Growing up in the late 1990s and early part of the 2000s, I was a huge fan of Toonami. The anime block on Cartoon Network introduced me to some of the first TV shows I actively followed such as Gundam Wing, YuYu Hakusho, and most importantly, Dragon Ball Z. While I don’t follow the genre much anymore, I will always have a fondness in my heart for these shows, which is why I was excited to get my hands on Dragon Ball Z: Battle Of Z. Sure, I had played the previous Budokai series of titles, but this new installment was promising the fast-paced, over-the-top brawls that the show is known for.
As mentioned before, Dragon Ball Z: Battle Of Z does away with the traditional one-on-one fighting system that most of the other titles in the franchise have used in favor of a four-on-four system. If anything, the fighting engine has more in line with a brawler such as Dynasty Warriors than it does any of the previous titles. Basically, you have one button for melee and one for a short fireball, plus modifiers for both that do extra damage, but at the expense of stamina. Once you charge enough stamina, you can also unleash a special signature attack such as Goku’s Kamehameha or Piccolo’s Special Beam Cannon. The engine is very simple to get the hang of, which is both a positive and a negative, as you quickly realize how little depth to it there is.
The move to four-on-four combat forced Artdink to implement a lock-on button for the title, which is probably the most important part of combat. Even if you are standing right next to your target, if you are not locked-on to him you will whiff on all of your attacks, which is rather frustrating considering the targeting system is far from perfect. It won’t always lock-on to your nearest opponent, or even switch over after you start getting attacked by someone closer. The reliance on locking on to specific targets also leads to the camera being more fussy than usual. Forcing you to focus on one opponent at a time often sets you up for being clobbered by shots coming from unseen enemies out of view, which is just about as fun as it sounds.
There are two main modes in Dragon Ball Z: Battle Of Z: Mission Mode and Battle Mode. Mission mode, which can be done in single player or multiplayer fashion, involves you going through the major events of the series. However, this mode is definitely more for fans who have already watched the show before due to the fact that it never really explains who anyone is or why they are fighting. Characters just show up and announce that they want to fight and off you go. The creators of the show crafted specific motivations for these characters and it doesn’t make any sense as to why Artdink would choose to ignore all of it.
Of the two ways to go through Mission Mode, I definitely recommend going through it with some online friends. Not only was my experience playing online lag free and relatively stable, but it’s simply more enjoyable playing through the missions with four equally skilled partners.
Trying to go through the missions by yourself is a lesson in frustration. The brain-dead AI you are teamed up with would rather watch you die than try to heal you, even if you’ve helped them out previously. This was in addition to the few times where my character would glitch out and get stuck mid-pose and force me to witness my partners standing by idly. They would just fly around and maybe heal each other, while I would get beat down over and over. I’m not exaggerating here when I say that Dragon Ball Z: Battle Of Z features some of the worst partner AI I have experienced in a long time.
As for Battle Mode, it’s pretty self-explanatory, as players face off against each other in either four-on-four brawls or 8 man free-for-alls. Once again, I had little issue with the online connection here.
While the noted battles are certainly fun and reminded me of the classic Sega Dreamcast series Power Stone a little bit, they do bring out the worst issues with the gameplay. The faulty lock-on system, clumsy camera and sloppy, simple fighting engine are all easily noticeable when everyone is suffering through the same issues. Instead of emphasizing skill, like all good fighters do, Dragon Ball Z: Battle Of Z often feels like an exercise in button mashing when you’re playing with others.
Aesthetically, Dragon Ball Z: Battle Of Z does a remarkable job of emulating the show. The character models are probably the best they have ever looked and the voice acting, matching the actors who voiced the Dragon Ball Z: Kai series, sounds excellent. The ridiculousness of the Ginyu Force also comes through just as well as ever. The only issue I have with the look of the game is that I wish the environments had a little more pop to them. None of the stages particularly stand out and they all feature the same, limited amount of destructibility. The show is known for its landscape destroying battles, so why not try and make that more of a factor?
I have to give kudos to Artdink for trying to shake up the Dragon Ball Z series of games just a little bit. The move to four-on-four battles is an inspired one, but the fighting engine is just too sloppy and simple to recommend over other fighters. It also doesn’t help that the storyline is borderline incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t watched the show before. Fans of the series may appreciate the game for what it is, but for non-fans, I’m recommending that you do what Dragon Ball Z: Battle Of Z does to Dragon Ball GT and ignore it.
This review is based off a copy of the PlayStation 3 version of the title, which we were provided with.