Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z is the latest in Bandai-Namco’s long running series of titles based upon the popular children’s anime of the same name. After making a questionable choice of developer in Artdink, who have had more experience in simulation titles than they have in fighting games, could this be the title to reach the power levels of Super Saiyan 4?
• Developer: Artdink
• Publisher: Bandai Namco
• Reviewed on: Xbox 360
• Also Available On: PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita
• Release Date: Available Now
As a child I was a fan of the Dragon Ball series and its following titles, probably the biggest being the 90’s worldwide hit Dragon Ball Z. But now in my late 20’s, in a world where I’m technically a ‘grown up’, my love for animated shows about fighters who can shoot planet-destroying beams of light out of their hands, transform into monolithic sized apes and defy gravity in both their martial art styles and haircuts, has kind of taken a back seat to reality. When it comes to videogames however, every now and then I can’t help but dip my toe into the nostalgia pool and reacquaint myself with the Z Fighters.
Probably my favourite so far has been the near-perfect recreation of the anime (not to mention, massively punishing) Budokai Tenkaichi series, a third-person fighting game that took place in beautifully recreated and destructible setting. But after pumping out three near identical titles with little innovation, the series had grown a bit stale and meant Bandai-Namco needed to shake things up for the next generation. Unfortunately, the attempts of a traditional side-on fighter and the innovative-yet-flawed Kinect title fell a bit flat with most fans.
Following the release of a highly successful Japanese arcade title called Dragon Ball Z: Zenkai Battle Royale (a four-on-four fighter that used many of Budokai Tenkaichi’s characteristics), the decision was made to try create something similar for home consoles… enter Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z. Much like Zenkai Battle Royale, Battle of Z pits teams of four against each other in either single, cooperative and versus battles. It’s an interesting idea that could probably be explored further in future, but unfortunately in this case there are some major improvements that need to be implemented if Battle of Z is to carry on a full-fledged series of games.
Starting off with the single-player campaign, which you’ll need to complete a vast chunk of before getting into multiplayer battles. Players must first select a mission which will either bring up specific characters that must be used or a choice of fighters for you to cycle through. Missions are categorised through challenges that are loosely based off of classic battles taken from the various sagas of Dragon Ball Z. Then there are hypothetical ‘what if?’-type scenarios where you can see what it would be like if the Ginyu Force could take down Vegeta or Freeza defeated Goku, though this only really lasts in battle and doesn’t extend to any kind of story or cut scene. Similarly there are fantasy matches that allow the player to try take on a team of evolutions like Cell’s various forms or maybe a group of characters you’ve not seen all together like the Saiyans Bardock, Vegeta, Nappa and Raditz. Lastly there are endurance matches that may throw you up against hundreds of Cell Jrs.
Crafting your team of four allows you to cycle through a huge roster of 70 characters (including evolution, age and Super Saiyan forms), this falls short of Budokai Tenkaichi 3’s impressive 161 but that’s still enough to keep you swapping out fighters in order to create the perfect team. Each character you pick can be customised by playing around with their colour pallet, this means you could very well make Vegeta look even cooler by dressing him in a full black attire. You can also boost each of you fighter’s statistics using cards that are unlocked by completing different challenges, levels or by purchasing them using an in-game currency of points. By equipping different cards you improve a character’s powers including their health, speed, Ki and other areas, then there are Platinum cards that are used for more specific perks like increasing the rate your EX increases or increasing a player’s stats as their health falls.
Getting into battle will seem pretty familiar to fans of the Dragon Ball games, as they take place in large 3D open-plain levels and involve fighting on the ground and in the air. But it’s pretty early on when you discover that the fighting mechanics and very limited when compared to earlier videogame incarnations. Each character and take off into the sky, rush at an opponent, use melee attacks, Ki blasts and teleport attacks. Individuality in combat seems to rely on special attacks using the LT & RT or super attacks using a combination of two buttons. This makes for a very repetitive style of combat which could really benefit from a combo system or some kind of attack breaker.
As you blast through the first few missions, you’ll find less of a difficulty curve and more of a wall unless you start working on that stat customisation and ensuring you switch to different characters to utilize their special abilities. Each fighter is grouped into the following categories; Fighting, Ki Blast, Support and Interference, which specifies who is used best for short & long ranged attacks, interfering attacks that can slow down opponents, and then there are medic types that are meant to revive a fallen fighter. I say “meant” because thanks to the terrible AI used in your CPU counterparts, the majority of the time they’ll keep on fighting and leave you to die, wasting one of the few retries you’re given.
After playing through the 12 hour campaign and sick to the back teeth of mediocre AI team mates, I thought I’d have better luck playing through the game’s co-op offering. Unfortunately the first experience of this can be off-putting, with a lengthy and tedious matchmaking system used to just get into a battle. However, stick to it and you’ll be able to have a much more satisfying experience (depending who you get) and burn though some of the more challenging levels much easier. Another plus side of the co-op experience is that there is no limitation on characters you can pick for battle like the Single player option, which leads to some awesome matches that can only be experienced online.
Where the online co-op becomes one of the more enjoyable experiences of Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z, unfortunately its multiplayer doesn’t quite hit that same home run. Verses modes are made up of four different types; Normal, Score, Battle Royal and Dragon Ball Grab. The former three are your basic fighting modes with some hi-score rules added, while the latter is a type of capture the flag match. But it doesn’t seem to matter what type of match you pick as your chances of winning seem to boil down to who has the strongest fighter and not who is the most skilled player. This may sound a little like whining noob syndrome but really, I’ve been on both winning and losing sides which have only lasted mere seconds and when you take into account how long it takes to set up the match and customise your character’s stats, it just isn’t very fun.
Unfortunately, for the game’s online modes, lag can become a consistent issue and without any kind of strength rating in matchmaking, it’s pretty much unavoidable. Other issues include the oh so familiar camera angles that tend to stick to walls, mountains and other terrain around each level, which make for an infuriating experience when you’re trying to have a fast paced battle. Targeting is also frustrating, using a single button to lock onto and opponent and then the right thumbstick to cycle through your targets. This sounds like an easy enough process, but is set up to switch in sequence of player 1-4 rather than which enemy is closer and when taking on 200 Saibamen, it becomes frustratingly noticeable.
But despite all of Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z’s flaws, diehard fans of the anime series might still find it to be a must-have in their collection. Its beautifully cell shaded graphics, faithfully accurate character model and levels that look as though they were plucked straight out of the original show. Then there is the sound work involved (tiptoeing around the questionable choices of menu SFX). Including a brilliant soundtrack of original and remixed songs from the show and the cast of voice actors used in both English and Japanese modes that include original cast where possible, it’s easy to get yourself caught up in the world of Dragon Ball Z.
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Though not as complete as previous incarnations of the Dragon Ball universe, Battle of Z is a good start but still could do with some changes if it’s to warrant a sequel. While fans of the anime series may get a kick of this title, fighting game regulars looking for a change in scenery may want to steer of its limited combat mechanics and poor AI. If you’re looking for a richer Dragon Ball experience for the Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3 and don’t mind taking a cut in the online department, I’d suggest Ultimate Tenkaichi.