Review by Scottie theNerd
"Punch! Kick! Kamehameha! CRITICAL HIT!"
There's a fine line between using a cheesy approach for a popular series, and creating something entirely original yet easily overlooked. Dragon Ball Z: Goku Hishouden is an example of the latter. While not groundbreaking in any sense, especially on the Game Boy, Goku Hishouden does provide a short spurt of solid RPG-like fighting action.
The story is based off events from the Dragon Ball series, spanning the 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai and the Saiyan Saga. For those unfamiliar with the manga/anime, the game covers a global tournament involving the main character, Goku, facing off against some of his old friends and rivals, as well as fighting his new nemesis, Piccolo, in an all-out battle. Soon afterwards, Goku's son is taken by his brother Raditz, who informs him that Goku is not a human and is in fact part of a warrior race whose goal is to conquer planets, and Raditz threatens to kill all the inhabitants of Earth if Goku does not complete his task. Players take control of Goku as he decides to fight against his brother to protect his new home and friends.
As an RPG, the game is naturally dialogue-heavy. Even on those standards, the game is extremely dialogue orientated, with all the events from the manga/anime unfolding as dialogue between characters. That means a lot of reading and scrolling through text, which may put some players off, especially if Japanese is not a familiar language. However, that can easily be glossed over, and the meat of the game lies with the battle scenes that are inserted after lengthy conversations.
Battles work on one-on-one basis, involving Goku fighting against one other opponent. Each character is represented by a character portrait, and most of the battle screen is spent waiting for the player's SP bar to fill up, which acts as their battle gauge, determining when they can perform their next action. When the player fills their SP gauge (which is done automatically and cannot be sped up), they are taken to a menu consisting of multiple actions they can perform. These actions include moving around the battle map (shown as a small tiled diagram), charging Ki energy to perform attacks, and selecting from an assortment of punches, kicks and energy blasts to chip off the opponent's HP. Each turn allows a limited number of actions, but as the game progresses players can perform more actions per turn.
When the player finishes inputting their actions the game changes to a comic-like battle. The screen shows single frames of the character performing that attack, followed by a frame showing the opponent's reaction, such as blocking, counter-attacking or simply getting hit. This simplistic approach to combat means that there is no motion on the screen, so the game can put far more content in. Additionally, the action frames are reminiscent of the actual manga, although occasionally a frame is poorly drawn and therefore makes it difficult to see what they're actually doing.
Defending against enemy moves isn't an idle task either. When faced with an attack, players have the choice of attempting to block or dodge the attack, which opens one of two mini-games. Blocking an attack displays a fast-moving arrow over a gauge, and the closer the players can stop the arrow near the middle, the less damage they take. Dodging involves following a series of directional inputs in a Simon Says manner. Failing at either of these will, of course, result in the player taking damage. Battles continue back and forward, with both characters taking turns in preparing and performing attacks until one character lose all their health. If the player wins, they proceed with the story.
Being an RPG, there is a reasonable level of character development. Goku (being the only playable character) can develop his stats based on what he does in battle. His general stats such as Battle Power and Hit Points improve after each fight, and at certain points in the story he has the opportunity to train his stats through simple mini-games, which range from timing and button mashing to chasing Bubbles the monkey, pressing the A and B buttons alternately to charge up a Kaioken or shooting clay tablets with a Spirit Bomb. The game also keeps track of how many times players use their variety of techniques, and as Goku uses them more often, he can unlock more powerful versions. For example, using punches and kicks often will allow Goku to select more powerful, albeit more costly versions. Indeed, the strategy element of this game revolves around making the best use of the allocated number of actions as well as mixing low-cost punches and kicks, storing energy and unleashing powerful energy blasts.
As mentioned earlier, the graphics are simple character portraits and stylistic comic-style action frames, which are hashed together very well so that it's easy to piece together what an attack would look like. Joined with solid sound effects that sound like dubbed kung fu movies and catchy (but repetitive) background music, the battles are quite eventful. I wouldn't say they're intense, which is where this game falls a bit short in immersion, but they do provoke thought instead of relying on cookie-cutter moves.
Goku Hishouden is a deceptively short game, and that is a good thing because the battles don't feel short. It's long enough to enjoy the story and action, but short enough to play through again fairly quickly. For players who don't want to go through the story over and over again, there's an instant-action Tournament mode that puts Goku against any other of the starting story characters, so it's possible to experience some new competition. There is also a small selection of mini-games that can be played standalone. All in all, Dragon Ball Z: Goku Hishouden provides a unique concept to RPG fighting and combines it very well with an existing cultural icon.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/08/07
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