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Dragon Ball Z – Budokai HD Collection

budokai hdOh, you thought we were done with DBZ?! Oh no, I have some more Dragon Ball related material to share with you and even though we’re done with the movies, I thought now was as good a time as any to talk about some video games. If you’re a usual reader, you may recall I did a post earlier this year on Super Dragon Ball Z, the Street Fighter inspired fighter for the PS2. It was the upcoming release of Arc System Works’ Dragon Ball FighterZ that inspired me to revisit that old game, and the same can be said of the Budokai series.

In case you need a refresher, Dragon Ball Z – Budokai was the Infogrames fighting game franchise of the early 2000’s and it was also the first real entry point for DBZ into global gaming. Prior to Budokai, the only Dragon Ball video games to make it out of Japan were the NES platformer, renamed Dragon Power in the US, based on Dragon Ball and the PSX fighting game Dragon Ball GT – Final Bout. Yes, somehow a game based on Dragon Ball GT made it to American soil before a Dragon Ball Z game. That early Dragon Ball game for the NES was simply a case of anything being available in Japan was brought over to other markets. It was altered so that it barely resembled Dragon Ball and there’s a chance that gamers who owned the abysmal title and went on to become fans of the franchise likely needed to read about it later in life to make the connection. Final Bout was likely released outside of Japan because it coincided with the 3D fighting game craze and the first real attempt at bringing the anime to America as well. It was a truly abysmal game that sold poorly. The anime was a flop initially so it kind of went away, but once the show became popular via Cartoon Network the after market price on Final Bout went crazy as it was the only video game released in the territory and fans wanted something, even if it was terrible.

dragon power

Technically, this was the first Dragon Ball game released outside of Japan, though you wouldn’t know it by the cover.

Of course, if you were living in Japan you had plenty of options when it came to DBZ fighters. The Super Famicom especially had a bunch of them and the PSX had an additional 2 and all were based on Dragon Ball Z as opposed to the far less popular Dragon Ball GT. Fans desperate for some DBZ content for their video game machines, like myself, turned to imports and emulation to get their fix, but in truth few of these games were worth playing. The only ones I can recommend half-heartedly were Dragon Ball Z – Hyper Dimension, a 16-bit fighter that didn’t control particularly well, but the visuals were impressive. On the PSX, Dragon Ball Z – Legends was a pretty ugly looking early PSX game, but it’s 3 on 3 simultaneous combat was really interesting and the simple, timing based, combat was actually pretty satisfying. It was just a shallow experience and once you saw everything the game offered there was little reason to return.

Once the show finally became popular around the turn of the millennium, there was a substantial rush to get content to the newly created global audience. Irwin Toys started cranking out new action figures and accessories while clothing and posters started popping up everywhere. The games took some time, and Bandai was awarded distribution for Japan while Infogrames, and later Atari, received the North American license. Dimps was selected as the developer and they got set to creating Budokai. Simultaneously, a Game Boy Advance game was also developed and released as The Legacy of Goku, an action-RPG that was at least interesting though not particularly fun. Because there was such an appetite for DBZ anything, Budokai really didn’t need to be a good game to sell well. It also didn’t need to be particularly good to immediately become the best DBZ fighting game ever released. Review-wise, it received a somewhat ho-hum reaction from critics, but fans seemed relatively pleased. It sold well enough to spawn two sequels, and 10 years after its initial 2002 release it received a high-definition makeover alongside Dragon Ball Z – Budokai 3.

hyper dimension

If you absolutely need to import a DBZ game, I’d suggest Hyper Dimension.

If you have never played a Budokai game, then let me tell you how it works. At its cores, it’s a simple 3D fighter. Characters can move in the foreground and background and are capable of attacking, blocking, firing ki blasts, and charging up their power meter. Each character typically has multiple health bars so stronger fighters will have additional health over weaker ones that’s clearly illustrated. Characters can also fly, but not at will. Instead, if a combo attack sends a fighter into the air they’ll kind of just hover in place once they recover from the attack. Simply pushing the directional pad towards an airborne fighter will cause the player-character to take to the air in pursuit.

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Before Budokai, this was the best American fans had.

The main criticism of the original Budokai was the lack of beam attacks. Rather than simply ordering Goku to unleash a Kamehameha wave, the move was affixed to the end of a combo. A series of punches would end in Goku performing his signature attack, but at very close range so it was hardly spectacular looking. Instead, the eye-catching attacks were left to the super moves which are the moves that are designed to be difficult to pull off, but when successfully deployed, unleash devastating amounts of damage via a cinematic. These moves include Vegeta’s Final Flash and the like.

