Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi review

Score: 7.5/10

Pros:

  • 3D fighting engine captures the crazy spirit of the show
  • Large, destructible environments
  • Surprisingly sharp A.I.
  • Graphics capture the DBZ feel
  • Loads and loads of content for fans

Cons:

  • Core fighting system is simplistic
  • Fixed camera can sometimes get in the way
  • Story battles are hamstrung by frustrating objectives
  • Learning curve can be intimidating

Given that Dragon Ball Z games in the past have ranged from pretty good to pretty bad, I came into Budokai Tenkaichi with no expectations. Now, having played through most of the story and unlocked most of the characters, I find it quite difficult to score. Its gameplay is a mix of fun and frustration, and its differences from the Budokai series will appeal to some fans and possibly alienate others

It's true, developer Spike has taken some big risks with this new game. Their strategy: Throw the rules of the DBZ fighter completely out the window. Now, instead of the 2.5D fighting mechanics of the Budokai series, Tenkaichi uses a behind the back, 3D free roaming mechanic. Charaters also now have the ability to fly, which takes a nice step towards making it feel like the show.

The graphics are by far the highlight of the game. This is apparent from the game's opening sequence, which is an awesome FMV sequence showcasing Goku fighting a host of DBZ baddies. The battle environments are huge, destructible, and pack plenty of detail, but the real show-stealer is the character models. Sure, cel-shaded characters are nothing new to the series, but they're now sleeker, better animated, and can pull off some awesome looking attacks. Oh, and did I mention the awesome looking special attacks?

The sound is less impressive. The music isn't particularly memorable, consisting mostly of cheesy funk and guitar riffs that sound that they were composed by a garage band. The real star of the show here are the voices. Like every DBZ game before it, Budokai Tenkaichi uses voices from the show's talented English cast, and fans will get a kick out of hearing them give direction in the menus.

As I mentioned earlier, the devs took some big risks with the changes they made to the game's fighting engine, some of which pay off, while others don't. For one thing, the game pretty much does away with the combos from the Budokai series. Here, you have one button for melee attacks, one for ki blasts, one for blocking, and one for dashing. In addition, holding the L2 button with triangle will fire one of your character's special attacks.

Sounds simple, right? The controls may sound easy to grasp, but they're far more complex than they initially seem. The circle button is used primarily for blocking, but proper timing will allow you to quickly dodge an attack, and timing during a melee barrage will allow you to quickly warp to another side of a fighter to keep it going. Likewise, using triangle during a melee combo will allow you perform an attack separate from the usual ki blast. It's a system that requires practice to learn, and even more to master the system's nuances. Honestly, this surprisingly steep learning curve can be off-putting to fans looking to simply jump in and bust some heads, but others may appreciate the surprising complexity.

Even with all the little nuances, however, the combat isn't particularly deep, certainly not nearly as deep as other fighters. The attacks are limited to one button for melee, one for ki, and the L2 and directional buttons for super attacks. Thing is, your melee and ki attacks don't really do much damage, merely serving to halt your enemy's movements or launch them across the stage. For the most part, you'll be relying on your special moves to carry the day. With that in mind, combat is a simple matter of building up your ki and getting your special attacks off before your opponent - and, of course, dodging theirs all the while.

By far the biggest irritation during battles is the camera. The camera is fixed, so there's no way to adjust it manually. I've always hated fixed camea systems, and for obvious reasons - when they get stuck, they turn a perfectly good game into a pain in the ass. Such is the case with BT. There were plenty of times when the camera would get caught behind an object in the environment, or, on numerous other occasions, move to an awkward close-up position when you move close to a wall, making it impossible to even see your fighter. Also, the lock-on system isn't as effective as it should be, as the camera will too often lose sight of your opponent. This is the one area where the behind-the-back perspective doesn't help matters much.

