Few popular series in other mediums seem like a perfect fit for video games as much as Dragon Ball Z. Since it essentially revolves around one awesome fight after another, you would think there would be plenty of amazing fighting games based off the highly successful manga and anime. Sadly, that hasn’t been the case, and the closest we’ve gotten to a great fighting game was Dragon Ball Z: Budokai in 2002.
With veteran fighting game studio Arc System Works, the developer behind well received series such as BlazBlue and Guilty Gear, at the helm, it seemed like Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden would be a breakthrough. Surely one of the best fighting game developers could finally tap into the series’ true potential, right? Sadly, that isn’t exactly the case, but it’s a step in the right direction compared to other recent 3D attempts.
The main disappointment that’s apparent right from the beginning is that Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden just doesn’t have the depth compared to Arc System Works’ previous games. There aren’t a variety of systems to learn. Rather, each character has the same basic combo attacks, and special moves are all a simple button press away (just hold the left bumper and hit an attack button).
There is a fine line between accessibility and simplicity, and it has been an area where Arc System Works has excelled at in the past. Their past work on Persona 4 Arena Ultimax was an excellent example of making a fighting game that was simple to learn, yet still had enough depth for fans to put in many hours learning the different techniques and systems at play.
While the fighting is definitely simple in Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden, it does feel great while playing. Each character has three different attacks: weak, strong and special. These moves can all be thrown in combinations, but you’ll quickly learn that the combos don’t vary between characters. This design choice severely limits the depth, but it does allow players to quickly learn any character.
That in itself is a positive, since you will be using a lot of different characters in Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden. Gamers will have their pick of over 15 of the series’ most popular fighters. It’s a far cry from the number of combatants in previous console offerings, but there is enough variety to please most.
All of the game’s characters are used in a variety of modes, including the two main single-player ones: Z Story and Adventure Mode. As the name would suggest, Z Story once again tells a truncated version of the epic Dragon Ball Z storyline. There isn’t enough narrative for newcomers to understand what is really going on, but it does invoke some nostalgia for long-time fans.
The main story wraps up after 10 fights, but the player then unlocks several character-specific story modes. While these are also on the short side, they do offer up some neat alternate history storylines. This means that finally Krillin can be the true hero that the Dragon Ball Z series deserves. It’s a fun way to extend the game’s single-player content and give meaning to what would otherwise be random fights.
The most interesting single-player mode on offer is the Adventure Mode, as it takes place after an incident that caused all of Goku’s past foes to reappear, even ones ranging back to his days as a young kid. The story isn’t great, but it’s a nice fan-service excuse to bring back dozens of beloved characters.
Each level in Adventure Mode will task Goku with defeating enemies, but there are also side objectives that can be completed to unlock new Z Assist characters. These Z Assist characters are selected before a fight, and can be summoned into battle for a brief amount of time. Most jump onto the screen, do an attack, and quickly vanish. This doesn’t have a huge effect on the gameplay, but it does allow for a lot more characters to get screen time.
If there is a downside to the Z Assist characters, it’s that they sometimes will force the game to lag for a few seconds if there is too much happening on-screen. This would be a serious gaffe in a competitive game, but since you’ll be spending most of your time playing solo (more on that soon), it isn’t the biggest deal. Plus, the pros of seeing the entire Ginyu Force on your 3DS screen at once outweigh any negatives.
It’s a good thing that Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden offers up a solid amount of single-player content, because it lacks one very important mode: online multiplayer. While gamers can challenge other players locally (provided they also have a 3DS and a copy of the game), they can’t face other players online. As a handheld game, this limits its appeal drastically. That said, online matches are coming to the game via an update in Japan, so hopefully it will make its way over to other territories as well.
There is no doubt that Extreme Butoden is a step in the right direction for the series. It provides a decent base to work off of, and hopefully we’ll see a sequel (preferably on consoles) that fleshes out the fighting system. For now, Dragon Ball Z fans can feel good about purchasing Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden, but it still isn’t the game that the series deserves.
This review is based on the Nintendo 3DS exclusive, which we were provided with for review.
Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden is a step in the right direction, but it still isn't the 2D fighting game that the series deserves.