Review by Spralwers

"WTF Dimps!? What happened? What impeteus made you create such a game?"

History/Background Information:

Throughout the console and arcade years, plenty of DBZ games were made. Many of them were different kinds of RPGs and Fighting Games. Others have fit themselves in other categories, and there were a few DBZ games that were completely unique in style, like Dragonball Z: Legends. That, and DragonBall Z Shin Butoden (Saturn) were spectacular games, and the best DBZ games to date.
In December 2002, a new fighting game was released on the PS2 based on DBZ, known as Dragonball Z: Budokai. It was the only fighting game other than Super Butoden to span from the Saiyan Saga to the Cell Games. It had around 24 characters. The fighting engine was rather weak however, which is what ticked off hardcore fighting gamers. Many characters did share the same movesets. Eventually, the ability to halt a combo and go straight into another one was discovered, as I have not seen any other fighting game be able to do that.

In December 2003, Budokai 2 was released. There were plenty of extras to add into the game, such as the new ultimate system, where a character would put in their input to give specials and supers more power. Characters became more unique with their combo cancels, but there were still many similarities between some characters. Also, the combo system completely threw the game off balance, as Budokai 2 then became one of the most unbalanced fighting games ever. Characters like Nappa had a weak platform of combos and cancels, and lacked an ultimate. Gokou had a whole array of combos and cancels, as well as three different ultimates, all of which could easily be used in a combo. Needless to say, Gokou became a super Godly character, while others such as Nappa and Krillin were left choking in the dust.

Dragonball Z Budokai 3 changed all of this. Each character now has a unique combo platform, full of easy to do combos and strings of cancel combos. With the new baseline ki system, and the unique combo platforms, the game has become far more balanced, even though it is still DBZ. Next, the ability to do a teleport counter, teleport pursue, dodge and do a dragon rush added far more depth and balance into the game. Needless to say, Budokai 3 is a powerful game, even if you're not a DBZ fan, and is a must play for any hardcore fighting game fan.

Now, onto the review:

Graphics: 9/10

The graphics for this game are amazing, and really shows what the PS2 is capable of doing. Not only do the backgrounds, characters, attacks and stages look well done, many minor details were added. This includes skid marks made on the ground when blocking a super energy blast, dirt and dust swiveling around you when powering up, the nice and sweet auras when you're full of energy, and far more to be seen. Graphics really give this game a nice image, and if you have ever watched DBZ, the graphics make you feel like you are fighting as if you are in the show.

Sound: 9/10

The sound effects were well done. You hear the traditional kiais, yelling out names of techniques, taunts and whatnot like any other fighting game. The music is great as well. It is not perfect, but suits the mood rather perfectly. Oh, and let's not forget, that the intro theme is one of the best fighting themes out there, and is played at the intro movie, final round of the Advanced/Cell Games Tournament, Credits Screen, Tournament Battles in Dragon Universe and in more places. What's better than to hear an awesome intro theme song in so many places?

Learning Curve/Depth: 8.9/10

Ah, the depth of this game, as depth is the most key element in each fighting game. Depth is simply how much skill you need to be good at the game, how much knowledge you need to gain about the characters, and how much of it is actually required to be used in a high level fight.

First, most people who give this game a rating below an 8 (which I've seen in many other places) say that the characters are still clones of each other. This however, is nowhere near correct, and it obviously shows that the reviewers were newbies. They also mention that doing combos requires no skill, as you just P and K. But they fail to include strings of cancel combos, which is where a huge chunk of the depth lies. It takes plenty of skill and practice to be able to cancel combos, teleport counters, and then improvise what you will do next in order to keep up your advantage. What I'm going to elaborate comes from me, an advanced player of this game and a Budokai veteran, so take that I'm saying seriously.

This game is deep enough so that no seasoned veteran of the game will be defeated by a newbie. Nobody will master this game in a few days, even if you are a returning Budokai master. I've mastered Budokai 1 and 2, as I was able to work combo cancel strings that lead into to specials with every character. I knew the pros and weaknesses of each character I was good with, such as some attacks that might leave you invulnerable if you like defence, offence, et cetera. I play on Z3 difficulty mode often and the other hardest levels of AI, and I got this game three days after the release, yet I am still mastering the game. I also have experience with Soul Calibur II, Street Fighter III: Third Strike, Virtua Fighter 4, Gundam Wing Endless Duel, Super Street Fighter II Turbo and many more.

