"Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 is a great DBZ fighting game, and is a definite improvement over the previous two installments."

Score:
Gameplay: 8
Graphics: 9
Sound: 8
Value: 9
Tilt: 9

Overall: 8.6

The Good: Plenty of DBZ characters; highly improved story mode over Budokai 2; new teleportation evades; new teleportation combos; new beam struggles; new fighting struggles; new dragon rush mode; transformable characters like Frieza have all of their forms; original Japanese voices included in the greatest hits version; great music and updated graphics; each character has several different costumes spanning each saga.

The Bad: Some story mode sequences inexplicably have no voice over's while others do; Future Trunks isn't playable in the story mode; dragon rush is often abused by the AI and becomes a highly repetitive guessing game; the story still isn't explained as well as Budokai 1, but better than Budokai 2; Zarbon, Dodoria, and some other characters are still missing, despite the fact that they were playable in Budokai 1; Cell's voice is still messed up between transformations; still no Garlic Jr Saga; Trying to play as Vegito, Kibitokai, Gogeta and Gotenks is too much trouble to be worth it, and Gogeta and Gotenks fusions wear off after a small amount of time, however Vegito and Kibitokai are permanent.

Despite the fact that Dragon Ball Z originally debued on Japanese televisions in 1989, the series has still managed to churn out video game after video game on a multitude of platforms from countless generations of video game consoles. Many of which however have never seen the light of day on North American shores. The latest in Atari's Dragon Ball Z: Budokai series is Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 for the PlayStation 2. The previous two budokai games have not been too terribly amazing, but they haven't been terrible either. Budokai 1 did a great job of telling the story of Dragon Ball Z all the way from the Saiyan Saga to the end of the Android/Cell Saga with its great cut scenes that tried to fully re-enact the television show. However the Buu Saga was noticeably missing and the fighting engine was a little shallow compared to many other fighting games, as well as many trademark DBZ features such as beam struggles and teleportation attacks were absent. Budokai 2 tried to improve the fighting engine, as well as vastly improve the graphics, but the story mode suffered severely and was nothing more than a monotonous bore after playing for a while. Futhermore, like Budokai 1, Budokai 2 still didn't have a lot of the things that made Dragon Ball Z, feel like Dragon Ball Z. However, despite the short comings of the previous two installments Budokai 3 is a step in the right direction.

The most notable change since Budokai 2 is the vastly improved single player mode. Instead of that crummy old board game, you have Dragon Universe, where you fly around the world of Dragon Ball Z. Dragon Universe might seem like a free-roaming mode but it really isn't in most cases. You have a mini-map that displays the world map of either Earth or Namek (depending which saga you are currently on) and there are yellow and red markers highlighted on the world map. Flying to a red marker and entering that area will advance the story line usually with either a discussion between characters and/or a fight. Meanwhile, flying to a yellow marker will cause a side event to occur, where you will either obtain an item or witness an optional story sequence. These events are entirely optional but are worth doing unless you are the impatient type. There are also tons of areas that are not marked on the world map so you will have to find those on your own by flying around where a "???" or the name of the locations will appear at the top of the screen. These locations will usually reward you with zenie, (DBZ money) an ability capsule, or a Dragon Ball. Finding all seven Dragon Balls will grant you to ability to get a rare item capsule from Shenron at the end of that characters Dragon Universe. However the Dragon Balls are in fixed locations for every character, so if you miss a Dragon Ball during the Saiyan Saga and go to Namek, you will have to play the Dragon Universe mode a second time and find the Dragon Balls all over again. Finding the Dragon Balls isn't extremely difficult though since once you find the Dragon Radar at a hidden "???" location finding them is easy because they light up on the world map when you activate the radar. The only problem is that you will have to fly all over the world map several times to make sure you found them all for the current saga.

Playing through a character's Dragon Universe a second or third time isn't really a bad thing anyways because many characters have highly replayable story modes. For instance playing through Goku's Dragon Universe a second time will allow you to fight against Cooler on Namek instead of fighting Frieza several times. You can also fight Broly and Omega Shenron by meeting certain requirements a second or third time through certain characters Dragon Universe modes. The only problem though is that sometimes (Cooler for instance) several red markers will appear on the world map at the same time. Depending on which one you go to you will either continue the current story line (Frieza storyline on Namek) or activate the alternate one (Cooler on Namek).

