Dragon Ball Z is easily one of the most popular and widely recognized animes of all-time. Even people that don’t know what an anime is, know and love DBZ. Unfortunately, that same level of respect and wide adoration does not extend to the vast library of DBZ-themed video games for one simple reason: they are usually not that great. I am a huge fan of the franchise as a whole, but I’ll also be one of the first people to recognize its rapid decline to mediocrity over the past several years. This constant struggle for identity has led the franchise to continually attempt reinventing itself to little or no success and, unfortunately, Battle of Z is no different.
In a valiant effort to bring new elements to an aging series, Artdink weren’t completely off-base. Many of the previously released titles tried too hard to force the game into a neatly defined genre box by layering traditional fighting mechanics on top of the high octane DBZ action, with varying degrees of success. While the DBZ Budokai games are great in their own, they are far too slow-paced to truly offer an accurate DBZ experience. The previously recent release, Ultimate Tenkaichi, brought a lot of great elements like character creation and multiple branching storylines, but its gameplay was so horrendous the entire package suffered. This time around, Battle of Z offers up to 4v4 team battles. Before starting a mission or a fight, you choose your character and then choose 3 different AI companions to fight by your side. A lot more strategy than expected can go into these decisions, as each character has different strengths and weaknesses. Overall Battle of Z features some of the best visuals we’ve seen to-date and a formidably sized roster complete with lots of missions and plot points, but the changes to gameplay once again leave much to be desired.
Unlike Raging Blast 2, Battle of Z does in fact have the appearance of a standard story structure. You get the chance to progress through dozens of different fights that are interlaced with some dialogue and short cutscenes to vaguely tie it all together. Just like every other DBZ game ever made, if you’re unfamiliar with the source material, expect to be at an utter and complete loss of what is going on throughout the game. However, the option to customize your team by choosing who you take into which battle (even if it’s 4 Gokus) is interesting. When up to 8 different fully-powered characters are all on-screen at once, it can get extremely exciting and sometimes difficult to follow what exactly is going on at times. The battle system combined with several smaller issues such as inefficient targeting system, extremely slow dashing speed, massively open levels that make it difficult to maintain engagement, and annoying “invincible” mode when a character is downed, all add up to a game that is often more frustrating that is fun to play.
At the core of Battle of Z is essentially a 2-button fighting system: one for melee, one for ki blasts. Certain augments can be placed for more powerful launch attacks or beam attacks, but these are all identical across the characters. The only difference in the characters comes down to their class (melee, ranged or support) and the special abilities they possess. Otherwise, every fight boils down to ranged characters trying to keep melee characters away and melee characters desperately trying to block or dodge the barrage of ki blasts. The system has enough high-level layers to keep you engaged for a couple hours, but the novelty quickly wears off before you even reach the Frieza Saga.
A staple of DBZ fighting games has always been the ability to equip characters with various different items and abilities that slightly alter their skillset in fights. While this is present, it is much more confusing this time around than ever before. Furthermore, whoever decided to get rid of local multiplayer needs to be fired immediately. Why would anyone play a fighting game if they didn’t have the option to play with their friends on the same system? I understand the desire to maintain screen real estate in hectic 4v4 battles, but that shouldn’t matter if a player controlled one member of each team with the other 3 delegated to AI partners. The rest of the online mode is as you expect with few unexpected changes, as is the rest of the game. There is a noticeable lack of mini games or additional game modes, which truly makes me wonder where the development time was spent, seeing as how every facet of the game is shallow and under-developed – characters can’t even transform in battles!
If you’re a fan of DBZ and enjoy all of the games in the series, you’d probably have a good time with Battle of Z on the brand loyalty alone. The relatively decent roster provides a lot of opportunity for fun fights and the team battles are a new dynamic never-before seen in the franchise to-date. Overall Battle of Z features some of the best visuals we’ve seen from DBZ with lots of missions and plot points, but the changes to gameplay once again leave much to be desired.
Have you played Battle of Z yet, or any other games in the franchise? Let us know your thoughts on DBZ down in the comments below!
This review is based on a physical retail copy of the game for the PlayStation 3 provided by Namco Bandai.