The A.I. is what saves the game from monotony. The opponents you'll face are actually smart, and pretty vicious. They'll actually behave much like you would expect a human opponent to, which says they'll often resort to cheap tricks like hitting you with a special move after launching you across the stage and hitting you with special moves in quick succession. They're also pretty adept at dodging your attacks, which forces you to quickly change your tactics. I even noticed a few enemies that would keep their distance and try to stay alive until the time limit ran out. Even if they seem a little cheap, the unpredictable opponents add a tactical element the battles would otherwise lack.

Even if the fighting system is flawed, the game is still worth buying for DBZ fans for one reason - and that is the staggering amount of content packed into the disc. Nowhere is this more evident than with the story mode, Z Batle Gate, which packs in nearly as many sagas, battles, and fighters as humanly possible. In fact, I'd go so far as to call it the most expansive story mode of any DBZ game I've played to date.

However, it's clear that the story mode was created for die-hard fans only, which is made clear by one simple fact - no one without an encyclopedia-level knowledge of the show will have any clue as to what's going on. The only real story material presented are brief summaries before each saga and dialogue bits between the two fighters before the fight. The dialogue doesn't provide any real background as to what's going on, making it nearly pointless. Take, for example, an early fight which begins with Raditz saying "Kakarot, I've decided I won't let you join us any longer! Now DIE!" Okay, so just who is this guy, why is he calling Goku Kakarot, and what's all this hoopla about joining him?

The single biggest gripe I have with the story mode, however, is the inclusion of objectives required to pass each fight. Some of these are as simple as finishing an enemy within a time limit. That I'm okay with. What I'm less okay with are the missions that require you to win with a specific move. This requires lots of stepping aside for ki gauge building, and also requires you to keep the opponent alive until you can land a hit. If you beat him any other way, you don't clear the stage. This is really frustrating when you've got your opponent down to a tiny sliver of health and can't defend yourself without taking him down. What's also frustrating is the fact that many of your special moves are fairly easy to dodge, so if you happen to miss, you'll have to pull back so you can re-fill your ki gauge.

By far the most annoying of these missions are the survival missions. As the name implies, these missions require you to survive the fight for a set period of time. They're tolerable enough at the beginning, but they get more and more frustrating as the game goes on, as enemies in these missions become way overpowered, to the point where they can take out almost half your health with a single attack and don't take much damage from your own. Let's face it - trying to run from overpowered behemoths in a game that should be about taking them on isn't fun. If these missions were few and far-in-between, they'd be easier to swallow, but unfortunately, they become more prominent near the end of the game, during which I actually recall slogging through no fewer than four of these missions in a row. That's right, not two, not three, but FOUR!! Whatever happened to the good ol' days when fighting games were just about beating the other guy up?

Fortunately, if you ever give up on the Z Battle Gate, there are other game modes to keep you occupied. There's dueling, which is basically one-on-one against the computer or a human opponent, a tournament mode, and my personal favorite, the ultimate battle. I call ultimate battle mode my personal favorite because it is a true ranking mode, complete with a grading system that's based on points such as speed of victory and whether or not you used your special moves. It'll keep you busy for quite a while, too, especially when you consider that there are about 100 fighters until you get to the top. It's a deep and satisfying alternative to the story.

Budokai Tenkaichi is a difficult game to rate, simply because it's so much different than any other DBZ game out there. Sure, there's plenty to love about the game, not the least of which is the massive amount of content, but it's also tarnished by a stripped down fighting engine and a shaky camera. If you're a fan of DBZ who's looking for something a little different I'd heartily recommend checking this game out. Myself? I'm looking forward to playing Budokai Tenkaichi 2. If Spike can improve on what they first offered here, the next game just might be something special.

Gameplay: 7.0 The behind the back perspective takes a big step towards capturing the feel of the show. I could've done with more depth to the fighting and a more refined camera.

Graphics: 8.0 Has everything a DBZ game needs, and then some. Great looking characters and huge, destructible environments

Sound: 7.0 The cheesy rock tunes are forgettable, but the voices are lifted straight from the show and the sound effects are appropriately punchy.

Value: 9.0 A DBZ fan's wet dream. A lengthy story mode, a deep ranking mode, and tons and tons of unlockables.

Overall Score: 7.5/10




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