There have not been a lot of great Dragon Ball Z games over the years, but there have most definitely been a lot of them. Some of them don’t have a proper story mode, none of them have had a character creator, some are solid fighting games but don’t feel like DBZ…the list goes on and on. A lot of fans of the series (me included) expected this game to be the best and most comprehensive DBZ game ever created. While this game does a great job in a lot of areas of recreating the experience and sensation of the show, it has just as many, if not more, flaws as well.
If you are reading this, you probably are relatively familiar with the storylines of the DBZ series. This game covers the entire lineage of the series, starting with Bardock’s fight on planet Vegeta (depicted in one of the many movies) to the Saiyan saga and beyond, finishing up after the Buu saga, along with multiple DBZ movies and some scenarios from GT as well, but it does not include anything from Dragon Ball.
The game has quite a bit of content though, so there is a lot of stuff to do. You have the regular story mode, which was explained above. The game also has a great Hero Mode, which allows you to create your very own Saiyan (only a male though) and take him into an alternate reality. In this alternate reality, you train with a bunch of characters from the DBZ universe, do some light customization of abilities, and fight a lot of very repetitive fights.
The game also has a very basic online mode, you can do ranked, unranked and tournament-style matches. As you play, you can unlock lots of different titles that are assigned to your name upon going into a fight. One great feature is being able to play with your created character online. However, if you pick your created character that isn’t very powerful yet, then you are probably going to lose, but that is to be expected.
The presentation of the game is fantastic. The story mode has full anime cutscenes of some of the most influential parts of the series (Vegeta turning into a Great Ape in the Saiyan saga, or Goku turning Super Saiyan for the first time, for example) and it really does a great job. This is also complimented by the great ingame cutscenes, which really does a great job of recreating the series, accompanied by the fantastic visual presentation.
This brings me to the graphics, and I really only have good things to say here. The stylized graphics are fantastic and really look like the anime is coming to life in a video game. Some of the other games have a pretty good attempt at this, but none as great as this. The beam effects look amazing, the explosions of fists crashing into guts and faces looks beautiful and the environment is highly interactive. If you are on the ground, and shoot a beam at an enemy across from you, also on the ground, the ground crumbles and creates a giant crater where it makes contact. The crater stays there the rest of the fight, which is a nice touch, but it really ends up not mattering at all, because of how the actual game works.
The gameplay is pretty much terrible. Instead of actually attacking and putting together combos, like an actual fighting game, this has none of those elements. Character movement is easy enough, you control with the left stick. This is pretty much the only functioning part of the gameplay. If you want to initiate a melee combo, punch them three times, and then this is where the game fails. The attacker is presented with choosing either square or triangle, and then the defender does the same. If they choose the same button, then the defender counters. If not, then a combo is initiated. This logic is applied to a large majority of the combat, and means that most fights are decided by games of chance. Instead of timing when you counter, block, or attack really, the game puts a big part of those into the hands of chance.
One other positive thing is how the game manages your spirit meters, there is a bit of strategy involved in when you expend some of your energy, as that some energy can also be used for defensive moves, you have to manage it some. But, this also brings me to one of the other big complaints. Instead of having to actually aim and time your specials, if you simply activate it then it will hit your opponent. However, you have three options on the receiving end. Depending on how much energy you have, you can block it (lowers a portion of the damage) you can evade it (there is a timed button sequence, if you fail you take more damage than you would have) or you can try and intercept/return it (you get into a beam struggle/fist fight to see who can tap triangle the fastest.)
This is pretty cool and all, but it was so much more engaging if you actually had to block it in past games, or actually teleport and/or dodge out of the way, or manually shoot your own beam to initiate the beam struggle. Instead, the large majority of fights are scripted events, leaving the game feeling like a relatively cool animated cutscene. This is really frustrating, because if this game had the gameplay of say, Budokai Tenkaichi 3, or even one of the other current gen DBZ games, then this game would be so much better. Instead, most of the gameplay is borderline broken, and the entire experience suffers because of it.
The music is pretty good, although it gets very repetitive. Especially because the menu pretty much plays the same song on a loop, and sometimes even in the battles you will hear extremely repetitive music. The voice acting sounds fine (except for what happened to kid Gohan’s voice?? and why does Freiza’s voice change in between each sentence??) but the lips usually do not sync up to the voices at all. The sound effects are fine, but overall it just feels like there is a lot to be desired here.
Overall, this is probably going to be entertaining enough for you if you have always dreamed of making your own Saiyan, and if you are a huge fan of the series, or if you like slightly-interactive cutscenes of a story you have heard a billion times. The gameplay is terrible, and it pretty much makes the game worth passing on. It might be fun to see the storyline through one more time, but besides that, there is not a lot of long lasting appeal to be had here. The game is available for the 360 and PS3, so let us know what you think below!
This review was based on a physical retail copy of the game for the PlayStation 3 provided by Namco Bandai.