Review by Ack_oof_ouch

"Barely acceptable..."

Do you want to know what makes me mad?

The fact that something can be so popular, and sell so well, not necessarily because it is unique or outstanding, but rather because it happens to have a few key words on its package.

And do you want to know what makes me even madder?

When those key words are “Dragon Ball Z.”

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not biased against the series. Far from it. I have no problems taking a half-our out of my afternoon to watch Goku and his gang of ridiculously pumped-up comrades fly around and knock people through mountains. Yes, I admit it... I like the Dragon Ball Z anime. However, the Dragon Ball Z game is an entirely different thing. It's just... sub-par. It does not do the show justice. Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 follows the traditions of the other two games... it barely passes as an acceptable game and somehow makes loads of money in the process.

One of the main selling points the game has on the back of its box is the fact that you can “master Bukujistu flight” and “Go airborne anytime in the game.” First of all, I'd like to note that this is a lie. The only time you can truly “control” your flight and go airborne “anytime” is during the in-between sequences in story mode. This game, instead of being a game piece, you are actually a human. You can take control of any character you want (yet another improvement) and fly to your destinations. Along the way, you can look for secret items and even collect the Dragon Balls with the Dragon Radar! While this is admittedly fun, there is a slight problem. The actual “story” part of the story mode is... lacking.

Actually, unfinished would be a better word. The game makers have had a nasty habit of assuming that everyone who plays the game has seen every single one of the episodes of Dragon Ball Z, so skimping on the story cutscenes has been a tradition. This time, however, they take it to another level. New major characters will appear without any explanation whatsoever. Entire sequences of episodes will be summarized in one sentence... or less. My personal favorite instance is when Gohan and Piccolo's whole year of training is summarized in a few short sentences of dialogue between the two. Not even one mention of a single occurrence during that period. I am serious. Even watchers of the show may be confused. Scratch that, unless you have the script for every single episode of the anime, you WILL be confused.

While the game utterly fails in terms of story, it actually performs well in the graphics department. The game uses a special type of graphics technique to render the characters, called “cel-shading,” which is basically 3D cartooning. It makes the characters look great. It is obvious that a fair amount of detail went not only into the characters' looks, but their personalities, too. Buu has a lumbering stance, and Cell looks as arrogant as always. The graphics do well to immerse you into the spirit of the show. It may be an overused statement, but it feels like you are “playing the anime.” The backgrounds are rendered in the “standard” graphics of today's games. They are beautiful, and best of all, totally destructible. If you kick an opponent hard enough, they may fly straight through that cliff (and take extra damage!). If you unleash an extremely powerful attack on the fragile Earth, your entire surroundings may burn down and you'll be fighting on a barren wasteland. It is undeniably cool. The mix of regular 3D graphics and cell shading is an interesting one, and it succeeds.

The sound is also top-notch. The characters sound exactly as they do in the show. Huge, Earth-shattering blasts sound terrific. You will actually feel the pain of every punch your character takes. Combined with the graphics, the game delivers an awesome presentation.

However, the excellent graphics and sound only serve to make the gameplay seem worse in comparison. The gameplay suffers from two major problems: it's too simple, and it's too freakin' easy to exploit. The controls are not difficult to grasp at all, which is good. Square for punch, triangle for kick, circle for energy, and X for guard. Sound good? Now take in the fact that you've already halfway mastered the controls. Combos can be preformed by pressing any of these buttons in any order you wish, and that's IT. It's possible to win a match just by button-mashing. The only time a difference in actual skill will have any impact is if you're up against someone who has never played, or seen, a fighting game before. There are also various cheap ways you can rack up your opponent's damage. Attack them while they're on the ground, stunned from your last combo? Sure! Sidestep a Kamehameha and then fire one at the opponent while they're still firing their own? No problem! Abuse the Energy Field attack? As much as you want!

The fighters also have NO diversity. You would think that a huge, purple monster would play differently than a pink, rubbery alien, but this is not the case. If a combination works for Frieza, most likely, it will work for Buu, except that it has a different animation. This doesn't really matter, because the same amount of damage is being delivered anyhow. The characters can only be fairly divided up into two types: Tall and Short. Short characters play the same as tall ones except they are harder to hit. Tall characters... um, don't really have any extra advantages. Does anyone else see something wrong there?

The game tried to cover this up by adding many new techniques you can utilize. Most of them are either useless or give a player an unfair advantage. The only useful addition is the ability to teleport. If you time it EXACTLY right, you can teleport behind an opponent as they attack, and then launch a counter-attack! However, if your opponent is quick enough, they can teleport behind you after you teleport behind them! Sound complicated? It is, but it's great.

Dodging attacks, however, is incredibly cheap, because once you manage to time your dodge right and dodge the first attack of a combo, you don't even have to time your presses right to dodge the rest, no matter how many there may be. Hyper Mode, a mode where you engage your opponent in scripted battle sequences where the outcome is determined by button presses, is fun. For the first... 5 or 10 times. After that, it gets boring, fast. REALLY fast, once you've seen all of the finishing animations, and all you're worried about is pressing the right button. Don't be surprised if you have to sit through 2 or 3 minute-long Hyper Mode sequences every single match. During death moves, such as the Super Dragon Fist or whatnot, you must go through a series of special button presses along with your opponent, and the most accurate determines the damage of the attack. This very awkward system has taken place of last year's “analog stick rolling,” which was a mistake. You'd better have an extra controller, as your first one will most likely be going through the window as you slip just once and mess up your entire super Spirit Bomb that you wasted the whole match preparing for.

Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 does not live up to expectations, plain and simple. Its flaws outweigh its pros, it's that basic. However, I can guarantee you that this game will continue to sell.

Curse you, clever and manipulative marketing.


Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 01/18/05


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