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The original Budokai does a decent job of laying the groundwork, though the visuals were never considered great even for the time.

Dimps seemed to target two important factors when creating the game:  make it look authentic and make it easy to play. As a result, all of the fighters essentially feel the same and have the same move-set, just with different results. In order to make the game feel authentic though, Dimps made sure to include various transformations in its games. Once advancing passed the Freiza arc, Goku could unlock his Super Saiyan transformation and use that in battle. Prior to getting it, he also had his Kaio-ken technique. Dimps even gave Piccolo his fusions from the series with Nail and Kame as transformations. The game featured a story mode that went up through the Cell Games and featured a roster of 23 characters. Later games would focus on expanding upon the roster to include practically anyone who ever partook in a fight during the series.

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The first game does at least boast better presentation in terms of its story mode, though these visuals are kind of “yuck.”

Budokai was a success, and it soon became an annual franchise. Budokai 2, released the following year and not included in this collection, corrected a lot of what people disliked about the original. Ki blasts and flying were now more manual than before and the story mode received more cinematics and was overall more rewarding (though it featured a weird board game interface). The roster was also greatly expanded upon due in large part to the game featuring the Buu Saga. More transformations were available and the game was largely just more fun. Budokai 3 arrived the following year with even more characters and moves and yet another revamped story mode. Instead of playing through the events of the show, players could select specific characters and experience the story from their perspective. And doing so also allowed the player to simply fly around the world looking for the next event as well as hidden ones. It felt less restrictive, and was thus pretty exciting.

budokai 3 story

Budokai 3’s story mode was more engaging, if lacking in the presentation department. It makes up for it though with much improved graphics and styling.

So how do these games hold up in 2018? Well, not surprisingly the original Budokai is showing its age. The visuals have been upgraded to HD, but the textures were so bland and basic to start-off that there’s virtually no improvement. It makes everyone look like vinyl dolls and the empty battle maps are even more boring than before. The simple combat is easy to grasp, but also not particularly engaging. This game is basically here as a nostalgia trip and to illustrate how the series began. Fire it up if you either never played it or just want to relive it, but after that you probably won’t play it again.

Budokai 3 is the main attraction of this set. There’s still a section of the fandom that considers it the best DBZ fighter ever released. It was the last main Budokai title as the many sequels saw the series move in a different direction, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. There was a PSP edition of the franchise called Shin Budokai and some place the 2006 title Infinite World in the Budokai series, but this was the last numbered entry. It’s quite easy to see how refined the game is in comparison with its predecessor. The visuals took on a more cell-shaded approach with additional detail and the move to HD doesn’t highlight the imperfections like it does with the first game. DBZ has a pretty simple, yet distinct, look and it doesn’t require incredible processing power to do it justice.

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Dragon Rush adds some chaos to battles, but at the cost of skill.

From a gameplay perspective, the game is not quite as fast as I remembered. You will still spend most fights dashing at your opponent to unleash combos attacks and build towards bigger moves. I had forgotten how odd the gameplay structure was. Much of the fights hinge on your ability to pull off super moves and Dragon Rush attacks. The Dragon Rush is a bit convoluted, but it’s essentially a follow-up attack from a teleporting move. There’s a lengthy tutorial section in the game that’s not particularly helpful. It’s one of those things you just have to perform for yourself to get a feel for how it works. When connecting with one of these maneuvers, a quick-time event is enabled that’s basically a version of Rock-Paper-Scissors. The attacker selects a face button and the defender does as well. If the defender guesses right, the attack is thwarted. If not, it continues with both players now having only 3 face buttons to choose from. If the attacker is able to string together three successful attacks via this encounter, then a big move is unleashed and the opponent’s stamina (as well as some health) is knocked away leaving them more susceptible to damage. Actual super moves are done fairly easily by holding a shoulder button, but it starts a slow animation that can be tricky to connect with. And if you miss, you lose all of the energy stored for the attack. Connect and you get treated to another cinematic while also doling out some big damage. There’s always another QTE spot, this time with a meter rapidly filling and decreasing that you have to time properly, that determines how much damage the attack does.

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There are lots of power-ups that take the form of transformations including fusion.

