Out of all the cartoons I watched in my younger years, Dragonball Z was by far the bloodiest and most violent. Its visceral, intense physical combat kept me coming back to watch more episodes. Back then it was shown on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block and it was the highlight of my middle school afternoon. The spectacle of the battles fought in the show left a unique imprint in my memory, and when I see other films and television shows (Man of Steel, for example), even now in my adult years, my mind goes back to Dragonball Z.
Dragonball Z has had a steady stream of multiple video game adaptations that span back to 2002’s Dragonball Z: Budokai, punctuated by the Budokai, Tenkaichi, and Raging Blast series, with other titles interspersed throughout. Dragonball: Battle of Z will be the fifth Dragonball Z game published since 2010, and amid some very minor conveyance issues, it succeeds at emulating the tone and intensity of the show. The sound design and subtle cel-shaded graphical style and character design also served to enhance these qualities.
The demo I played was comprised of a single fight, one of the paramount features of this upcoming game: dynamic boss battles. This particular boss battle was similar to Goku’s initial confrontation with Vegeta. However, this was a more abridged version than the battle depicted in the anime, and involved multiple members of the DBZ cast, some of whom were not involved in the confrontation in the show’s arc itself. These supporting characters included Gohan, Trunks, and Krillin. The involvement of these characters is indicative of the game’s brand-new four-player mode, in which four seperate characters can battle and engage bosses. In this case it was the team of those aforementioned characters versus Vegeta in both his normal Saiyan form and giant ape form. In addition to this four-player mode, Dragonball Z: Battle of Z will incorporate an eight-player Battle Royale mode and online multi-player.
The combat itself feels elaborate while it is actually designed around simplicity. When you have an anime in which the combat is fast-paced, on the ground, in the air, at supersonic speeds, and interspersed with energy blasts and barrages throughout, the initial assumption is that the controls would be a labyrinth of combinations in order to pull off even the simplest of maneuvers. That is not the case in Dragonball Z: Battle of Z. Within minutes of picking up the controller, I had Goku and company flying circles around Vegeta, switching between ki energy blasts and melee punches, whilst dodging attacks of his own and flying around the battlefield at said supersonic speeds. The developers found a unique balance between player control and the character’s speed and animations, which makes the combat feel cinematic and relative to show, thus delivering on their use of the term “dynamic.”
Despite some moments during the battle in which key information was not provided adequately (pertaining specifically to where Vegeta’s weak spots were in the final battle), the combat remained fluid and engaging all-throughout. What intrigues me the most about this title are the possibilities that the four-player mode presents, in terms of what the developers could possibly utilize from the rest of the series. Many of Dragonball Z‘s major arcs and battles involved multiple characters fighting each other or a common enemy. Newcomers to the Dragonball Z anime or video game franchises may be put off at first, as the potential lack of information in key points and the anime’s expansive lore may prove to be a daunting learning curve. More importantly, however, the developers demonstrate that they have a keen understanding of the key tonal and thematic elements of the Dragonball Z franchise, and that is the most important aspect of the game that they could have gotten right.
Dragonball Z: Battle of Z is being developed by Artdink and will be published by Namco Bandai for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PS Vita on an unannounced date early next year. The build I previewed was running on a PlayStation 3.
For more anime-related video games, check out more of our Namco Bandai news.