During Dragon Universe you will collect many different capsules for each character but you will also level up like in an RPG. This is cool because you can customize your characters to your own playing style. The capsule system is also flawed though, depending on how you look at it. In general, each character has two death moves and one ultimate attack, but not everyone. Some characters do not have ultimate attacks and some only have one death move. A death move is a basic energy wave like a kamehameha. There are death 1 energy waves, and death 2 energy waves. In most cases death 1 attacks require one energy bar, and death 2 attacks require two, however this is not always the case. While an ultimate attack usually requires four or five energy bars (out of a total of seven), and you must successfully hit your opponent with the L2 button while in hyper mode to activate the ultimate attack. This can be dangerous because if your opponent dodges the attack, you will instantly lose four or five energy bars because you tried to perform your ultimate move. If you only had four or five energy bars when you activated hyper mode, it will end and you will become fatigued and vulnerable. The flaw in this system is that some characters don't even have ultimate moves and some of them only have one death move and no ultimate. This leaves many characters horribly imbalanced.

This flawed capsule system also leads into another problem. New to Budokai 3 is the base ki system. Each character has a basic amount of ki, where as their ki (energy) will always slowly recharge to that point if their energy has fallen below it. However, if their energy goes above that point it will slowly decrease back to the basic ki line. For almost every character in the game, the basic ki line is three, out of a total of seven. However many characters like Goku who start with a basic ki line of three can transform. These transformations increase their basic ki line. Goku is a character who has many transformations, and they go in this order. Regular Goku (base form), Kaioken, SSJ, SSJ2, SSJ3, SSJ4. So by the time Goku reaches his transformation of Super Saiyan 4 his basic ki line goes from three, to six out of seven. This means that whenever Goku's energy falls below six it will recharge up to that point. So fighting a character who can't transform like Bardock or Nappa (who have ki lines of 3) the fight becomes heavily imbalanced and it's almost impossible for a character like Bardock to win against a character like Goku when he is at Super Saiyan 4. There are also characters that start with an elevated amount of ki; Kid Buu begins every fight with a ki line of six, while Omega Shenron starts with a full seven, being one of the strongest fighters in the game.

There is a solution to this system but it isn't the greatest in the world, and that is the capsule system. In order for a character that can never increase their ki beyond three to survive you have to equip your character with capsules that provide strength or defense benefits, or a healing capsule. This is because every time a character like Goku transforms his strength increases by a certain percentage, so a character that can't transform would need to rely on capsules. This is sort of an off-set because in order for Goku to be able to transform into Super Saiyan 4 he needs every other capsule equipped and because he has kaioken, SSJ, SSJ2 and SSJ3 that come before SSJ4 he needs to waste 5 capsule slots alone just on transformations, while he still needs his other capsules like kamehameha. So in this sense a character that doesn't need to equip transformations can use all of their free slots for stat increasing capsules. It's a complex system that is hard to explain in great detail so you really have to spend some time with it for yourself to really understand the benefits and the disadvantages to the capsule system and the basic ki line system. It's also worth mentioning for those that do not know, is that you can also recover energy on your own. The ki systems effect on this is that recharging energy below the ki line recovers energy extremely quickly, however charging up above your ki line is much slower, and it will slowly decrease after you stop charging energy. Part of the reason why the ki system is so important is because almost everything you do in the game relies on energy, and how you use it can either win or lose you the game. Every death move uses one or two bars of energy, every time you dodge a punch or a kick you lose a small amount of your energy, and every time you do a teleport dodge you instantly lose three bars. So for instance if one character has six bars of energy and you only have three, in a "dodge" fight they would win no matter what. So even if you dodged the combo attack they tried to land on you, they can dodge your counter attack and still get you in a combo anyways.

