For quite some time now Namco Bandai and Artdink have been gearing up fans of the Dragon Ball franchise for Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z, making some major changes to previous formulas seen in the Budokai, Tenkaichi and Raging Blast series, which has been centered around one mechanic: multiplayer.
And now with the advent of cooperative and competitive multiplayer to the franchise, Battle of Z can either start a successful new series or end it really fast. So does the game succeed at making Dragon Ball games feel fresh and unique again, or is it yet another stale walk through a too-often retold story?
Dragon Ball has been around for a while, moving from manga to anime to video games to cinema (though we try to forget Dragonball:Evolution for the travesty it is), and taking a little boy named Goku into adulthood with Dragon Ball Z and into a bizarre childhood redux in Dragon Ball GT.
Spanning a lifetime worth of chapters, sagas, characters and moments, there’s a point where even the most devout fans can get a little burned out from reliving the same stories over and over again, especially when you can practically recite dialogue line by line because you’ve seen Goku fight Vegeta, Frieza, Cell and Buu so many times. In fact, of the three segments of the Dragon Ball franchise, Z has been retold the most, lending to a sense of “been there, done that,” no matter how new the direction is.
Battle of Z attempts to mix things up a bit by not only by introducing multiplayer, but by changing many of the battles. Where Goku singlehandedly destroyed Frieza at the end of the Frieza Saga, now he has some help.
Sometimes this adds an extra sense of authenticity since fans have never fought Broly with the same amount of Z-fighters that took on the savage beast of a warrior in any of his movies, and sometimes this can be a little odd, with battles that have up to four Z-fighters — including Vegeta and Piccolo — taking on weak fighters like Guldo of the Ginyu force (who is only accompanied by a handful of lame Frieza soldiers).
For the most part, Battle of Z makes things interesting, perhaps solely because this has never been done before (besides the MMO Dragon Ball Online, in a way).
Each character is split into four fighter types. There’s “Melee” which excels at hand-to-hand combat as the “tank” of the group; “Ki Blast,” the long-ranged specialist that shoots damaging energy blasts; “Support,” the healer of the group, who can heal all of his allies in one move; and the “Interfere” type, who has abilities which cause momentary status effects. While many characters fall under one type, many also have moves that cross categories.
For example, Raditz’s “Here’s a Present For You” is a blast that can stun and shock enemies. Piccolo’s “Demon Hand” attack is an interfere-type ability, where he can stretch and pull enemies to him, providing an opening to get in some close-up combos; his “Hellzone Grenade,” on the other hand, is a set of energy balls that can track and chase a particular foe. Krillin is both a support and an interfere-type character, who can heal allies and use the “Solar Flare” to blind enemies for a short time.
This makes choosing the right team — whether offline with A.I. bots or online with friends — paramount to winning a battle. Have too may damage-dealing melee or ki blast-type characters, and then there’s no one to save you when your health gets low; have too many interfere-type characters, and there’s no one to actually get in some good hits while the enemy is dazed.
None of these attacks are possible without players managing their stamina. Stamina, or SP, controls how often players can perform special attacks or abilities, which can only be powered up by attacking foes, or helping allies.
Players also have at their disposal a Special Attack and Ultimate Attack to deal stronger damage (like Goku’s “Kamehameha” blast attack or Nappa’s “Volcanic Explosion” radial blast attack), which can only be performed by building up an “Energy” meter at the top.
Gone are the days of “Charging Up” and unleashing devastating attacks at a crucial moment; now players can only perform special attacks by building up this meter, which can only be done by performing particular group attacks with their allies.
There’s the “Meteor Chain” (or “Chase”), where a player can launch an enemy and the rest of the team can ping-pong him around the board, and there’s “Synchro Rush,” where players can attack an enemy as a team with a synchronized attack. There’s also the D-Pad controls, which can focus your A.I. teammates on defense or offense.
But what would a fight be without an arena to duke it out in? Battle of Z has some fantastically-detailed stages, one’s perhaps not graphically gorgeous, but large in scope. There’s just something about running or flying around these stages that feels grand: be it taking a detour from fighting Frieza’s minions to explore a Namekian farm where I can actually walk along a few rows of vegetation and look inside village homes or fighting an Oozaru who rampages around the stage and leaps onto mountains for a better vantage point.
For those of you new to the franchise, an Oozaru is the “Great Ape” form of the Saiyans, warriors who — like the Western werewolf — turn into giant apes at the sight of the moon. Fighting these beasts is a phenomenal sight, and consists of you attacking each limb to weaken and slow down the gargantuan beasts in much the same way you combat everything else in the game.
