The Survivors of Bandai Namco’s Dragon Ball: The Breakers are in hell, or at least purgatory. They’re forever trapped in a tiny plaza, just waiting to be randomly pulled into a dark portal the Time Patrol calls a “Time Seam.” In doing so they’re teleported to one of three godforsaken maps filled with equally luckless civilians, and then they’re hunted by the most powerful villains of multiple universes. And it’s never going to end, because that’s the how the game works in the first place. The poor sods. Luckily, they’re not real, and Bandai Namco turns their suffering into a an often hilarious, sometimes awkward adaptation of the asymmetrical survival horror formula.
Dragon Ball: The Breakers hasn’t changed much since I last played during the 2021 network tests. As then, you and seven other Survivors must scramble around the map, avoiding a player-controlled Raider. The Raider is based on a powerful Dragon Ball baddie, and three are available at launch: Cell, the super-strong Bio-Android, Galactic Emperor Frieza, and the many forms of Majin Buu. More Raiders are planned, with Great Ape Vegeta being teased for the next content season.
To keep things interesting, the Survivors need to accomplish objectives scattered around the map to win. Each Dragon Ball: The Breakers map is divided into several areas, and each area hides a Power Key. When all the available Keys have been found and placed at specific locations, a Super Time Machine descends in the center of the map. Activating that machine wins the game. The more keys are activated, the quicker this process can go. And Survivors will want to hurry it along, as the Raider can win by destroying the Super Time Machine before it can be turned on.
Meanwhile, the Raider’s job is to eliminate the Survivors, or destroy the time machine. Though Raiders are tough fighters even at their most vulnerable, they’re not invincible. They’ll need to evolve, usually by killing off Survivors or some of the civilians hiding around the map. Each Raider is unique and has four stages of evolution, as well as a different approach to leveling up. Cell is quite vulnerable at Level 1, being little more than a fast bug looking for nearby civilians, but he evolves out of this form pretty quickly. Frieza can fight quite well even at the start, with plenty of attacks to bully Survivors, but he needs to be proactive about chasing Survivors down, since he only evolves quickly when in the heat of a fight. Lastly, Majin Buu doesn’t even appear on the map at first, with the Raider player controlling the minor villains Spopovich and Yamu. The pair are relatively weak on their own, but still need to hunt down civilians and Survivors to gather energy, then book it back to Majin Buu’s egg to fill it up and summon Buu himself. The usual play is to evolve a bit and harass the Survivors, and then take advantage of the Super Time Machine’s descent to gather them all in one place for a showdown.
While a Raider is a tough foe at any time, and practically invincible when fully evolved, Survivors still have many tools to even the odds. They can call on an array of active and passive skills, like jumping pads, zip lines, grappling hooks, and even classic Saiyan Pods to search the map or temporarily disable a pursuing Raider. And when a fight is on, every Survivor can use an equipped Transphere, which channels the spirit of a Dragon Ball hero like Goku, Vegeta, or Yamcha. Transpheres allow Survivors to go toe-to-toe with Raiders, using classic moves like Vegeta’s Galick Gun or the Kamehameha. They’re charged up by acquiring Change Energy throughout the map, but even when maxed out they don’t last very long. Survivors will want to use their changes judiciously, taking advantage of numbers to set up a beatdown.
And then there are the Dragon Balls themselves. All seven are scattered on the map, and when gathered, can be used to summon Shenron to grant a wish. A Survivor can wish to surpass their limits, temporarily granting them enough power to beat a maxed-out Raider, or even distribute extra change power to all the living Survivors and make whole team stronger.
In other words, despite the power imbalance inherent in Dragon Ball: The Breakers, the Survivors and Raiders have surprisingly even odds of coming out on top in the end. A coordinated group of Survivors can summon their time machine before a Raider’s been able to get strong enough to become unbeatable, while a tenacious Raider can spoil the Survivors’ efforts, crushing them while they scramble around the map. And all of this is against the bright, cheery, and frankly absurd tone of Dragon Ball proper. Where similar games in this genre replicate horror titles and slasher movies, being hunted by a Raider or scrambling to escape feels more like the time a giant dinosaur tried to eat Gohan.
Of course, with three maps and three Raiders, repetition can set in. Bandai Namco adds variety by mixing up the available active skills players can use. Survivors can also use skins of characters like Bulma, Oolong, and the Farmer, which often have bespoke skills that can be equipped. For example, Bulma can summon a fast unicycle, while Oolong can transform into a missile. Transpheres also add more skills. Vegeta unlocks the Saiyan Pod, which can teleport to any point on the map, while Goku unlocks the Kaioken Rush, a rapid maneuver that can knock a Raider flying for a short while.
These skills are added by Dragon Ball: The Breakers‘ monetization. Though the game isn’t free-to-play, it bears all the hallmarks of a modern microtransaction-based service title. There’s a “Dragon Tier” battle pass that progressively unlocks rewards, as well as an item shop with cosmetics for sale. Some can be purchased with coins earned in-game, but others use premium currency. You can also buy emotes, clothing for Survivors, entrance and victory poses (including Tao Pai Pai’s famous pillar), and even a few extra active skills. There’s also a “Spirit Siphon” gacha system, where you roll for new Transpheres. Transpheres unlock new characters to transform into as a Survivor, or add extra cosmetics and super moves to existing ones. For example, getting Goku might unlock the character, but if you get him again, it’ll add the Kaioken Assault super move that you can choose instead of his Kamehameha.
It sounds like the monetization could be open to “pay-to-win” shenanigans, considering that new super moves and active skills can and do constitute a gameplay effect. That’s true in principle, which is enough of a concern, but at least as far as I’ve seen, what you can pay for in Dragon Ball: The Breakers doesn’t make a big difference in outcomes. For example, rolling the gacha for a powerful Transphere might get you a strong fighter, but the time limit on it is just as strict for Goku as it is for Yamcha. Nor will having a powerful super move matter if you can only get off one or two blasts before a fight has to end. Having an exotic Active Skill might be more of a game-changer, but many skills have equivalents, and long skill cooldowns means it’s still about using finding the right place and time to deploy a skill. All the same, that specter does hang over the game, and clouds what would otherwise be a jolly contest.
All the same, despite iffy monetization choices and the general feeling that the game might not last long enough to become a permanent part of your rotation, Dragon Ball: The Breakers is a frantic and fast-paced interpretation of a genre otherwise saturated in horror movie tropes. Steeped in fun Dragon Ball in-jokes and goofy humor, there’s there’s a lot of slapstick joy to be found in the game, so much so that it wouldn’t be out of place if the Benny Hill theme kicked in every so often.
Dragon Ball: The Breakers is available on PS4, PC, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. This review is based on a PC version of the game purchased by the reviewer.