Dragon Ball Z has become incredibly popular in the United States. The adventures of Goku, Vegeta, Piccolo, Gohan, and Krillin have been a staple for followers of the series airing on Cartoon Network in the states. Most fans would say that the chaotic action sequences of the fighting and bizarre characters keeps them watching.
These fighting sequences have been the groundwork for several fighting games on the PlayStation, GBA, Gamecube, and PS2. Now Atari brings the next fighting game in the Dragon Ball Z: Budokai series to the PS2 with Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi.
The intro for DBZ: BT simply looks incredible. The mix of CGI and cel-shading looks spectacular and really brings the characters to life. While the intro movie isn’t part of the game, it is simply too impressive not to mention.
Once you get into the menu system, characters like Gohan and Piccolo guide you through the menu options. While they don’t move, some animation in the background makes the menus feel less static, showing that more care was taken to the menus than the average game.
The first characteristic you notice about the fighting areas are how vast they are. While this doesn’t mean that you never encounter an artificial boundary in the game, it seems less likely to happen than in DBZ: Budokai 3. The areas feel more populated as well. Trees, bodies of water, and large hills and cliffs inhabit the areas and can be destroyed by being hit by an attack or an opponent flying through the air. Unfortunately, sometimes these objects can get in the way of the camera, causing your vision of you and your opponent to be completely blocked.
The characters are well animated, making the characters from the anime come alive on the game screen. The mannerisms and special attacks are all duplicated faithfully. Even the background changing to blue with generic moving lines to simulate movement in the background during high-powered action sequences, something stereotypical of anime, makes an appearance. The particle effects of the special attacks are impressive too, with beams and balls of light sparkling.
While the cel-shading of the game might be its greatest strength, it is also its weakness. The cel-shading at times looks incredible, making the characters look better than their appearance in the cartoon. Sometimes though, the shading causes some odd coloring on the characters, making it look like the costumes or characters’ skins have some odd three-color scheme.
The other issue is that the characters and environments have low polygon counts. The cel-shading does help to offset the look of some of the characters, but the edges are still easy to point out. When a land mass is destroyed, it breaks into large pieces, but each of the pieces is made of a few polygons with a texture on it. While the smoke puffing up from the destruction of land masses looks good, the low polygon count is disappointing.
DBZ: BT features all of the voice actors of the original anime. This is impressive considering the number of characters in the game. The cutscenes include voice acting as well as subtitles. Then you can read the text and skip the in-engine cutscene if you want to.
The menu music has a level of excitement to it. Horns sounding and a deep bass thump drives the music. While there is some intensity during this time, it feels lighthearted, almost like Goku when not fighting. During the fights all the music intensity increases. While some of it may still contain the horns, some guitar might be added into the mix.
The battles use a lot of the effects of the TV show. Each hit has the impact that it should. Land masses crumble and chi attacks explode. It’s not uncommon to hear explosions and destructions through the game.
While there are some similarities to the controls in Budokai 3, DBZ: BT has an entirely different feel to it. Movement is still controlled with the D-pad and left analog stick. The X button dashes your character across the fighting area, while the Circle button blocks attacks. Hitting Square attacks your opponent with hits and kicks, while the Triangle button is used for Ki Blasts. The R1 and R2 buttons make your character ascend and descend over the battlefield, respectively. The L1 button locks onto your opponent or does a search when your opponent isn’t visible. The L2 button charges up your Ki when held down or performs a special move when hit in conjunction with other buttons.
The controls are mostly responsive, but sometimes it is confusing to get the controls right because of the combination of keys needed. For example, a Favorite Technique can be performed when you have energy balls filled and hit the L2 button with up on the D-pad. A Finishing Move is made when L2 and Triangle are hit at the same time, while the Super Finishing Move is done with the L2, Triangle, and Down on the D-pad. All of the combinations of buttons can be confusing for a while, but similar functions are used with the same face button so it shouldn’t be too confusing. Still, hitting the correct buttons at the same time and remembering the different button combinations can be very confusing. Button mashers beware, mashing in DBZ: BT will not get you far at all.
While the first two Budokai games had their issues, each Budokai game has gotten better. DBZ: BT focuses more on the fighting aspects of the game, taking out the techniques like the Dragon Rush and Hyper Mode. This causes DBZ: BT focus more on skill than on luck.
The first change in the fighting is the vast fighting areas. While the previous Budokai games were basically played out on a 2D playing field similar to Virtura Fighter, DBZ: BT are now played over a vast 3D area. Because of the vast area for the game, the Dash button becomes a huge offensive and defensive strategic tool. While blocking can be used to deflect attacks, getting around them using the dash button can be more effective.
While the Dash button is useful for moving around horizontally, moving vertically can be even more important. Aerial assaults are common in DBZ: BT and can be a strategic element that shouldn’t be overlooked, especially in underwater battles and tournaments that involve losing by a Ring Out. While aerial combat was a part of Budokai 3, DBZ: BT develops this element of the game more fully.
Even though the areas are spread out, the action is fast and furious, but still has a large amount of strategy. Special moves use up Ki energy. Your Ki Gauge fills up as you successfully land attacks on your enemy or charge your Ki using the L2 button. While charging you are left defenseless, so you must plan your charges strategically. An Energy Gauge fills automatically during the battle. Once it is full a bubble fills up. Up to three of these bubbles can be filled at one time. These bubbles are used for Favorite Techniques. Most of these Favorite Techniques consume only one bubble, but the more powerful ones consume two. All of these gauges and special attacks, not to mention blocking and avoiding attacks, make for a fighting experience that emulates the controlled chaos of the fights in the DBZ anime.
The AI is tough, even on the default difficulty level. Your enemy uses a wide variety of attacks and never gives up. While most of the time you feel like you make some progress, there are times when the battles are frustrating. One battle I encountered, I was getting constantly hit with the same attacks in rapid succession. I was not able to escape at all from this until the round ended. The cheapness of this play made me want to throw the controller, something I rarely do. If you are looking for a challenging fighting game, look no further.
Several modes are available for the action. The Z Battle Gate lets you re-live some of the most popular Dragon Ball Z battles, as well as some new battles. Different battles require different objectives to complete the match. Dueling lets you play a head-to-head match. These matches can be one person against the computer or another player. You can even set it up to watch the computer battle it out with two fighters that you select. The World Tournament is a ladder tournament. At first a three-battle tournament is available. Once defeating that level, you can move to a four-battle tournament and then to a five-battle tournament. Once winning in those tournaments, you unlock the Cell Games, which is a five-battle tournament hosted by Cell himself. Ultimate Battle is a ladder tournament of 100 fighters. Defeating an opponent and completing objectives give you points, while losing matches loses points. When you run out of points you need to start the Ultimate Battle again.
A Practice mode is available for the game, but the mode is nothing more than just a series of videos. While watching these videos is helpful to learn the controls, it’s disappointing that the Practice mode doesn’t have any interactivity like Budokai 3.
The Z Battle Gate, World Tournament, and Ultimate Battle modes give DBZ: BT an impressive amount of playing value. If that wasn’t impressive enough, the game contains a whopping 57 unique characters in 87 different forms. While some changes are made to balance out the characters a bit, you won’t grow bored any time soon with the character selection.
Winning battles also gives you Z Items. These Z Items allow you to customize your characters. There are two types of Z Items. Ability Items do things such as make your character stronger or increase the amount of Ki you start out with in a match. Support Items improve your abilities, like locking onto your opponent during a match. This amount of customization increases the playability of the game.