Video games based on the Dragon Ball franchise usually have a very specific focus. While there have been the occasional RPGs like Kakarot or The Legacy of Goku thrown into the mix, most have been firmly focused on fighting your way across the series’ story. However, Dragon Ball: The Breakers has the guts to do something completely different. It doesn’t always hit the right notes but it is unique enough that fans of the anime and manga will be thrilled for at least several hours
Instead of battling it out against some of the most iconic villains in anime history, you are given a taste of how nightmarish it would be to live as a normal person in the Dragon Ball universe. This is an asymmetrical 7v1 survival game remarkably similar to the likes of Dead by Daylight or Friday the 13th: The Game. In fact, there is very little in The Breakers that tries to change or advance the formula presented in these titles other than offering a more colourful aesthetic and cartoonish atmosphere.
You take control of one of seven Survivors sucked into what is referred to as Temporal Seams and must hide from the Raider long enough to either start the boot sequence for a time machine, escape from the area, or mount an offensive effective enough to defeat one of the series’ most powerful enemies. There are some wrinkles in the formula, such as the ability to transform into toned-down versions of the series’ iconic heroes or to gather the dragon balls to make a game-changing wish, but these don’t do enough to make Dragon Ball: The Breakers a truly unique experience among the 7v1 survival genre.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The formula works because it offers something a little bit different in every match. Depending on which items you pick up early or how lucky the Raider is in tracking down the players, difficulty can vary wildly between playthroughs. Even the different Raiders have just different enough playstyles to make each one an intriguing challenge both to play and to survive.
The three Raiders available at launch are Cell, Frieza, and Majin Buu, with each going through a slow series of transformations until they become a nigh-unstoppable force of destruction. Early forms must focus on tracking down civilians lost in the Temporal Seams or picking off the players one by one to build up their power, slowly destroying sections of the map along the way.
Getting to play as the Raider can be a long process. Because of the unbalanced sides, even players who set their preference as Raider won’t have the opportunity very often. However, each match that they play while waiting for their turn to be the villain increases their Raider Priority by one, which makes it more likely they’ll get the next slot. During the launch weekend, we occasionally went up to eight matches without being the Raider, though the most common wait was three to five matches. Considering the matches can take ten minutes or so to play, this is a long time to go without playing the most fun part of the game and can make it difficult to actually feel competent when playing as the Raider.
That isn’t to say that playing as a Survivor isn’t fun. It can be a tense experience that works surprisingly well in the Dragon Ball universe, but the most fun in Dragon Ball: The Breakers is getting to do the terrorising. Because communication between Survivors is limited to markers placed on the ground, there isn’t much teamwork that can be done. We didn’t run into any problematic players during our playthrough, but we also didn’t feel like there was much sense of community developing.
Some technical issues popped up for us while playing Dragon Ball: The Breakers. Some were minor, like trees and terrain not loading into the opening sequence properly, while others caused the game to crash multiple times in a single session. Matchmaking, which the game insists takes an average of one minute, usually took closer to five minutes for us. That, plus the ten or so minutes it can take to play a match, means that it is a slow process to grind for the money and tokens it takes to participate in the game’s gacha system for new powers and characters. The lack of crossplay means that each platform is ringfenced from the others, limiting the player base for each console, and many of the game’s key features, like levelling up Survivor or Raider skills, are hidden away in counterintuitive menus. While none of this is enough to put a significant dent in Dragon Ball: The Breakers' solid core, we do wonder if it will manage to keep people’s attention until the next season’s content drops.
Even with these issues, there are a lot of little things that the game does well that mostly redeem it. The panic in the Survivor’s body language as they flee from the Raider, knowing there is very little that they can do if they are caught, along with the visuals that closely resemble the anime’s look and feel, make this a worthwhile entry in the Dragon Ball franchise. There is a great sense of hopelessness that comes with being caught alone by the Raider, something that we’ve never seen in a Dragon Ball game to date. Despite being so radically different from what we’ve seen before, it still feels right at home in Akira Toriyama’s work.
Dragon Ball: The Breakers isn’t likely to challenge titles like Dead by Daylight for the top spot in this growing asymmetrical multiplayer genre, but it is a fun game that stands out among the rest of the Dragon Ball franchise for daring to do something different. Despite some technical issues at launch and the need to do a lot of grinding if you want to get enough experience with the different Raiders, this is still a worthwhile multiplayer timesink for anime fans.