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Dragonball Z: Budokai
Review By:  Christopher Coey
Developer:  Funimation Prod.
Publisher:  Infogrames
# of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Fighting
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  3-7-03

I would like to call myself an Anime fan, but that might be a bit of an overstatement. I own a couple of DVDs, including of course "Akira". Plus, my girlfriend has an old school "AstroBoy" tape. But when I find myself discussing Anime with a true fan, I’m at a loss. They usually name off a string of names and series that I have never heard of, and certainly haven’t seen. They go down the list from the truly obscure, to the less obscure, to the commercial hits, and finally to Akira, at which point I finally nod my head. Then they usually say something like "well, you must watch DragonBall Z". At which point I start shaking my head again.

The problem is, I think I would have probably enjoyed the whole DBZ thing, if not for the scope of the series. I always figured it would be pointless to start watching the series now since I would have no idea what was going on, or where the characters came from. Let’s be serious here, there are over 500 episodes from what I’ve researched. However, when an opportunity came along to review the latest DBZ game, I jumped at he chance. Especially since the early buzz around the Internet, and in gaming circles was that this game would be a big hit.

The "story mode" part of the game apparently accurately follows a large portion of the DBZ legacy. So much so in fact, that after playing through the game, I feel reasonably confidant that I could hold my own in a conversation about DBZ with all those ‘bigger’ fans. But as a bonus, after finally watching a few DBZ episodes I can honestly say that the new ‘full 3D’ representation of the story points are better than the originals. The graphics are just as detailed, but the effects are more elaborate in most cases, and the color and sound has been updated (keep in mind that the series originally debuted many years ago in Japan.) This game stays completely true to the source material; it is fully the anime series.

I should mention ‘capsules; every new item, move, character, level, etc. is unlocked within the game by collecting capsules. Many of the key capsules are collected by working through the story mode. The rest are purchased in "Mr. Popo’s shop" with winnings from the World Tournament. Some capsules are ‘system’ capsules and unlock game based things. Others are for use by certain sets of characters (Androids, or Humans, etc.), but most are for specific characters. Once you’ve collected enough capsules for a character, you can customize your fighter with whichever skills best suit you, for use in Duels or Tournaments. Capsules are also tradable by connecting two memory cards to the same system. Of course you can collect the 7 Dagonballz, doing so give you a "wish", for heightened skills for one certain character. You can then recollect the Dragonballz to get a same thing for a different character. The are a total of 23 characters from the series to unlock, including Hercule, and Gt. Saiyaman (the final character, unlocked by winning World Tournament on Advanced level.) There is even a completely new ‘mode’ to unlock called "The Legend of Hercule", which is basically a mini-tournament that is a sort of ‘gauntlet’ of fighters. The challenge would be completing it with the most amount of points, and bragging rights.

The gameplay is typical fighter style (I’ll talk more about the game mechanics later.) The cut-scenes are usually short, but full of energy. Lots of quick edits, cheesy dialogue, and weird hair. All the various mini-battles, cut-scenes, unlockable capsules, etc. lead to many loads and saves. The game handles these extremely well, and with such speed that you hardly ever notice the lost time, even though you do ‘wait for save’ a ridiculous amount. Each time you buy an item in the skill shop, the game saves to memory card. Wouldn’t it have been a LOT easier to just save when you exit the shop? The story mode progresses very smoothly. There is a battle or mini-game for each ‘episode’ of the four sagas. You have an unlimited number of continues, but set on ‘easy’ difficulty shouldn’t really give anyone any trouble.

As far as the actual story goes, I’ll admit that it can be a little hard to follow sometimes. This may be partly due to the fact that the developers are trying to show years worth of episodes with only a few ‘scenes’ per saga. I’d estimate that some of the small lapses in story continuity are forgivable when compared with the fact that from one scene to the next probably spans near hundreds of episodes.

One thing that I found really odd with the DBZ universe was that the characters often talked in video game terms, when referring to themselves. Things like "I can’t fight right now, my power level is only at 75%", or "my transformation is only 60% complete." As I mentioned, I watched a few episodes of the series on television for research, and this never came up. So, I don’t know if this was just a Budokai thing, or if it just never came up in the episodes I watched.

However smooth the progression through the Story Mode might have been the first time, or how easy it was to get moves down in the Practice mode, the progression stops there. The World Tournament mode proved extremely frustrating. Not only was it a steep learning curve to finally get up to speed in the ring, but on normal difficulty settings this is one tough game, even on novice. Why is this such a problem? If you lose a round (and it’s possible to lose by getting knocked out of the ring within seconds), you get kicked all the way back to the main screen. You then need to re-enter the World Tournament mode, re-select a fighter, watch the match-ups, and then watch the character intros again before you finally get to fight. Why the hell wouldn’t they just have programmed in a "rematch" option?

