For the record, I never played these games during their original release, so I will be judging them solely on how they play and feel by today’s standards. If you loved the original and want an HD hook, then stop reading and just go get it now.
One more thing to add to the record, when I was a kid, I “LOVED” Dragon Ball Z. It was one of the first shows that really got me worked up about characters in such an extreme way. While I can now look back with clear eyes and see it for the overlong ridiculous nonsense that it is, I can still remember fist-pumping (in a very OTT and excited manner) when Goku became a Super Saiyan and was finally able to take on Frieza (I regret nothing). For me, Dragon Ball Z is nostalgia in its purest form.
Now, before I go on, if the sentence about Super Saiyan’s made no sense to you, you too should probably stop reading. There isn’t much here that non-fans can’t get elsewhere.
Now then, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai HD Collection consists of two games: the first and third in the series (the second has been omitted for some reason, ask a fan). I’ll be talking mostly about Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 (DBZB3) as everything that is in the original is also in it’s sequel and more. I’ll mention Dragonball Z: Budokai (DBZB) where appropriate.
As a 3D fighting game, DBZB3 boasts three main modes, the first being Story mode, which takes you through the more popular events of the show (Saiyan, Frieza and Cell. Majin boo in 3 but not in 1). This is one of the biggest differences between the two games. Whereas the original simply tells it’s tale, allowing you to assume the roles of different characters. The third makes you take control of a single character at the beginning and play through the entire series as him.
Neither is handled particularly well, which is strange as it does seem to be the main focus of the games. Fans will understand what is going on, but anyone new to the series will be lost. This is also a rare case where DBZB is actually better as the cut-scenes are absolutely hilarious. Between the gloriously OTT Japanese voice-acting, cheesy dialogue or baffling animations, I was roaring with laughter more than I thought I would. DBZB3’s cut-scenes are merely portraits of the characters with speech bubbles, no silly animations to be had at all.
Secondly, is the Tournament mode, which pits you against 8, 16 or 32 other fighters (players or com), to see who comes out on top. If you can get enough friends together, this could be enough fun as you pass the controller round for some mindless button-mashing fun.
Lastly is the classic Duel mode. Choose a character and fight someone. You know how it is. Though strangely for a fighting game, there is no online mode. Sure, fans of the series will get the most out of playing the main events of the TV show, but this is still a fighting game. Even the most basic online addition would have been welcome, but there’s nothing. If you want to play with friends, you’ll have to be in the same room as each other.
There is also a Practice mode that teaches you the basics. While it is more helpful in 3, I still found it infuriating as more advanced moves are harder to pull off and you’re not given a great deal of help from the game, I got stuck on the 10th lesson for about half an hour, so that tells you how hard it is.
There are still things to unlock by progressing through story modes and completing tournaments, but for the most part, everything is there from the get go. The only thing to really unlock is more advanced tournaments which allow more players to join in. Goody!
Another baffling decision (which is also carried over the the Budokai Tenkaichi series) is the ability to upgrade character’s strengths and unlock moves for them. Now pardon me, but what the hell is the point in this?! It’s decisions like that which makes it clear that the (poorly told) story is the most important aspect of this game rather than the actual fighting.
Think I’m making something out of nothing? Picture the scene: you get your friends around for some good old DBZ action. You choose your favorite characters (if they’re unlocked) only to realise that Goku is WAY more powerful than Vegeta because you were upgrading Goku during the Story mode. You now have to go buy more skills with coins you have to earn in the Tournament or the Story mode, then spend ages fine-tuning your characters so they are evenly matched, or to make things easier just remove all the abilities and fight with the most rudimentary moves. Sound fun?
Fans may enjoy unlocking characters and seeing new moves, but if that’s the case just look them up on Youtube, they’re all there!
All this is well and good, but what about the fighting itself! It’s responsive enough. You have your kicks, your punches, energy blasts and a guard button. You can also dash back and forth, you know, classic stuff. They all register quite satisfyingly and once you pull of some of the more advanced moves, it can feel pretty damn good.
The problem, however, is that it’s merely competent. There is a little bit of depth in that if someone charges an attack, you can get in a quick one or even dodge it entirely. There is also some thought to managing your Ki, but that’s about it. More often than not you’ll just mash the kick and punch buttons, hoping to connect.
While functional, the main problem is that every character handles and feels the exact same. From the most muscular men to the skinniest of boys (females need not apply apparently). The animation of the peruse attacks (other than the endings), the speed of kicks and punches, it’s all the exact same. I eventually took to simply choosing the random option when selecting characters. There’s no Street Fighter mentality of choosing a character to best fit your style, you just go in and mash buttons.
A common occurrence during my time with the game are the Dragon Rushes. While I only managed to pull this off a couple of times, the computer did it against me constantly: you get smacked away, then asked to push a face button, if you choose the same as the attacker, you counter out of the rush. If not, you get smacked around some more then asked to choose again from three of the buttons, then two. While decent fun at first, they soon become very annoying as there is no skill to it, just luck, yet battles can very well hinge on them. It may seem like a nit pick, but some rushes can take away at least a third of your health.
The game almost teases you in Story mode, as you are thrown into a vast world and asked to fly to markers to progress into the story. There is no incentive to explore, you are simply asked to fly from point-to-point – It gets very dull. You might come across a fight or some money, but other than that the vast barren world is pointless. At times you finish a cut-scene, jump into the over-world, then asked to enter the exact same arena you were just in to continue the story. Did no-one play test this? Or did someone actually think that was a good idea?
More thought has gone into the way things look, rather than the way things play, and it shows. While DBZB still looks like a PS2 game, DBZB3 looks great. This game came out when cel-shaded graphics weren’t quite as popular, but even now it looks awesome, colourful and stylish. Okay, so it’s clearly aged and outside the fights it all runs in 4:3 aspect ratio, but the bright and vibrant colors make a nice change from the dull, realistic, monotone color schemes we get nowadays.
The voice actors return for 3 (not 1) and in a very nice touch, you can turn the dialogue back to it’s original Japanese (the only language available in 1!) – a welcome option for the purists out there. The music is the lovely, cheesy guitar solos you’d expect from DBZ. Although why they omitted the glorious theme song from the TV show is beyond me. If it’s in here I sure as hell couldn’t find it. I want to Rock the Dragon!
If you are one of the aforementioned fans, then more power to you. I just struggled to find any fun in this game; it’s too simplistic and dull. Any fun involved dissolves after an hour at the most. The only recommendation I can give is to get some friends who are DBZ fans, get a few drinks and pizzas and have a good laugh while playing through the first (less good) game. It’s crazy that the story is seemingly the major focus of this game, given that it’s the same story they use for every single DBZ game to date. What I really don’t get is why they haven’t tried their hand at making an action/adventure game instead, a free roaming game based off the license as opposed to yet another fighter, imagine how great that would be! If you’re looking for a real DBZ fix, then wait for Namco to remake Budokai Tenkaichi, a much better fighter. In the meantime, keep Rocking that Dragon elsewhere.