Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Review

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Publisher: Infogrames
Developer: Dimps

Platform: PlayStation 2
Reviewed on PlayStation 2

Goku, his son Gohan, and their motley assortment of friends save the universe from alien threats, android invasion and the collateral damage caused by arguing over which super-powered being is the most powerful fighter in the universe. Characters make the ultimate sacrifice, return to life, summon dragons and battle to the death. The plot and action are sometimes inscrutable, but always filled with powerful attacks and world-shattering explosions.

Kyle Ackerman

Dragon Ball Z: Budokai (DBZ:B) is an unfailing reproduction of the long-running animated television series, in the form of a one-on-one fighting game. The story mode of DBZ:B is set up as three television episodes. Each episode replays the introduction sequence of the show, lovingly and faithfully reproduced with the game engine. Each episode begins with a summary of what happened in the previous episode, contains amusing title sequences ("Let's go to Namek!"), and ends with a preview of the next episode. The feeling of being part of an interactive television show is so strong that you instinctively know where there should be a commercial break. The plot is... Dragon Ball Z. If you've seen sufficient television episodes, it follows the series closely and makes exactly as much sense. If you aren't familiar, rest assured that it involves aliens, super-powers, androids, and space-ships, as well as the mystical and powerful "dragon balls" (there are seven of them, so don't get concerned).

Just Like TV

Dragon Ball Z's simple and colorful style of animation is easily and perfectly migrated to a three-dimensional graphics engine on the PlayStation 2. The plot follows elements of the television show perfectly, and many of the voice actors that did the television work, such as Kyle Herbert (the narrator), Sean Schemmel (Goku), and Christopher Sabat (Vegeta, Piccolo) also voice their characters in DBZ:B. The story (along with the title sequences and an incredible pace), manages to frame the regular battles nicely, giving DBZ:B's story mode a feeling of constant, flowing action. It's not quite right to describe the production values of DBZ:B as great. Rather, they are exceptionally true to the show that gave birth to the game.

For the most part, the action is very simple. There are few controls – you can move, punch, kick, guard and launch Ki energy at opponents. There are combinations and sequences of moves, as in any fighting game, but these are few, and broadly similar from character to character. All the characters have individual powers and fighting moves, but these are often activated using the same sequences of buttons. Move sequences are easy to pull off in practice, but harder to pull off in real combat. Fortunately, the game is easy enough that once you learn to block and dodge (hold block while moving), nearly every combat can be won with punches and kicks alone. Special moves are just icing. This low difficulty level makes DBZ:B great for younger games, but fighting aficionados who like memorizing a multitude of sequences should look for a tougher title to master.

This ease of combat helps move the plot along quickly. Most fights can be won in a try or two, and in story mode you get unlimited "do-overs," should you need them. The notable exceptions (for this less-coordinated reviewer) were the battles against Frieza. The first time through the story mode, you play the good guys, so you nearly always let the baddies escape with their lives, only to return and battle again, betraying your misplaced trust. In that second battle, you are often at a disadvantage – they are stronger, or you have to fight in a weakened state. Vanquishing Frieza under these circumstances was particularly onerous. Battles do get a bit more difficult over time, like when you must fight Android #19 while steadily losing health to a nasty heart disease.

The story mode breaks up the action with more than plot sequences. There are several activities such as spinning the analog stick to bring an enemy in the path of a beam, or fighting hordes of weak Saibaiman that spice things up. There are also challenges in which you battle multiple enemies without replenishing health, which manage to be only marginally difficult. The most interesting variety comes from the "Burst Zone" system. Under certain circumstances in the middle of combat, two fighters will enter a frenzied state of exchanging blocks and blows, the outcome of which is determined by rapidly rotating the analog stick. It's not difficult, but is a nice diversion, and well executed in the style of frenzied Dragon Ball Z battles.