Fights have a tendency to be very reliant on those two moves. Whoever is better at pulling them off usually wins. The QTE spot injects some chaos as it’s entirely random, unless you’re playing against a human opponent and look at their controller. It’s not the most rewarding system, or perhaps it’s more appropriate to call it frustrating if you’re on the losing side. If you’re on the winning end then at least the cinematics are typically fun to see. The interesting change for the third game though was mostly in the stored energy each character has. Energy will gradually accumulate up to a certain point so you really need only charge your ki if you want to go for the biggest moves possible. This was a smart addition as the constant need to charge in other games was always the least enjoyable aspect. Transformations also aren’t the energy hogs they were in prior games so there’s more incentive to use the best ones.

The story mode felt revolutionary in 2004, though now it does feel more limited. Basically, you pick a character and fly around the world. Your character has a map and can also find a Dragon Radar to look for Dragon Balls. Activating your “senses” can sometimes turn-up hidden spots on the world that usually contain an item but sometimes contain a small story event – an easter egg, if you will. Various cities and popular landmarks appear on as well but you can’t really interact with them. If the name of the place displayed when flying over it then you can enter, but it just leads to a brief exchange with another character who may or may not provide an item. These are all done with still images and text – there are no cinematics in story mode which is rather bizarre. The most interesting aspect of the mode is that it can change depending on how many playthroughs you have done and if you have finished another character’s. Goku’s is the most robust, and if you play it a second time after getting through some of the other character’s stories you’ll take on some GT villains and even unlock Super Saiyan 4.

budokai 3 cooler

Budokai 3 expands upon the roster by drawing from the movies and Dragon Ball GT.

The goal of story mode is obviously to see it through, but it also features some RPG elements in the form of experience and stats. Leveling up a character gives you an ability point to place in various offensive and defensive categories. Each character also can equip a set number of items, with stronger items taking up multiple slots. This has been a feature in most DBZ games and allows for some level of customization. Frustratingly though, transformations always have a prerequisite that includes the prior transformation so if you want to use SS4 Goku you’ll need to devote 5 slots to transformations. If you want to fuse into Vegito then you’ll have to give up something. Characters can unlock a special Breakthrough capsule which contains all of their unique moves and abilities at the cost of taking up all of the ability slots. For a character like Goku who has the most unique capsules, it won’t include everything though which is kind of a bummer. The other short-coming of story mode is that it doesn’t include everyone. A lot of characters are playable including surprises like Tien and Yamcha, but only one villain has a story mode (and it kind of sucks) and characters you would expect to have one (namely Trunks) do not. There’s enough here to keep you busy for awhile, at least.

After getting caught up with these games, my main take-away was that anyone who thinks Budokai 3 is the best DBZ fighting game released has not spent enough time with newer entries. It’s not a bad game, but I’d rather play the Tenkaichi Budokai games over it. This game wants to capture the unique combat of the anime and sacrifices skill and control to do so. The Tenkaichi games were not difficult games to play, but their arena fighter approach made the games even more authentic and the super moves weren’t huge factors. With that out of the way, I will say I still had fun with Budokai 3. It took me a little while to get back into the flow of combat, but once I did I had a good enough time. There is a shallowness to the gameplay present so it doesn’t have the staying power of a more robust fighting game, and I wish they had dropped the Dragon Rush, but it does right by its license. I do wish the story mode featured actual moving images to tell its story, and the rewards for summoning the dragon are kind of lame. Considering I didn’t have to pay much to get this collection, I’d say it was money well spent. As for the original Budokai, it didn’t need to be included on this collection and I’m surprised it is. I would have much preferred Budokai 2, even if that game is pretty similar to 3. At least it featured a different story mode while including most of the gameplay enhancements featured in the third entry.


Super Dragon Ball Z

Super_Dragon_Ball_Z_CoverartRecently, Bandai-Namco conducted an open beta for its latest game based on the venerable Dragon Ball franchise:  Dragon Ball FighterZ. The game is a 3 on 3 tag-fighter that exists on a 2D plane but contains three-dimensional characters. The art style is done in such a way that it more closely resembles the 2D anime that’s recognized around the world. It’s a fast and beautiful looking fighter and yours truly did check out the beta. Like most open betas where an upcoming game is essentially free to play briefly, it was a bit of a challenge actually getting logged into the servers and paired up with a match. I mostly spent my time in the training area just checking out how the game handles and plays. It’s very similar to the old Budokai games in some respects, mostly the speed and the fact that all of the characters seem to have the same move-list, only the animations for each move are unique from character to character. For example, a traditional Ryu fireball motion for Goku results in his kamehameha wave while the same for Krillin is the destructo disc maneuver.

