Like a lot of kids in the late 90’s and early 2000’s I was a massive Dragon Ball Z fan. This is an anime series that should just fit in perfectly with the idea of video games. It’s a story filled with planet-destroying action and intense martial arts fighting. There have been plenty of Dragon Ball Z games, but it’s been a long time since there’s been a good Dragon Ball Z game. The Budokai series was highly successful and only progressed with time. They peaked and made the perfect Dragon Ball fighting game with Budokai Tenkaichi 3. We next got the first Raging Blast game on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and while it was a step backwards, it was still an enjoyable game. It’s been a while since a new Dragon Ball Z game came out-- but recently, a new animated movie was released so, naturally, we have a new game to capitalize on the reinvigorated interest. The most recent game, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z is a new take on the franchise that doesn’t exactly pan out the way you could hope.
I never understood why Namco Bandai moved away from the Tenkaichi series because it was such a well done fighting game and they really hit their stride with that third game. Battle of Z, and the ideas behind it, are a complete mystery to me. Like every Dragon Ball game up until this point, Battle of Z has you playing through the entire series and some of the movie storylines. There are over 70 characters from the franchise but this time there are no transformations. Instead, the transformations are their own characters which can lead to some really weird situations. Battle of Z focuses pretty heavily on team based fighting. You are presented with a list of missions and you select the characters you want to bring into the mission based on how many they allow you to take as some missions have character restrictions. If you have a mission where you can take two characters, you could actually bring regular Goku and Super Saiyan Goku, so you can tell that they aren’t focusing much on the story making sense and more on the gameplay. Unfortunately the gameplay is the weakest part of the game. The mission structure is pretty bad and some restrict you to a time limit that can be pretty difficult to meet. I became frustrated multiple times for how often I would have to restart some missions because I ran out of time.
The fighting system is incredibly shallow. The game has a one-button attack system that just repeats the same combo over and over again. You can use the character’s powers but, but unlike other games, you character can't just charge their power-- they have to actually attack a character and build up their power that way. While you building energy you can do smaller energy attacks by holding the L button and pressing one of the face buttons for different styles of attacks but these are the only attacks you have. The most interesting part of the gameplay is the way you move around the stages. Each stage is just a large circular arena themed around an area from the Dragon Ball universe (so mostly mountains) and you are free to run and fly around this area at will. You have full 3D control over you character and this feels and looks really nice. Enemies drop into the arena and you lock onto them to enter your fighting mode and from that point on you can proceed to perform the same boring repetitive combos until everyone is defeated. During most of the missions you have other characters with you that you can give support orders to, but mostly they just get in the way of the fighting. The worst aspect of this is the fact that when an enemy is knocked down, you can’t attack him again until he stands up, so often you find your allies knocking your opponent down and you’re just standing there waiting for him to stand up. Not exactly the most exciting thing in the world.
The game actually does look really good and the visual representation of the anime style is easily the best part of the game. It’s not as fast moving as a Dragon Ball Z game should be, but the energetic flair is there, especially when associated with the more powerful energy blasts which legitimately look great. The sound design is also really well done and is mixed well. The addition of the television voice actors is also a huge plus. There is a very small character customization option in the game where you can change the color of a characters costume but unfortunately that’s it. Fingers are still crossed for a full creatable character in a Dragon Ball Z game!
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z isn’t the worst Dragon Ball game on the market but it hardly stands out. As a handheld game it satisfies the smallest of cravings for the most diehard of fans but to anyone else it may just feel like a wasted experience. With a shallow combat system and boring mission structure and unbalanced online function, Battle of Z is not for the faint of heart and can easily be skipped, but if you REALLY want to play a Dragon Ball Z game you could do a lot worse.