Additionally, the beasts are even larger and more animated than ever before. I remember playing the PS2-era Budokai Tenkaichi series where the Great Ape forms allowed you to float or charge around the stage somewhat clumsily, and do a few attacks.
Here, the Oozarus are truly mighty, hopping around the stage shooting blasts out of their mouths, using their “Howl” to stun enemies, and fighting in a decidedly monkey-like way, which reminded me more of a silly dance or a child throwing a tantrum than the monstrous Kongs of cinema (which is appropriate in the case of Kid Gohan, who is truly a child throwing a tantrum in a titanic form). It’s just too bad we can’t play as them (for now).
I’ve been at best a hardcore fan, and at least a major enthusiast, of past Dragon Ball Z games, so I think I can say that the mechanics have never quite been ironed out for what fans would like to call “the quintessential Dragon Ball Z experience.
There’s just something about the series that’s just a little too…epic to be contained by anything that’s come so far. The Budokai series was a fast-paced, even tactical 2D fighting experience with highly customizable characters, but lacked controllable flight and the grandeur of powerful attacks that was seen in the anime.
The Budokai Tenkaichi series gave players full 3D control, but never could perfect the pacing of fights or the button-mashing quality of melee combat. The Raging Blast games tried to find a balance but never quite crafted a truly perfect experience, and the latest game, Ultimate Tenkaichi, attempted a medley of all that came before, offering a fantastic cinematic experience but a completely dumbed-down fighting experience.
Battle of Z‘s new mechanics are a mixed bag for me, following Ultimate Tenkaichi‘s sins in crafting a grand world but dumbed-down controls. As much as the game tries to offer variety and strategy in its array of fighters, the game very easily boils down to pulling off button-mashed combos, or players constantly attempting Meteor Chain chases, which are both fairly easy to execute and provide a boost to the team’s Energy Meter.
And while using actions to build up for special attacks makes more sense mechanically in a multiplayer game than making players stop and charge up power for an attack, it just doesn’t feel like Dragon Ball Z without charging up. Trying to get just enough energy to perform a special move or transformation before your opponent can stop you is usually integral to the Dragon Ball Z experience. Oh, and by the way, transformations are out of the game too, with all of the characters separated by each form they have.
This lack of depth also transfers over to the multiplayer experience, where not only may players encounter a few stutter issues or connectivity issues, but may also have to deal with getting constantly pummeled by a group of button-mashing rivals who are Demon-Handing, blasting, or Chasing them all over the map. Still, the experience can be fun, with teams that properly working together pulling off stronger wins. That is, of course, if the team has the right players.
Unfortunately, like most Dragon Ball Z games, certain characters far outclass others, and no matter how much customization players try with the game’s card system, where they can apply stat-increases with earned cards, they’ll always be the loser.
For fans, no one would expect Yamcha to stand toe-to-toe with God Mode Goku, but older games like Budokai 3 allowed experienced players to get an edge with a deep selection of customization options, tricks and sharp reflexes. Battle of Z has some tactics that can be used to out-manuever certain foes, but ultimately it comes down to power.
There’s also no option to fight one-on-one, which is as important to the series as it is to fighting games. Yes, you may be able to finagle this with the options menu in group games, but the lack of one-on-one content also speaks to the limited combat of the game, which really only works in massive battles.
But where there’s a lack of depth, there is some creativity in the game. Some fights involve some fresh takes on combat, like taking on Guldo from the Ginyu force and dealing with his telekinesis petrifying you periodically. You can fight his back-up soldiers and face an endless wave of combatants while getting forcebly frozen; or you can defeat him first, and clear away his minions with ease.
There’s also some variety in the game’s missions. The main missions are broken into their corresponding sagas, as well as missions that let the player play from another’s point of view (typically the villains’), and the “What If” scenarios that are thrown in just for the fun of it.
When it boils down to it, Battle of Z is a what many of the Dragon Ball Z games were before it; a decent stab at a new interpretation of the series, ones most fans will probably still enjoy, but most newcomers to the franchise may find lacking. And where some hardcore fans of certain previous series will deride the new direction, I honestly think it’s healthy for both the franchise and fans to explore new ways to experience the series, especially since it’s been explored so many times before.
At this point, people must be asking “What else can be done that hasn’t been done yet?” For some, that may be Battle of Z, the start of something new and hopefully something that can evolve into a more nuanced fighter down the road, much like its predecessors or its parallels with franchises like the Naruto series.
Battle of Z may not be “Super” just yet, but perhaps, with a little training, it can be the warrior it needs to be.
For more on the game, check out all of DualShockers’ Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z details, screenshots and trailers.