FighterZ seems like it will be a pretty entertaining game, but it’s not what I wanted or expected. The developer, Arc System Works, is best known for Blaz Blue so I expected a more traditional 2D fighting experience with some Dragon Ball styling. Instead, FighterZ is apparently courting a more casual crowd that grew up on those old DBZ games and Super Smash Bros. as opposed to Street Fighter. This naturally lead me back to an old favorite of mine:  Super Dragon Ball Z.

Not to be confused with the currently airing anime Dragon Ball Super, Super Dragon Ball Z is a 3D fighter that plays like a 2D fighter. It was developed by Arika, the company headed by Akira Nishitani who is best known as the brain behind Street Fighter 2. The company is known for its work Capcom on the Street Fighter EX series, a 2.5D fighting game that was relatively popular in the late 90s and early 2000s. As you would expect, a DBZ fighting game developed by the father of Street Fighter plays a lot more like a Street Fighter game than the casual arena brawlers that had become the norm for DBZ. It was released to arcades at the tail end of 2005 in Japan and Europe only before arriving on PS2 in 2006 worldwide. Because it’s not what people were used to out of a DBZ game, it went somewhat overlooked. While I would not consider it on par with the best the Street Fighter series has produced, Super Dragon Ball Z is a pretty damn fine game on its own.

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End a battle with a super move and you’ll be treated to some manga-inspired word art.

Super Dragon Ball Z has the typical fighting game maneuvers you would expect of a Street Fighter clone. Think hadokens, shoryukens, and so on. Not every character has the same standard set of moves, but they do share some similarities so it’s not as streamlined as simpler games, nor as complex as the most hardcore fighters. The characters are presented in 3D with a cell-shading effect and the default colorization is meant to resemble the original Dragon Ball manga as opposed to the anime. The stages are arena types and characters can move into the foreground and background with relative ease. An action bar at the bottom of the screen controls movement within the foreground and background as well as dashing. Deplete that and you will find your movement severely hindered until it replenishes. It does refill rather quickly, but the gauge prevents characters from endlessly dodging to prolong a match or from spamming dash attacks.

The game’s button layout is a bit unique. The square and triangle buttons are your weak and strong melee attacks while circle is the jump/fly button and X is guard. The shoulder buttons contain both dash attacks and a dedicated throw button. Any fighter that utilizes a dedicated block button takes some getting used to, and the jump/fly dynamic is a bit wonky in execution. It’s mostly used to go after your opponent, as opposed to setting up an attack. The dash buttons are useful for closing the gap quickly with your opponent or just to get you on the same plane as your opponent.

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It may not be the flashiest DBZ game, but your favorite characters will still have their most recognizable moves.

The fighting mechanics are a mix of traditional fighters and DBZ fighters. Projectiles play a large role, but up close combos are also present and a major part of combat. Certain characters function better as ranged attackers versus up close ones and the AI for each character feels rather true to the source material in terms of how they attack the player. There’s a simple health gauge that needs to be depleted to end a round and there’s also an ultimate gauge that gradually fills up during a match. This gauge is expensed when using a character’s best attacks, but unlike other DBZ fighters, there is no charge button to build up ki forcing you to better manage the resources you have. The big moves are also less destructive than in other games. There’s more of an emphasis on dealing out damage gradually as opposed to in big chunks. Being able to dodge properly is the best way of avoiding damage as opposed to blocking and countering and canceling are certainly effective ways to victory.

The game is overall a lot slower and less manic than other DBZ fighters. Characters do not move at crazy speeds and only Frieza can do the popular teleport move in battle. Battles feel a bit more strategic as there’s still an environment to navigate with obstacles to hide behind or toss foes into. Combos are present and they’re more similar to Tekken style combos than Street Fighter ones requiring a series of well-timed button presses. With only two dedicated attack buttons, they’re fairly similar but the timing for each character is a little different and requires some practice. It may be different, and to someone just watching the game it will likely seem less authentic when compared with the anime, but it feels more strategic and ultimately it has its own rewards.

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Even after unlocking the hidden characters the roster is still on the small side when compared with its contemporaries.

The character roster is much smaller than what fans are used to. At the onset, the characters available are:  Goku, Gohan, Vegeta, Trunks, Piccolo, Krillen, Chi Chi, Androids 16, 17, and 18, Frieza, and Cell. Additional characters can be unlocked and most are just variants of existing characters. The saiyan characters have the ability to go super in battle, and it’s an ability that rapidly depletes stamina so it’s not meant to be a permanent state. Only Super Saiyan level 1 is available, so there’s no going 2, but it does make those characters a bit more interesting than the non saiyans. Of course, every character has pluses and minuses. Piccolo, by virtue of his stretchy limbs, has incredible range and Krillen’s destructo disc can carve through every move in the game. It’s a roster a bit on the small side, but each character feels relevant and the secret characters are also fun too (and some of my favorites).

