You know, it’s an odd thing, I was into so many weird shows when I was a kid, but Dragon Ball Z was never one of them. My friends were. I was hooked on Pokemon, Power Rangers, Beast Wars and even secretly watched Sailor Moon since my adolescent self thought it was SO COOL to watch chicks in schoolgirl outfits fight monsters. But Dragon Ball Z never made its way into my rotation.
I mention this not necessarily to say I’m not qualified to offer an opinion on the Dragon Ball Z Budokai HD Collection. I mention this to sort of set the scene that I can only go into the game looking for what the game itself offers on its own, without looking at the fact that “Hey! This is that crazy show where everyone yells a lot!”
That does not, however, mean I didn’t consult friends of mine that I consider “experts” and do my own research for this review. I’m a little better than that.
The Budokai games were a big deal back when they were released because they allowed fans of the game to put to rest who would win in a fight between characters in the television show, and relive battles that happened. The sort of the “schoolyard argument” over who was more powerful was made real by a simple fighting game, although it caught on ridiculously quick. After all, DBZ seems perfectly suited to some sort of over-the-top fighting game, so why not make it happen? It was only a matter of time anyway.
The DBZ Budokai HD Collection combines the first and third game in the series into one package for gamers to relive their glory years of yelling a lot and making your hair really freakin’ tall. Namco Bandai saw that fans of the series most liked features from these games, so the second game in the series, which had much less features than the ones included, was chosen to be omitted.
The Budokai games play like a traditional fighting game. The face buttons are each assigned a punch, kick, guard or projectile attack. Combine these buttons in specific sequences in order to rack up combos. There’s nothing overly revolutionary about that.
What sets Budokai apart is the skill system and the ridiculously over-the-top combos that can be pulled off. As you play through the game’s modes, you’ll unlock capsules that can be assigned to skill slots for each character. These usually correspond to some sort of special move like the quintessential Kamehameha. Or maybe you’re more of a “explosion that engulfs the entire planet” or “uppercut your enemy so hard he hits his head on the freakin’ moon” type fighter. It’s okay, those are here. All it requires is a bit of a learning curve to remember the combos for them.
Thankfully the learning curve usually present in fighting games is much less annoying here. You could theoretically jump right into the game and mash buttons and you’ll be mostly okay. However learning how to play the game as it was intended and actually taking the time to learn the fundamentals is infinitely rewarding when you see your friend’s face when you punch him to the moon and back.
If you don’t happen to have a friend that you can play with, you at least have the tournament and story modes to jump into with each respective game. The first Budokai game has a story mode that loosely follows the plot of the cartoon. You’ll perform in different key fights that happened throughout the television show, and relive many of the key events that happened adjacent to those.
Sure the story isn’t very good, the dialogue is horrendous and you likely won’t remember the names of at least a few of the characters, but those are parts of what made DBZ so much fun to viewers to begin with. It may make for a bad game on its own, but here it’s actually being faithful to the source material, something that’s likely to confuse the hell out of players who never watched the show, like me, but be very pleasant to those who actually followed everything back then.
Each fight plays out similar to an episode of the show, with narration done at the beginning and ending of each “episode,” and title sequences and special effects.
But while the first Budokai game was okay, and featured a single player mode that tried to emulate the show, the third game is what most fans consider to be the better of the series.
Budokai 3 retained many of the modes that the first game does, such as a tournament mode, a training mode and a VS. mode, but the story mode was much more open than the original game. Instead of playing fight after fight linked only by cutscenes and title sequences, you’re actually presented with an open world and are tasked with controlling Goku flying around from fight to fight. This works well and gives the player some actual choice, because while you can simply go from waypoint to waypoint in order to progress the story, there are some hidden fights and secrets that players are rewarded for finding and reenacting.
The third game also features a slightly different graphical style, making everything look like it’s actually drawn right onto your screen rather than just simple, lo-res textures.
The third game also flows much better than the original game does. There was a certain amount of clunkiness to the original game because combos were fairly difficult to pull off with any sort of fluidity. It’s a little bit easier with the third game, and there’s also the added bonus of more environmental hazards to send your enemy hurling off into.
The third game also has noticable improvements as far as effects go. Projectiles and such looked fairly bland in the first game, but there’s more of an attention to detail and making things bright and pop off the screen. I was actually pretty impressed when I noticed the ground actually got its own “scars” when enemies when falling down.
The “HD-ification” of the games work fairly well. There were some annoying blur effects that are completely gone now that the developers can actually make the game look as it was intended. The gameplay itself is in full widescreen while the cutscenes have bars on the side to present the original 4:3 ratio, which is annoying, but not a deal breaker.
Also, if you were overwhelmingly attached to the original soundtracks, then I have some bad news for you. All of the songs in the game have been replaced entirely due to some trouble involving alleged plagiarism. Unfortunate, but again, not a deal breaker.
The only foreseeable problem with the collection is the audience. As I mentioned, I can only really comment on how the game holds itself up without having to look into the novelty that you’re playing as DBZ characters. But while I found myself wanting to quit after maybe a match or two because I didn’t feel the novelty, my experts couldn’t put the game down. “C’mon man! I think I can take you. Let’s do that one more time, you be Raditz and I’ll be Piccolo!”
So if you were a fan of the original TV show or manga, or played the games back on the PS2 and want to relive them but with prettier graphics, you’ll probably enjoy this game, if the over-excited demeanor of my consultant is any indication. However, if you never got into the franchise and are only curious to see what all the fuss is about, it’s unlikely you’ll find an answer here. I trust you can figure out which category you fit into from there.
This review is based on an XBOX 360 copy of the game provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.
Dragon Ball Z Budokai HD Collection might be a good idea for old fans looking to relive their childhoods, but it's a bit of a hard sell for people without the same memories.