone his own way, but you make fast friends with familiar faces: Trunks, Goten, and young Goku. With the help of other Dragon Ball favorites, you’ll meet and recruit numerous other characters to your team, ascend further skyward, and hopefully take the title of the greatest fighters the universe has ever seen.
In between battles, you’ll soar around 3D environments, exploring and battling foes that cross your path while finding the means to progress further. There are towns to visit along the way that offer side quests, places to shop, and people to chat with. Fitting with the game's overall lighthearted tone, your chats with NPCs tend to be on the silly side--though they may be ally or foe, you’re more likely to discuss things like food and puns than you are to address the bigger conflict at hand. Unfortunately, Fusions' localization leaves something to be desired: there’s no English voice acting, some character names are inconsistent across menus, and there are times when dialogue in text boxes cuts off entirely.
You control up to five characters in a flat, overhead-view 2D space, fighting against a team of up to five opponents. As you battle, you and your foes move around the arena. This positioning proves to be very important in numerous ways. For example, if you’re close to friendly characters, they can help the fighter you’re currently commanding land some extra damage. If you’re launching a melee attack against a foe, you can try to knock them in a direction where another ally character will hit them, or you can smash them against another enemy for a pool-style ricochet effect. If you decide you want to fight with ki blasts or special moves instead, you can try to hit multiple enemies in a line or go for an area-of-effect technique. If you manage to knock an opponent out of the arena entirely, you’re treated to a cutscene, extra damage, and you reset their turn. But you must stay on your guard, since these same rules apply to your foes’ attacks as well.
Attacks big and small are accompanied by an unskippable cutscene. While these initially replicate the dynamism of the fights in the anime and manga, repeatedly seeing the same animations greatly diminishes their impact over time.
Zenkai attacks, which use stock from a bar that charges over the course of battle, briefly turn the game into an action aerial dogfight where you slug it out one-on-one with a chosen enemy for big-time damage. The titular Fusions allow you to combine characters using the ever-so-ridiculous Fusion Dance, granting the resulting character stat buffs and access to advanced techniques--along with some pretty funny-looking character hybrids.
There's even a fusion skill that combines all five characters participating in battle into a single, superpowered warrior, who then launches an intense assault for a huge burst of damage. While this last option consumes a lot of resources, more or less emptying your power bar, it’s immensely fun and provides benefits beyond just incredible damage, such as reviving warriors on your side who might have been knocked out. Again, your foes can also do these techniques, meaning that you’re technically on equal footing in terms of your combat resources--though, depending on their level and team makeup, their abilities may vary.
This all sounds pretty cool on paper, but in practice, it quickly turns into a slog. Attacks big and small are accompanied by an unskippable cutscene. While these initially replicate the dynamism of the fights in the anime and manga, repeatedly seeing the same animations greatly diminishes their impact over time. Fighting low-level enemies to farm energy and, eventually, recruits becomes an exercise in tedium.
Characters are designated as power, speed, or technique types in a triangular advantage/disadvantage system, which can be a real pain if you wind up in a lopsided fight. Even then, most of the non-boss fights in this game aren’t hard--they’re just drawn-out and repetitive. The frustrating elements of fighting come to a head at Fusions’ end, where the game starts asking you to perform very specific actions in combat in order to win battles--a sharp contrast to the free-form fighting seen earlier in the game.
Ultimately, Dragon Ball Fusions feels like a game with some great ideas that could’ve been executed better. The interpretation of the Dragon Ball world is great, and the fun of allowing all kinds of fan-fiction-style character fusions is a strong basis to build a fan-service-laden romp around. If the progression felt a bit less stilted and fights weren't drawn out, repetitive affairs, this would be one of the strongest Dragon Ball games out there. Alas, just like Hercule in the series, Dragon Ball Fusions postures and promises more than it actually delivers.