For the past 27 years Dragon Ball games have been a part of the Japanese gaming culture, with every release bringing something new to the table and it’s no different with this latest multi-format release of Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z. What’s New? You may ask, well a fair bit actually but unfortunately it is not all good news.
Developed by Studio Artdink, a Japanese games developer that has produced a variety of anime-based games in the past, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z will see players battle it out in various open-spaced arenas and more interestingly in teams of four. That’s right, unlike previous Dragon Ball titles (with the exception of the PSP game Budokai Tenkachi Tag Team and the Arcade exclusive Zenkai Battle Royale) players can pick their own team of fighters and battle it out in maps based on various locations within the Dragon Ball Z universe. That’s not all as each character can be customised in both appearance and abilities, all of which actually makes a difference when fighting opponents.
Of course this is only a small selection of new features that the game has to offer, but it’s this approach to gameplay that makes it vastly different to anything released thus far and brings new life into a rather aging franchise. Another first for the franchise is that players can now battle against larger enemies, such as Giant Ape Vegeta or Giant Ape Gohan – each of which have their own place within the Dragon Ball Z storyline, which leads me onto one of the game’s first problems.
The Dragon Ball Z storyline (i.e. the Sayian, Frezia, Android, Cell & Buu Sagas) are all told via the “single player” mode and unlike previous instalments which featured cut-scenes or storyboards to showcase what’s happening, this particular title has nothing other than a brief mission overview. You see each fight is played out as a mission with the mission overview explaining who you’ll be fighting and what you’ll need to accomplish, there is no explanation into why (or how) you are fighting that character. If you’ve seen the anime series (or read the manga) then it doesn’t present a problem, however if this is the first time you’ve experienced Dragon Ball Z it can become quite a puzzling experience.
Luckily some elements of the storyline are kept as in-game battle introductions (i.e. before a fight starts) for example when the Ginyu Force introduce themselves. It seems the focus for this game is all about the gameplay, which explains why the storyline hasn’t seen the attention it should probably deserve – however this can be overlooked since the story has been told multiple times in recent years, it’s just strange not seeing it receive more focus.
Storyline aside each mission will require the player to set up a team of fighters, this means that more than the “assumed” characters can be used. For instance the fight with Vegeta, which usually would only contain Goku, players can create a team with whoever they like as long as they appeared within that particular saga, so players can have Krillen, Piccolo and Gohan aiding Goku in the fight. Completing a mission is simple, just defeat the opponent – however some missions, including the alternate missions and “what if?” scenarios, will challenge the player to various tasks – these include surviving for a set period of time or defeat a set number of opponents within the time frame. Upon completing a mission points (and a rank) will be awarded, depending on how well you performed in the mission depends on the rank and points received, with points being spent in the store for additional equipable items, items which will become useful in the later stages of the game.
While the missions are relatively simple to accomplish it’s the rules and gameplay that can make it a uniquely dificult experience. To start off with each character has a set of base stats, something which can be upgraded by equipping cards earned while completing missions or bought at the in-game shop. These cards will upgrade characters attacks, defence and HP – thus making the missions slightly easier to complete. However just applying cards to your main character (in my case Goku) will not always make the missions easier to accomplish as support characters will end up being weaker and dying quite often. A balance between the main character and additional AI characters must be used in order for missions to be beaten effectively. Futhermore, to make missions even more complicated players have only a set number of “retries” during a mission, these retries are shared between the whole team and once they are used up its GAME OVER, even if your character is still alive. It’s a strange set of rules for a game (failing a mission when the player is still alive) but it’s all about finding the right balance within your team of characters.
Put simply, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z is not just a fighting game, sure you can just “button mash” your way to victory but that will only go so far, especially when it comes to “ultimate moves” such as Goku’s Spirit Bomb attack. Ultimate Moves can only be performed if the correct card is attached to your character and if the Genki Bar (located at the top of the screen) is full – once these two are achieved the ultimate attack can be performed. There is so much to consider when playing the game and so far we’ve only looked at the single player mode.
Accompanying the single player mode is Co-Op Mode, whereby missions from single player can be played online with up to four players, and Battle Mode, which is the online multiplayer mode. Both Co-op and Battle mode use the same rules and gameplay features from the Single Player and any customisations made to a character in Single Player can be used in either of these online modes, including the equipped cards and abilities. Both online modes will allow the player to join or host a room, but it’s the Battle Mode where things get slightly more interesting.
Battle mode features four different types of gameplay modes, three of which are team based (Normal, Score and Dragon Ball) whereas the fourth (Battle Royale) is a free for all. Each team gameplay mode allows up to four players per side to battle it out for victory, however depending on which gameplay mode you choose depends on the rules introduced. Normal is the same rules as single player, so the team left standing wins whereas in Score the team with the highest points wins, with points awarded for defeating opponents. Dragon Ball follows the same rules as score, however the objective here is to collect all seven dragon balls before the time expires – it seems simple but its actually incredibly difficult since you can’t lock-on to a dragon ball (like you can with enemies) but luckily the dragon balls do show up on the radar. The final online mode is Battle Royale, a free for all that pits 8 players against each other with the winner being the player with the most points. At first this mode is hard to grasp, mainly because so much is going off at once, but after a while it becomes quite entertaining.
Dragon Ball Z: Battle is Z is uniquely different to any previous instalment in the franchise but it does have some flaws, most of which players can overcome over time. For instance the lack of a story (or lack of relation to the anime/manga) makes it a rather dull experience and combine this with the fact that battles become increasingly difficult due to limited resources means that replaying old levels (and visiting the in-game shop) will become a necessity rather than a habbit. The same can be said for the controls, while they are simple to preform they are difficult to master – even more so when there is 7 opponents on screen and team members need to be revived, its easy for the player to become flustered and before you know it its game over.
Like I said before, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z focuses on the gameplay and tries to be different, the game has a lot of positives (mainly for being different and having a large character rosta) but the increasing difficulty and ease of use is questionable, especially for those who just want to “dig in”. If you are looking for a fighting game based upon the Dragon Ball Z franchise then Battle of Z is not it, but if you are looking for a new take on the Dragon Ball Z franchise with a rather complex structure then Battle of Z is for you. Don’t just take my words for it though, experience the game for yourself as the playable demo available allows you to experience most of what the game has to offer, including an introduction into the controls and its gameplay.
- Variety of Characters from the entire Dragon Ball Z Universe (including Beerus and Whis)
- A Unique and different way to play a fighting game
- Customisable characters, both in design (colour) and abilities
- Detailed Cell-Shaded Visuals that offer an “anime” vibe to the game
- Boss battles against giant opponents (Mecha Cooler, Sayian Ape, Hildugarn)
- Variety of gameplay modes and options (offline and online)
- Supports both English & Japanese audio tracks (with original anime voice actors)
- Lack of relation to the original manga / anime (hardly any cut-scenes depicting the story)
- Controls mixed with intense battles sometimes overcomplicates the game (too much going off at once)
- AI team-mates feel clumsy and unsupportive during combat (both attacking and defence)
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z is now available within Europe for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PS Vita.