Budokai 3 may not have the most in depth fighting system in the sense of combos that you can perform, but the depth mostly comes from the features like beam struggles, where if both players launch a death move at the same time they will lock into a struggle where each player must rotate the control sticks as fast as possible to overpower the other players energy wave. Winning these is crucial because the opponent will become fatigued and is more likely to become stunned briefly when low on energy or knocked down. There are also "power" struggles where if both players try and hit each other with a powerful melee attack at the same time they will be locked into a punching/dodge/blocking fight at super high speeds which is a DBZ anime trademark during fight scenes. Like the beam struggles whoever rotates the control sticks the fastest will win and send the opponent flying. There is also hyper mode which makes your character super strong until your ki drains completely. While in hyper mode your opponents punches and kicks don't knock you down and you can completely over power them. You can also use this mode to launch a dragon rush attack on your opponent or use an ultimate move. Dragon Rush is really cool the first couple times but it quickly becomes annoying, especially when you are fighting against a computer controlled opponent. What it does is launch both players into a cinematic attack/guessing game. Whoever launched the attack is on the offensive, while the other is on the defensive. What happens is that both players are involved in a rock-paper-scissors sequence that lasts up to a total of three turns. Each player has a few seconds to press either the x, square, triangle or circle button. If the defensive player matches the offensive player at any given time the dragon rush will end. If the defensive player stops the offensive player during the first round they will suffer minimal damage and also return damage to the offensive player. If they stop the dragon rush during the second or third round they will suffer medium damage but deal none to the offensive player. The trick though is that the button the offensive player used during each successful round of dragon rush will disappear. So by the last turn of dragon rush there will only be two choices, so each player has a fifty-fifty chance of succeeding. Some characters have unique dragon rush attacks but the most of them will randomly use one of a few preset ones. Goku has a warp-kamehameha dragon rush, and Piccolo has a special-beam cannon dragon rush, as well as a few other characters that have unique ones but most of the characters share the same dragon rushes amongst themselves. These are the reasons why dragon rush is a flawed system. Dragon rushes are entertaining for a while but quickly become stale is used too much, so they will definitely need some work in any future installments of the Budokai series.

Those who have been playing the Budokai series since Budokai 1 or 2 will be glad to know that Budokai 3 also features a duel mode where you can fight the CPU as many times as you want and you can also pick your opponent and the level. This is a feature that is rare amongst most fighting games, so this mode has a lot of lasting value. There is also an unlockable mode called Dragon Arena that uses the same RPG level up system as the story mode. The levels in this mode are shared with Dragon Universe so if you have a level 20 Goku from Dragon Universe you can level him up from level 20 in Dragon Arena, and if you get him to level 50 in Dragon Arena, you can use him at level 50 in Dragon Universe. Dragon Arena is much like the dueling mode except you fight against CPU opponents who are also leveled up and have abilities unknown to you, so these fights are entertaining and challenging. You can even post and retrieve passwords from the internet to fight against other peoples custom characters, and other people can fight against yours. There is also the world tournament mode where you can compete to earn zenie to buy capsules in the capsule shop, but like every other DBZ game, if you get knocked out of bounds in the world tournament you lose. Thankfully newcomers don't have to feel like it will be impossible to learn the game because Budokai 3 has a fully fleshed out training mode that teaches pretty much everything you would need to know about how to play the game. Overall Budokai 3 has plenty of different modes that can keep you occupied for a really long time, especially if you are a huge nut about DBZ.

Graphically Budokai 3 is flat-out the best looking game out of the three Budokai games and is also the best sounding. The voice acting is solid, and the music is superb. Also if you don't like the English voice actors you can change to the original Japanese voices which changes the voices for every mode in the game, single player, dueling, even the menus will be spoken in Japanese. Be warned though, only the Greatest Hits version of Budokai 3 has the included Japanese voices as well as a couple costume bonuses too. Also if you have rented Budokai 3 before but it wasn't the greatest hits version, unfortunately the save file for the greatest hits version is separate from the original Budokai 3, so you will have to start over.

If you are looking for a fun Dragon Ball Z fighting game than you should definitely look for Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 (Greatest Hits). At this point if you don't own any of the Budokai games it isn't worth it to buy Budokai 1 or 2 simply because the fighting engine in the third entry is so much better than in the previous two. Also, make sure you get the greatest hits version, other than having the red title saying greatest hits; the box art is a picture of SSJ Vegeta and SSJ Goku fighting each other, instead of a close up of Super Saiyan Goku which was on the original Budokai 3 box. If you want a quality Dragon Ball Z game to play, then skip over Budokai 1 and 2 and simply go for the best quality product of the trilogy, which is Budokai 3.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/26/07


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