I don’t know much about Dragon Ball. I’ve learned a fair amount through osmosis, of course. You can’t really be interested in anime or Japanese games without brushing up against Dragon Ball in one way or another. And yet, most of my experiences with it are second-hand. Thankfully, the closed beta test of Dragon Ball The Breakers taught me that wanting to be utterly annihilated by Cell is the kind of motivation that crosses time, space, and cultural ignorance.
As revealed in its surprising launch teaser, Dragon Ball The Breakers adapts the now-familiar structure of the “escape the killer” multiplayer game to the world and characters of Dragon Ball Z. These types of games typically pit a group of weaker players against a single, much more powerful player, tasking the group with escape. The Breakers is no different in that regard. Players are separated into a team of “Survivors” against a single “Raider.” The difference, of course, is in that superpowered Dragon Ball flavor.
The context is as permissive as the famously absurd Dragon Ball universe allows. The player is one of many people being randomly pulled across the multiverse by time rifts. Dragon Ball Xenoverse‘s Time Patrol rescues your character and deposits them in a special space to await the next rift in relative safety. What’s in those rifts are other Survivors and the Raiders. These are Dragon Ball villains pulled from across time and space to finish the job of destroying humanity. Each match pits up to seven Survivors against a single Raider. For the closed beta (and all the promo art thus far), the Raider is legendary baddie Cell. Though there’s clearly space to implement new Raiders with different mechanics based on other characters.
At this point, the style of Dragon Ball The Breakers will seem familiar to a player who knows what goes on in a game like Dead By Daylight. The Survivors must use their greater numbers and coordination to complete a series of tasks while being hunted down by the Raider. In this case, the task is to first find a series of “power keys” hidden in random treasure boxes scattered about the map. Each map is massive and subdivided into multiple areas that each have their own key to find and activate. Once activated, all the keys summon a “Super Time Machine” that takes a while to charge up. Survivors must then defend the time machine from the Raider, who has to destroy it. A successful Super Time Machine charge results in a Survivor win. Failing this triggers an escape sequence, where the remaining survivors need to retreat to “Escape Time Machines” and prevent the Raider from achieving a total victory.
The Raider, on the other hand, is basically invincible, but has limited situational awareness and can’t be everywhere at once. Instead, they have to power up by evolving. According to the tutorial, different Raiders may have different methods of evolving, but for the beta, Cell was the only option. In his case, evolving required consuming random civilian NPCs hiding on the map. (Survivors can rescue these to deny Cell a food source.) Cell can also kill Survivors to evolve. Cell begins in his four-legged “Larval” stage. Here he can’t even fly around or do much of anything besides attack weakly. He can still beat a Survivor one-on-one though, and ambushing one is a good way of getting a head start on evolution. Evolving Cell gradually transitions him through his different forms, unlocking new abilities like one that highlights any Survivors nearby. By the time Cell gets up to a Level 4 Evolution, he’s taken the “Perfect Cell” form and is basically unbeatable.
Survivors have little chance of harming a Raider, but they do have a number of uniquely Dragon Ball-flavored tools to fall back on. Players can customize their loadout of skills, but even the default setup is pretty versatile. They can use a grappling hook to traverse vertically, activate camouflage to disguise themselves as a random object, and even summon a Saiyan Pod to quickly shuttle to a different part of the map. Other skills are activated by equipping acquired Dragon Ball heroes (more on that in a bit) or using special character kits. During the closed beta I could choose from my default customizable character or use Oolong, Bulma’s shapeshifting pig buddy. Oolong can turn into a rocket to move quickly or even knock a Raider around a bit.
The most powerful tool Survivors have, though, is Change Power. Change Power can be gathered up from around the map and levels up a meter similar to the Raider’s Evolution gauge. When used, Change Power temporarily transforms a Survivor into a Dragon Ball hero like Goku, Piccolo, or Vegeta. The heroes, who can fly, throw energy blasts, and use super attacks, can go toe-to-toe with the Raider for a brief period. It’s a very brief period, though, lasting maybe half a minute at most. Plus, the level of Change Power (it goes up to Level 3) determines if a transformed Survivor can actually do meaningful damage. Throw a Level 1 Piccolo at a Level 2 or 3 Cell, and you’ll quickly notice Cell just knocking you away with little chance to connect. Thus timing a transformation is key. A couple of transformed players at the same or higher Change Level than the Raider can even win outright, depleting the Raider’s health and ending the match instantly.
Even in this relatively limited test, Dragon Ball The Breakers appears to have set a strong foundation for a uniquely Dragon Ball-flavored take on a popular genre. There’s a lot that stands out even against the leading games in the field. That being said, some work is still needed, particularly with regard to balance, progression, and monetization. Of the twenty or so matches I entered during the beta weekend, Survivors only actually won outright twice. A few more times they managed to escape, but once the game shifts to having to defend a fixed point against a Raider, things turn real bad for the Survivors. Change power is hard to charge up, and by default Survivors are equipped with a skill that triggers a Change as soon as a Raider breaks their shield, which often results in a wasted charge. That usually means Survivors don’t have their trump cards ready when the time comes to actually make a stand against the Raider, so the Raider just kills them when they get near the Time Machine.
Another concern is the gacha. Dragon Ball The Breakers has a random draw system in place, and players can spend currency to unlock new Change characters of varying rarities. The exact pricing of the currency wasn’t available, but it’s clear that this is one way to expand your available pool of skills and super moves, a valuable asset for Survivors. Further, the rate at which players can earn premium currency to buy cosmetic items or other things seems pretty low. Bandai Namco furnished the beta accounts with enough to do a few rolls and buy some items out of the shop, but even after a weekend playing, I hadn’t earned enough to have bought much from scratch, or even level up my account into the double digits. Hopefully Bandai Namco will tune the rewards to make the system more appealing and easier to keep up with without paying extra.
Dragon Ball The Breakers is due to come to the PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch sometime in 2022.