This game has three different defencive maneuvers. There is blocking, which reduces damage done to you by attacks. However, you gain ki while you guard, but fatigue might build up quickly. However, grab moves, ultimate launchers and fully charged attacks go straight through a guard. Some flying forward attacks might break a guard and leave the enemy unstable for a few seconds. You guard by holding X.

Next defencive maneuver is dodging. At the cost of half a ki bar, you can dodge attacks, avoiding any damage done to you. You can also easily launch an immediate counter attack as you dodge. However, you cannot dodge super ki blasts, grabs and fully charged attacks. You dodge attacks by hitting X right before an attack hits you, although it might be better just to constantly tap it.

After dodging comes teleport countering. At the cost of a hefty 3 ki bars, you can get behind your opponent if ANY attack of theirs is about to hit you. Right after this you launch a powerful counter attack that sends them flying. But this is not where it ends: if an enemy has enough ki, they can counter your teleport counter, and it can repeat over and over until one person gets low on ki and cannot perform another teleport counter. However, the counter attack in a teleport counter can be CANCELLED, adding a whole new layer of depth into the game. Once you cancel a teleport counter, you can do whatever you want from there. You can do a power attack of your own, do your own combo, transform, go into hyper mode, taunt the enemy, blast them with a death move, and thousands of other possibilities that will come up in your creative mind. In higher levels of play, you'll see humans and computer players cancel a teleport counter, and do whatever is necessary to get the advantage. Teleport counter by hitting towards + X right before any attack hits you, and you can cancel the teleport counter just by holding X when doing the teleport counter. This takes practice to master, as if you hold it for too long, your character will just sit there and block. You'll need to be able to immediately drop the guard right after and do whatever you need to do.

There are also tons upon tons of ways to engage your opponent head on if you want to take the offence. You use the combos that work with each character. Also, three new offencive maneuvers have been added: teleport pursuing, dragon rush and hyper mode.
Teleport pursuing is simply getting behind the enemy and attacking them once you send them flying. It can only be done when they are in the air, it costs 1 ki bar, and you can do it 3 times. Careful, as although this adds damage, it gives the enemy more ki to teleport counter you with. There is also hyper mode, where your character gets pissed off, and glows in fiery colors. They cannot block, but they do not flinch on any attack that is not a deathmove or power hit. The character starts to lose ki, and when they are out, they get fatigued and take a breather, being open to any type of attack.

Dragon Rush is a new offencive maneuver, where it is a huge guess the button game up to three times. Dragon Rush is activated while in hyper mode, knocking the enemy a distance and immediately pressing O. While in dragonrush, the defencive player must guess what the offencive player is pressing. If the defence wins, they block the attack. If the offence wins, they keep going. This happens three times at the most, assuming the offence wins each time.

Each character has a different set of moves, attacks, combos, combo cancels, special moves and more uniqueness that need to be understood and taken advantage of.

Also, there are many different levels of gameplay:

Novice:
Like any other fighting games, novices traditionally throw out moves, hoping they hit. Using death moves is something that might happen, as well as trying to use combos and dodging attacks.

Intermediate:
Intermediates, who have played the game enough to understand the system, can now use different strings of combos when needed. They can use combos that link straight into dragon rush or straight out pursuing. Teleport countering is something that an intermediate will use when possible.

Advanced:
Advanced players use strings of cancel combos to deal damage. The differences between dodging, blocking and teleport countering are recognized, and is used when necessary. When stuck in the middle of a string of cancel combos, advanced players are easily capable of halting the flow, by teleport countering. Full understanding of each character's unique combos and priority is not seen yet, but it is getting developed even more. Developed advanced players start to show mastery with their best character, as they know the best combos and moves for special situations.

