The last decade has been very good to Dragon Ball Z videogame players. From Dimps’ Budokai series to Spike’s Budokai Tenkaichi and beyond, fans have been able to battle it out with an ever expanding roster of characters and transformations. But even with so many games with which fans can play out their Dragon Ball Z fantasies, Namco Bandai have still offered the chance to turn back the clock and do it all again with Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z.
With the last episode of Dragon Ball Z airing in Japan almost two decades ago and Dragon Ball GT biting the dust soon after, it’s hardly surprising that Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z retraces old ground. Vegeta, Frieza, Cell and Buu all return as enemies within their respective sagas, with roughly 3-4 stages devoted to defeating each villain and another 3-4 devoted to playing as them. Additional levels covering the numerous Dragon Ball Z movies – including Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods – can be unlocked, bumping the total mission count up to 60.
But those with hazy memories beware, as Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z‘s cut-scenes are brief and vague in order to accommodate for the game’s non-canon four-on-four battles. Nevertheless, these frantic, multi-man brawls are jammed packed with colourful energy beams, flying fighters and familiar soundbytes put Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z in-game action far closer to that of the original anime than previous games.
Battle of Z also allows character colours to be customised and Dragon Ball Z dream teams to be formed, however selectable characters are restricted to a stage’s place in the timeline e.g. Android #18 can’t be used to fight Frieza, and Frieza can’t be used to fight Gotenks. It’s in this way that Battle of Z is neither a strict Dragon Ball Z adaptation, nor a fully customisable DBZ fantasy game.
Having so many fighters present at once also totally negates the feeling of tension and drama usually drummed up by Dragon Ball Z‘s most epic battles. For example, having Krillin fight alongside Super Saiyan Goku in his final showdown against Frieza destroys the significance of Krillin’s canonical death. Saying that, this effect could have been offset to a degree by what would have been some entertaining local couch co-op – a feature developer Artdink thought unnecessary for Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z.
As mentioned above, Battle of Z‘s big twist on the Dragon Ball Z videogame formula is the introduction of four-on-four, team based battles. In what is perhaps an attempt by Artdink to accommodate for the high number of on-screen combatants, the more technical mechanics of previous Dragon Ball Z games have been simplified in tune with an action game, rather than a fighter.
Characters are be flown around in all directions, with only one button devoted to melee and one to basic ki blasts. Blocking is also handled by a single button which, when held down, allows a new set of character specific attacks to be used. The targeting system only simplifies things further as once an enemy is targeted, it’s extremely unlikely that player attacks will miss.
While it’s an easy control scheme to get to grips with, the fact that the damage dealt from individual attacks isn’t apparent means that most players will resort to blocking and button bashing with flashy, yet repetitive, results.
But even with this simple control scheme in place, battles can become needlessly frustrating due to Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z‘s mid-battle, character revival system.
If and when a character’s health is depleted, allies have a matter of seconds revive them by, strangely enough, punching them. Failure to do this results in that character respawning and taking a life from that team’s cumulative pool of “retries”.
Infuriation sets in during single player matches where unobservant, AI controlled team mates consistently and repeatedly fail to revive fallen allies even when standing directly next to them. In later levels this forces players to becomes medics; hanging back and reviving AI before they squander the team’s “retries” – a tiresome role unfit for the galaxy’s greatest warriors.
It’s a clunky, unsophisticated system, but what Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z‘s gameplay lacks in technicality, it partially makes up for in visual flair.
If two or more allies physically attack an enemy simultaneously, the view will shift to show a synchronised beat down. Pressing the melee button from a blocking position unleashes a powerful blow that sends enemies soaring through the sky, and allowing allies to teleport in to continue the volley. Once a particular battle has has reach a certain duration, character specific special attacks become available which, when performed, focus in on the character performing it in a similar fashion to Street Fighter‘s super combos.
Successfully completed missions yields special cards that can be attached to individual characters for power boosts. However, the vast majority of cards simply and arbitrarily increases stats such as speed, melee and maximum hit points with a smaller assortment of cards providing modifiers. Even so, Artdink managed to overcomplicate this simple sounding card system by not allowing cards to be shared between individual characters i.e. a card attached to one character must be removed before it can be attached to another. This actually reduces the urge to experiment with other characters, purely because the act of switching each card between character is so very laborious.
It’s difficult to think of a Dragon Ball Z game having anything but cel-shaded graphics, and Artdink have done well to stick to the trend. Each and every character model looks bold, vivid and accurate, and the various energy based attacks glow in that iconic anime fashion. The various levels in which battles can be fought are uninspired to say the least, but provide a suitably colourful backdrop for the much more eye catching skirmishes above ground.
But while there’s no faulting the luscious cel-shaded in-game graphics, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z‘s bland and convoluted mission menu screens and the aforementioned character card menus leave much to be desired – especially the typo laden mission and character descriptions.
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z has severe sound mixing issues that push SFX levels far above that of music and vocals. While all three sound levels can be altered individually from the main menu, the same option is not available during gameplay; making the quest for balanced sound levels nigh impossible.
This is a pity considering the attention Artdink has given to the voice over work. Japanese and American voices are available with, as far as this writer can tell, all of the original cast members returning to record new lines.
It’s certainly the case that the SFX, voices and music are each of an acceptable quality individually, but Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z is incapable of mixing all three together. The resultant sonic barrage of energy beams blocking out muffled battle cries while a background music guitar solo begs for attention is immensely irritating.
As described in previous sections, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z‘s overly simplistic gameplay mechanics is the game’s most pertinent shortcoming – especially to those who have enjoyed previous Dragon Ball Z games. None of the characters have well defined fighting styles, it’s difficult to tell just how much damage one attack does compared to another and only the most basic strategies can be employed to win matches. This results in matches becoming repetitive and tedious far too quickly, regardless of the character chosen.
It’s also important to note that although Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z boasts a roster almost 70 characters in size, most are simply the same character but in different forms. For example, four of these characters are Frieza’s individual transformations, three are Cooler, five are Goku, and another five are Future Trunks – and that’s excluding his child forms and fusions.
This also highlights Battle of Z‘s omittance of the Dragon Ball Z staple of character transformation. Most Dragon Ball Z fans would argue that the transformation of Goku, for example, into a Super Saiyan is just as significant as him being a Super Saiyan. It’s a mechanic that was worked into past Dragon Ball Z games with great results, so it’s puzzling as to why Artdink would deny Battle of Z players of the same pleasure.
Lastly, those without access to Xbox Live will be left wondering why a game with a focus on multiplayer lacks even a two-player split screen mode – even though four-player split-screen would lend itself greatly to a Battle of Z.
- Vibrant cel-shaded graphics
- ENG and JAP voices
- The creation of dream teams and custom character colours
- Overly simplistic and repetitive gameplay mechanics
- Major sound mixing issues
- No local co-op
Once the ki blasts die down and the dust settles Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z can been seen for what it really is; simplistic gameplay mechanics, repetitive battles and poorly programmed AI. The game does everything it says on the tin, but nothing more. Artdink missed far too many opportunities and omitted far too many features which, if included may pulled Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z out of the realm of videgame mediocrity in which it now sits.
SCORE: 5 OUT OF 10