After being knocked out of the tournament in the second round countless times, I was getting really angry at the game. I couldn’t believe that the developers had ruined what I had once thought to be a fantastic game (I began with the story mode, then practice mode, then duels, and finally World Tournament.) Much to my surprise, and glee, I found that you could select a ‘quickstart’ option in the main menu to shorten the character intros during the World Tournament. But then, just to annoy me even further, when I went back to the tournament mode I found that the quick starts were maybe a second or two faster. Seriously? What’s the point of that? If you’re going to make a quick start option, then make it a damn quick start. Argh! Idiot programmers.

One of the reasons this was such a headbangingly awful experience for me was that in the process of reviewing the game, I at least wanted to try out all the modes. You begin the World Tournament at ‘novice’ level. In order to move on (according to the manual) to ‘adept’, and then ‘advanced’ level, you first need to complete the story mode, win in the previous level, then go to Mr. Popo’s shop and buy the proper "capsule." The manual says that once you win the tournament, Mr. Popo will sell you a ‘recommended capsule’ that will allow you access to the higher levels. Before I really got the hang of the game, I was having trouble winning the tournament. So, when I finally won, and went to Mr. Popo’s, only to find that he apparently didn’t want to ‘recommend’ me the capsule I was looking for, you can imagine my surprise. By exiting his shop, and re-entering, the recommended capsule constantly changes. I exited, and entered, and exited, and entered over and over. But no capsule. I actually managed to collect all of the 7 Dragonballz (which are supposed to be ultra-rare in the game) and still hadn’t been offered the adept capsule. By that time I had mastered the level, and could beat it every time. Argh!

As it turns out, I can blame no one but myself. It seems that once you beat the Story mode the first time, ‘new’ levels open up, so you have to go back to Story Mode and work through them. You can play any of the old story mode levels, but any new ones are marked "new." I played a couple of them, but one was giving me trouble (and just a quick note, if you are having trouble, you can always lower the difficultly level. It has no repercussions as to what you unlock or do not unlock. I just always prefer a challenge, and left it on high.) I had to quit playing at the time, so I exited, and forgot about it until much later. Problem was, since it was no longer marked "new", I thought I had finished every level. Since I had not actually beaten that one level, I was never offered the ‘world tournament adept’ capsule in the shop. However, that doesn’t change the fact that it was still a steep learning curve.

I’ve always said that first and foremost, a game should be fun. Above the graphics, and sounds, the story, the characters, it should be fun. I’ve now come up with a second rule: a game should never be technically frustrating. Sure, games should be challenging, and difficult levels are always going to be a little frustrating when you have to repeat them again and again. But this game is frustrating for reasons other than the gameplay. My own mistake aside, there should have been a more thorough explanation, or sequence to the story mode. And the World Tournament, first of all, shouldn’t be next to impossible to learn and win without the game is set on ‘weak opponents.’ Secondly, ANY fighter should have a rematch option. Kicking back to the main screen after losing a fight by ‘ring out’ within 5 seconds is ridiculous.

What I eventually learned was that in order to win, you need to master the "ring out." That is: knocking your opponent out of the ring gives you an automatic win. In the latter, more difficult levels, the computer will almost always try for a ring out. Problem is, the ring is actually quite small; too small. I found that in the end, I was only ever going for ring outs. And it became reasonably easy to do, even on Advanced level. That doesn’t say much about the quality of this fighter. Maybe if this were a Sumo Wrestling simulation (heh, there’s an idea for a game), but it’s not.

Overall the fighting in this game is less than stellar. The controls are very unresponsive, and at times imprecise. Timing is often way off to what one would expect. The game still looks good, and is generally fun in most good battles, but there is little depth. Each of the characters have a great number of specific moves, but more often it’s just in name. The moves themselves, although called something different, have the same effect, and even use the same button combinations. I know a lot of gamers out there are against the multi-button, joy pad moving combos in games such as Street Fighter, or Mortal Kombat, but it seems unpolished somewhat to have a set of combos that are the same for every character. It does, however, make the moves easier to learn. But on top of the same combination of buttons being used for nearly every character, there are some character capsules of the same name, and same move, that then used a different button set. It seems to make little logical sense.

Graphically, the game holds it’s own in the Story Mode, and in the Tournaments. There are only minor rough edges, but nothing to detract from the brilliant colors, or combo effects. There are nice, little touches to round out each of the impact effects. And the fighters are capable of pulling off character specific "death moves", which are animated extremely well. As well, there are impressive minor points, such as animations on stage selects, and multiple costumes for each character.

HIGHS:

  • Great representation of the anime series, as the graphics and sound are fantastic
  • Loads of characters and unlockables
  • Original actors for voice talent

LOWS:

  • Steep learning curve, little depth in fighting engine
  • Technical problems, minor graphic issues
  • Imprecise, unresponsive controls

FINAL VERDICT:

After playing through all of the story mode episodes, I finally feel caught up on the whole of DragonBall Z. Heck, I might even start watching the episodes. For the fans, I think they are going to love this game. For those interested in becoming fans, this game might win you over. Either way, it’s a solid game, a fun story, with great graphics and a decent fighting engine. The animations in the game are probably better than even the original anime series, and the in-game graphics hold up, and look amazing throughout, with only minor anti-alaising problems.

Overall Score: 6.1

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