The game has a standard set of modes including Arcade and training as well as a survivor mode dubbed Z-Survivor. Arcade is a series of seven battles with five of them being random. Each subsequent opponent gets stronger and their strength is represented by a scouter reading before battle, which is kind of neat. The mode always ends with a battle against Frieza followed by a fight with Cell. There are no custom endings for each character, which is a bit disappointing, nor is there really much of an ending at all, but if you’ve seen the anime and played almost every DBZ fighter released then you’ve seen how the story ends more times than you can count. What is interesting is that after each victory you get one of the titular dragon balls. By collecting all seven, you can summon Shenron and make a wish. This is how you get additional characters, and also how you improve your existing ones.

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Spend enough time collecting dragon balls and eventually you’ll unlock additional characters like cyborg Frieza.

By far, the most interesting aspect of Super Dragon Ball Z is the custom character process. Other games have dabbled with this, but Super Dragon Ball Z really seems to go for it. As you fight with a custom character, your character naturally gets stronger. Once you fill an experience bar, and completing arcade once is more than enough for the first go around, you can learn a new skill. The skills range from increased health to faster action regeneration time as well as to new and better moves. The most powerful attacks are reserved for custom characters, and some of them have to be wished for. This encourages you to pick a character and stick with it. As a bonus, if you max out a character you can then take another character and inherit moves from the previously maxed out character. For those who really want to craft the ultimate character, doing this is necessary since only some characters have the worthwhile Super Cancel ability.

The only real issue with the character customization is that there is little you can actually do while leveling-up your character. It’s only so amusing to beat the arcade mode over and over so if you don’t have a friend to play it can get a little old. The Z-Survivor mode helps out as this is a mode where you’re given one health bar to vanquish 10 foes in succession. After each conquest, a roulette wheel is spun to get a little power-up for the next fight and it’s not hard to stop the wheel on what you want. However, you can’t just repeatedly select the health restore option as it gets worse each time you land on it. It starts off with a 50% health recovery, but after the next round it will drop to 40% and so on. You have to be strategic with the best rewards if you want to survive to the end. If you do manage to defeat all challengers you’ll be confronted with one more and the fun part about that is you’re allowed to wager basically all of the experience you’ve gained throughout the mode in a bid to double it, if you win, of course. It’s definitely more challenging than Arcade mode and it might end up being the mode you spend the most time in.

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Few DBZ games let you play as Chi-Chi giving fans of that character some added incentive.

Visually the game holds up pretty well. The cel-shading approach helps give it a timeless look, though some characters come off better than others. Goku, for example, has always had a some-what tough time making the jump from flat 2D image to 3D polygon. The stages are, as a whole, more interesting to look at than other DBZ games and the manga approach to its styling helps to add a little extra charm to everything. Sadly for anime purists over here, the soundtrack for the US version is a mix of industrial music that’s designed to resemble the score to the Funimation dub of the show, though it’s an original score and not authentic so even Funimation purists have a reason to be irritated. Other versions utilized some of the actual music from the Japanese anime and I’m sure a lot of US fans would have preferred that. If you hate the manga look though, know that anime colorings do exist in the game so if you want your Future Trunks to sport a royal blue coat instead of teal you can certainly make it happen. Overall, the presentation is solid, though like the gameplay, you won’t get much in the way of flashy big graphical spectacles in the form of massive super moves. At least not on the level of other DBZ fighters.

Since this is a PS2 game, there’s no online mode to easily find other challengers. And even if there were, the servers would undoubtedly be shutdown by now anyway. Having a group of friends who all enjoy the game helps increase the amount of enjoyment you’ll get out of it, but that’s also true of basically every fighting game ever created. It would have been nice if each character had a story and an ending to uncover, but then again, that would work against the drive to just use the same character over and over to make them more powerful. How eager you are to see the secret attacks and unlock the hidden characters will be your primary motivation to revisit this one. If you’ve ever played a DBZ fighting game and wanted it to be more like a traditional fighter, then check out Super Dragon Ball Z. It’s very easy to find a copy for a relative pittance these days so you won’t be risking much by doing so.


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