Upon completion of the story mode, you can then go back and play many episodes which will add color to early play. These episodes are often from another character's perspective (such as powering up Piccolo's beam from the early game) or even allow you to control the villain, fighting as Vegeta or Cell. It's not immediately obvious, but completing the three episodes (the Saiyan Saga, the Nemekian Saga and the Android Saga) only actually finishes around half the available story mode.

Something that makes this game particularly suitable for younger gamers is the way DBZ:B rewards you early and often. Nearly every major victory in story mode unlocks a new combatant in the other game modes, and other battles tend to unlock skills or special items. The early story is also good for teaching children fighting games, by allowing them to master one activity at a time, with mini-combats and training that teach blocking and countering moves. Battlefields are mostly empty places, with characters floating around, but this provides few obstacles for gamers of low skill levels, and some moments (such as the Ginyu force posing) are funny, but more so to younger players.

No! I Am the Greatest of All Fighters!

Story mode is hardly all there is to DBZ:B. You can duel other, unlocked characters, or even participate in the World Tournament. The world tournament is a single elimination tournament against a random selection of foes. The difference between novice, adept and advanced difficulties is that you fight three, four and five battles, respectively. Prizes are larger at the higher levels. The tournament isn't really difficult, but you can lose not only by running out of health, but by being knocked out of the ring. Given that the characters often start floating or flying in the air for little reason, and punches can send characters flying leagues into the distance, getting knocked out of the ring is fairly common. The prizes allow you to unlock even more skills and special abilities.

That brings us to the "Exciting Skill System (E.S.S.)." Through story mode and by spending your tournament winnings, you can purchase skills that allow you to customize characters for duel and tournament modes, by letting you mix and match the skills you have purchased. Each character has a certain number of spaces, and a selection of skills to fill those slots. This functions a bit like a collectable card game, letting you deck your fighter out in a way that better befits your combat style. These additional skills and items can be purchased at Mr. Popo's Skill Shop (if that sounds odd, you aren't the target audience), which is also where you can purchase access to higher tournament levels, use of the Great Saiyaman (after completing the advanced tournament) and the most over-the-top game mode of all: the "Legend of Hercule" (after completing the adept tournament). This is a little awkward, as one might not quickly realize it is only possible to unlock higher tournament levels by going to Mr. Popo's skill shop.

Having a Wild Time All the Time!

Once the Legend of Hercule becomes available as an additional selection from the main menu, you can participate as Hercule (an overconfident, jetpack-wearing, crass human fighter) in the Cell Games. This mode is much like the story mode in traditional fighting games. You defeat a series of opponents, in sequence, and if you lose you must start over. This is the hardest of the game modes, but if you've gotten this far you probably either love Dragon Ball Z, or are very stubborn.

The Legend of Hercule is amusing just because of the title character's audacity. This play mode comes in three levels of difficulty, and most battles have some additional restrictions that make them more difficult. For example, Hercule blusters until he has to take on two enemies, in turn, without resting between battles. Later on, he has to finish a fight within a short time limit so he has time to "make it to the bathroom." It's worth unlocking Hercule, simply because he has a finishing move unlike anything else in the game. Plenty of characters have catastrophic moves that are guaranteed to win a fight, and are similarly impossible to execute. For Hercule, he has a sequence called "Present for You," in which he contritely gifts his opponent with a Game Boy Advance-like hand console, that is rigged as a remote-controlled bomb. This devastates the entire battlefield.

On Goku and Culottes

DBZ:B brilliantly creates the feeling of participating in an episode of Dragon Ball Z. That's an impressive achievement. It also makes this game as much a personal stylistic choice as deciding between a tuxedo, overalls, a leisure suit, or corduroy bellbottoms. Passionate fans of the Dragon Ball series are almost certain to love this game with a deep and abiding passion. Younger gamers, new to fighting games will appreciate the simplicity of the combat system, allowing them to quickly master the basics of battle. If you don't fit into one of those two categories, look elsewhere for your entertainment.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on January 14, 2003 7:03 PM.

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