Master:
Not only can masters outperform advanced players in the aforementioned categories, they are easily capable of teleport counter canceling, and being able to do what is needed to gain the advantage, whether it be going straight into an ultimate, running away to gather ki, or going on with a counter. Masters also know their best characters inside and out: The best capsule set ups, the appropriate strategy when handling different characters thanks to the baseline ki system, what attacks in a combo can cancel out standard moves an enemy might attack with, and the best combos to use in any type of situation. The usage of hyper mode and dragon rush is nearly non-existent in this level of gameplay, because to any master, hyper mode can mean death.
Also, your strategies for fighting completely change when:
Fighting AI
Fighting Humans
Fighting Z3 difficulty AI

To sum it up, this game has huge amounts of depth. Not as much as Virtua Fighter 4, but far more than others like Soul Calibur II, Mortal Kombat: Deception, and more than Street Fighter III: Third Strike. To any fighting game enthusiast, this game is a powerful one in terms of the learning curve and depth. The best proof to a game's depth is whether or not a newbie can beat a seasoned veteran, and in this game, it will not happen. Just like the street fighter games, offence is king, and turtling is never an effective strategy. Everything will always be moving, just like the way a DBZ fight is supposed to.

Replayability: 8.5/10

There are countless amounts of elements to unlock in this game. The Dragon Universe is a fun, full of freedom mode. Dragon Arena is a nice place where you can build up a character, and let people as far as other countries fight them, as well as mastering the depth of the game. For a fighting game, this has quite a bit to unlock, and some are very challenging, while others just might be cake. You'll want to get as good with the fighting engine as quickly as possible and overcome superior skilled opponents.

Difficulty: 8/10

The AI to this game is actually somewhat dumb. To an advanced player, the AI is usually easy to beat, because they often use hyper mode. I would have given the difficulty a 5/10 if it was not for one thing: Z3 difficulty. In Dragon Universe, there are difficulties higher than very hard: Z, Z2 and Z3. Z3 difficulty is enemies with all maxed stats, and powerful AI. Not everybody can have an awesome fight with skilled human players, and I happen to be in that bad circumstance. Therefore, Z3 difficulty keeps me on my toes, and is my best practice.

Gameplay: 8/10

When fighting standard AI, this game can get annoying. They tend to abuse hyper mode, which takes up plenty of energy. All a skilled player has to do is outmaneuver the hyper moded enemy, and they will run out of energy, and take a breather. This will give any skilled player the room to punish the hyper mode abuse with extreme prejudice, as they can easily do a string of cancel combos that lead into a death move, perhaps even teleport pursuing, dealing over one and a half lifebars of damage. The tired player might get knocked right into an ultimate instead, and suffer a solid amount of damage, usually at least a lifebar.

The gameplay gets fast, furious, intense and full of action once you manage to play at the higher levels against higher level opponents. Whenever I fight Z3 level AI, my matches are fun, fast, and intense, and there is always movement going on. When I fight my friend, we make effective uses of cancel combos to deal ultimate damage, while taking into account the teleport counter system which will add many layers of depth into our strategies. The constant dodging and counter attacking adds dramatic effect to the speed, making it eye tearing and like DBZ itself. The weak AI (unless Z3 mode) spoil the gameplay, but other than that, it is solid. Everything is moving, and the only moments where everything is still is when the characters are powering up, getting some more energy to prepare for the next action packed bout.

This game sports a new mode called Dragon Universe. You choose from 1 to 11 characters, (you have to unlock some) and play through DBZ. You fly around freely in a huge world, like an RPG. You have the option to fly around and explore, or just head to the red dot and continue with the story. While wandering around, you can find money, capsules, important items, funny dialogue, more personality in some of the characters and level up from training battles. After you win a fight, you gain experience. Like any RPG, once you gain enough experience, you level up. You get one stat per level up to invest in health, attack power, ki, defence, how much extra damage ability capsules add, how well your character benefits from equipment and items, and how well the computer controls your character when fighting another developed character.

Conclusion:

For any fighting game enthusiast, this game is a must have. With the 38 different non-fused characters, all having different attacks and elements to master, what kind of fighting game enthusiast can skip it? For DBZ fans, this game gets even better, as it outclasses Shin Butoden and Legends, and with the huge character selection, you can generate countless of DB/DBZ/DBGT dream fights.
Had the AI been a bit better, save Z3 mode, and dragon rush more of a skill contest than a pure luck game, I would have given this game a higher rating.

Buy or Rent?

If a fighting game enthusiast or DBZ fan, this is a must-buy. For a casual gamer, like any other game, rent it first.

If you did not want to read all of that and you're going straight to the ratings:

Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 9/10
Learning Curve/Depth: 8.9/10
Replayability: 8.5/10
Difficulty: 8/10
Gameplay: 8/10
Average Rating: 8.6 (rounds off from an 8.56)
Personal Rating: 8


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/30/04


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