I remember when I first loaded Dragon Ball Z Budokai 3 into my PS2. While I had been skeptical from previous games, someone who I trusted really enjoyed it so I thought I would give it a chance. He wasn’t a fan of the series either, but he enjoyed the action and crazy moves. To my surprise it was a well made fighting game. Since then I have been waiting for a Dragon Ball Z game to meet that standard. While the Budokai Tenkaichi series spiritually followed the Budokai format, no other Dragon Ball Z games lived up to the hype. That’s why I wanted to try Battle of Z to see if the magic was back.
Looking at the case showed promise. Sixty playable characters should give variety. Upgrading characters with cards to boost stats makes it sound like RPG elements exist, creating more strategy. Battling in a group of four characters creates a different dynamic from the typical one-on-one matchups seen in other DBZ games.
After watching the overly long intro, the Normal Battle mode started the storyline. The stages break off into a tree, so I thought that I would not only be able to play as different characters, but could give a new perspective behind their motivations. Being able to play the battles out of order with different characters also meant I could try a different path if I got stuck on a particular mission.
A short tutorial started the story mode with Goku at the forefront. Learning layout was simple and could have been abbreviated, but I always appreciate a game that takes the time to show you the controls. Learning about team attacks and healing would prove useful as well.
After these first few missions, the game falls apart. First of all, the combat fails by being too simplistic. Two face buttons ascend and descend your character on the battlefield, limiting your move set, while the other two buttons activate projectile and melee attacks. The left trigger and bumper activate modified attacks. The small moveset makes the fighting repetitive.
Being thrown far away or losing all your health makes getting back into the action a drag. You can lock onto one character, but getting back to them takes valuable seconds that you use flying towards your enemy instead of beating him up. If you lose all your health you basically die and get revived after several seconds. Your teammates have the ability to revive you, but the computer controlled allies leave you to die most of the time.
The repetitive combat could be mitigated with characters that felt different from each other. Unfortunately that’s not the case. I didn’t feel the characters I used throughout the game had different abilities. Even the upgrades given by the cards won after each match didn’t cause any drastic change in any abilities. The impression I got was that I was constantly using the same character with a different skin.
The team concept actually poses an issue with the game. Teaming up against an enemy helps defeat them quicker, but the AI often isn’t smart enough to assist you. If you go online and get some friends to join in, that helps this predicament. However, the battles in DBZ series are mostly solo affairs, with both parties sparring verbally between punches and power ups. Fighting as a group against a group of enemies feels odd within the mythos of the series.
The graphics in Battle of Z look similar to the Budokai HD Collection. The characters appear similar to their source material, although some hard edges can be seen during close-ups. The implementation of the cel shading brings out the details of the character models without being distracting.
All of the voices familiar to fans of the series are included here. It seems they were paid for every time their phrases are spoken, because they can’t stop talking during the battles. I was ready to yell at them all to shut up because they didn’t stop to breathe between shouts. If you thought their voices were annoying before, then the game makes scratching a chalkboard sound soothing.
In the end, Battle of Z is a disappointment. With the repetitive gameplay and simplistic battle system, only a die hard fan should even consider picking this up. It’s truly unfortunate because this could have been a wonderful experience with a real fighting engine and some depth. The wealth of battles makes Dragon Ball Z a perfect setting for a fighting game, but it seems that capturing the essence is incredibly difficult.