For better or for worse, The Dragon Ball Z series has been a popular anime series. With crazy characters and over-the-top fight scenes, even the slow pace of the series wasn’t able to deter fans. It only made sense that a developer would want to take the license and try to make a fighting game out of the series. Dimps developed the Budokai series on the PlayStation 2 (and a few on the Gamecube), and it truly brought the characters to life with a fighting mechanic behind it. Now it seems like we are getting several new collections of games with upgrades in the graphics. With the Dragon Ball Z: Budokai HD Collection, owners of a Microsoft console can actually play a Budokai title. The question is, are these games worthy of coming back?
When playing through the first Budokai game, you take control of Goku at the very beginning of the series and follow through to Gohan’s final battle with Cell. Many of the larger battle scenes are in here, and as you play through this mode more characters become available for the other modes of the game. If you are a fan of the fights and watching how the story develops, this is the mode for you.
A few other modes are included as well. The World Tournament let’s you take a character through a ladder tournament and possibly earn prize money to gain Skill Capsules. The Duel mode lets you and a buddy fight it out as all 23 different characters if you have unlocked them all, and the Practice mode lets you take as many shots at an opponent as you need to so you can get the moves for that character right.
Graphically, you can tell that the character resolution is much higher and the framerate is smooth. However, it doesn’t use cell shading, so the look of the characters looks a bit flat. The particle effect flourishes look more pronounced though. The screen is cut off on the side during the menu portions, but widescreen televisions are fully taken advantage of during the fighting.
The gameplay of Budokai is very simple. A few simple kicks, punches, throws, and energy attacks are available for each character. However, the number of special moves is incredibly small. You also can’t leap and stay in the air, you need to be thrown to hover above ground. This feels unnatural with all the fighting going on high in the air. Also, while the game features 3D graphics, all the fighting is done on a 2D plane, much like the original Virtua Fighter. This feels rather restricting in the wide open expanses. Fans of the series who haven’t honed their skills on games like Tekken or Soul Calibur may appreciate the simplicity, but anyone who has any knowledge of fighting games will be disappointed by the lack of the depth in the actual gameplay.
Budokai 3 includes similar modes to the first game. The Dueling, World Tournament, and Practice modes are all found again. The Dragon Universe replaces the Story mode from the first game. Instead of following the series chronologically and switching characters as their major battles occur, you follow the story of one character at a time as they go through their different fights. You will see more portions of the entire saga which includes portions of the original Dragon Ball as well as the Dragon Ball GT series. You will unlock characters in this mode, and you can build it to 42 different characters.
While there isn’t as much story in Budokai 3, the fighting mechanics have been expanded exponentially. Each character has a few more special moves, making them less boring than before. Fighting in the air is a common occurrence, making it feel like you have a wider area to use in the battles. Side stepping away from enemy attacks can swing the momentum and allow you to go in for a well-placed hit. Teleporting behind your enemy is useful to dodge away from attacks as well as lay down a huge shot to the back of your opponent a few times in a row. Beam struggles happen when both of you release Ki energy blasts. You need to either rotate the analog sticks or hit a lot of buttons during this tag of war. The faster you go, the further the blasts will head towards your opponent.
Hyper mode enables you to do two special moves besides giving you extra power in your attacks, but once all of your Ki energy is gone you are vulnerable to attack. The Dragon Rush plays out in three phases. When in this attack, both the attacker and defender hit a face button. If the defender matches what the attacker does, some of the attack damage is negated. The Ultimate Attack is similar, but you have to hit a button when it reaches a point on a status bar. The player that does best two out of three times wins. If the attacker wins the entire force of the Ultimate Attack hits the defender. If the defender wins, the damage decreases.
The voice cast in both games is made up of all the same people who do the anime. Since they had been working with these characters for so long, all of the characters have the right amount of urgency and sound just like their counterparts. The music is the same as well, so it really delivers the right vibe for the license.
I still have fond memories of Dragon Ball Z Budokai 3, and that’s part of the reason why I was excited to get this collection. Being able to play it in HD was a nice surprise. Sure, the character models are a little flat, but the characters from the show lack detail themselves. While I appreciate the first game, it is hard to go back after all of the innovation of Budokai 3. If you are a fan of Budokai 3, then this might be a good way to relive those memories without getting out a PS2 and hooking it up again.