Review by sheppyboy2000

"No two ways about it. You HAVE to be a fan."

The following review has been ammended due to controversy as to the final score given to this game. Many felt that it was by far and away too low. So I removed the last one and spent another 5 hours with this games various modes and even battled it out with some friends (one is a devout Budokai fan) to bring to total play time with this game up to 21 hours. It is with this time and extensive experience in the fighting game genre that I now start the review.

Keep in mind, I am not a Dragonball Z fan. This could be a good thing or a bad thing based upon your opinion. Sometimes it takes the outsiders to point things out. After all, I acknowledge that rare is the Gundam game that is good but not so many of my "brothers" are the same way. I thoroughly enjoyed Dragonball and was half-heartedly into DBZ. For the sake of saving fan's feelings, I'm not even gonna comment on what little I've seen of GT. So it's not as a fellow DBZ fan that I write this, but as a fighting game fanboy.

Core Engine
This was the central subject of the controversy. While Budokai 3 adds the most to this core engine, it is unfortunately still left in a world found wanting. The core of the fighting engine is the old "dial a combo" style of gameplay. If you are expecting the more open ended combo system of titles like Virtua Fighter, Tekken, or even Killer Instinct 2 (in a limited sense), you'll not find it here. This could be considered either a good or a bad thing depending solely upon preference. By "dial a combo," style, I do mean that a vast majority of the combos take place with a simply string of commands rapidly pressed. Pressing the next button in the sequence is not required in a certain time to impact by rather within a certain time. In other words, the quicker players can put in the commands for the entire combo before the 3rd blow hits and sit back to watch the rest. This is the same as can be seen in Mortal Kombat Deception (which has a far greater variety of "dial combos" but less open once they are finished than Budokai 3) so obviously there is a market for it out there. How you finish off the combo becomes your choice. You can simply end it with nothing at all, and Energy blast, a "stringer" style attack, a teleport attack, a Dragon Rush, or even an Ultimate Attack. As you can see, while the combos are limited, how you finish them opens the engine up.

My previous comment about the characters all playing the same remains largely intact. It takes a large amount of time invested to start uncovering the differences between the characters and how they play. For the largest part, it's only the special moves and power levels that distinguish the characters at first. It doesn't stay that way the more time that's invested but it seems that way for a large amount of time. Most fighters have immediate differences between the characters and this game decides to "hide" them. If you want to truly explore the differences, expect a large amount of time. They are subtle and very minute.

Once a combo is started, however, you are not fully commited. As is the typical fair in fighting games nowadays, players can "cancel" attacks and even counter an attacker mid combo. The next thing to mention is Hyper Mode. This is not exactly a new concept as I'm sure fellow fighting game fans will recognize the basic concept of "glowing/flashing character means bad news." When in Hyper-mode (achieved by pressing X, O, Square, and Triangle at the same time, or assigned to a shoulder button), players do slightly more damage as well as open up the possibility for one of two combo ender moves. So in essense, players will recognize that when your opponent "glows red," it's time to either back away or press the attack to avoid giving them an opportunity to "do their worst." The choices are as follows.

Dragon Rush = Requires Hyper Mode only.
Once in Hyper Mode, the attacker needs only add the O command (or Energy Attack if you remapped controls) once they've knocked back the opponent. If successful, you'll begin to see an automated sequence of an attack and both players are given their choice of input. During the first phase, all four buttons will be present. The second phase removes the attackers previous choice. The final phase removes the attackers last two choices. All the defender has to do to break this attack is guess what button the attacker chose. Regardless of health going into the Dragon Rush, a defender will always survive the attack as long as they successfully defend against it. Granted, they'll exit the sequence with practically zero health but they'll at least have the pride of denying their master the "uber ender." It's an interesting concept and helps mix up the combat but the transition from this attack (specifically if it's defended) could be a tad smooother.

Ultimate Attack = Requires Hyper Mode and Enemy's Fatigue Guage to be full.
Unlike the Dragon Rush, the Ultimate Attack doesn't need to be thrown into a combo (and likewise, I've had mixed success throwing it into a combo). All it needs is to be in Hyper Mode and a repeat command of the Hyper Mode trigger (all four face buttons or a premapped shoulder button). If the attack connects, both players are given a gauge at the bottom of the screen as the gauge slowly fills. The players must press the button when they get the most power in the guage. If you linger, you'll forfiet the round. If the attacker wins this mini-game, the attack maximizes damage (which is quite a large amount). If the defender wins, the damage is minimized.

Both of these attacks are not instant victories as they can both be pulled off quite early in the match. Teleporting likewise is a new technique added to the Budokai series. Players need only press Towards and the Guard button to teleport behind your opponent. Nifty concept which helps to instantly close gaps that create "fireball wars."

And the final addition has to be the struggling system. When two special attacks or Kamehameha equivelant attacks meet, players are locked into a power struggle. Both players need to rotate their analog faster than the opponent to win. Once again, nifty addition to the fighting genre.

But my final beef with the core engine is the "flying" aspect of this game. If you can call it that. Each character "floats" in air. Their feet firmly planted into nothingness. You heard me correctly. Even flying, they look like they are standing on the ground. Even when advancing, you literally walk along air. And the combat doesn't even act like flying. It acts just like if you were battling on the ground. I would have liked to have seen an actual Air Combat system in place. Psychic Force did a decent job of this and maybe even some ZOE style controls. Regardless of how you look at it, "taking to air" just doesn't feel that way. The combat still remains firmly grounded no matter how high you go and the animations being noticably grounded doesn't help the illusion either.

This is where the game shines. Despite my hatred of cel-shading (looks highly unpolished 99% of the time), this game uses it effectively to truly mimmick the cartoon show. More importantly, teleporting is handled with the "speed scribbles" as well. The blasts are fun to watch, as are the ultimate attacks. Even disappearing geomtery is hidden well with dust clouds. If it's any place this game shines, it's in the authentic recreation of the TV show. The only thing I would have liked to have seen is "battle wear" on the fighters. Like if Goku just barely managed to survive his battle, I do wanna see some battle damage. A trademark squinty eye, a large number of black scoring on the opponent. Dare I even say it, ripped clothes. This is about the only way this games graphics can excel.

To authentically reproduce a show's sound effects can often be considered a victory. I was just never really a fan of the DBZ sound effects so seeing them authetically return wasn't exactly a victory for me. Likewise, the soundtrack remains fairly sterile without taking too many risks. But giving the fans what they expect can hardly ever be considered a bad thing. The one thing that was annoying, however, was the voiced menus. I despise voiced menus. Maybe a little voice bubble on the side explaining the mode would have been prefered but the voiced menu got old damn fast.

Single Player
To say the story telling in B3 is a failure is giving it too much credit. Being half-interested in DBZ afforded me the luxuries of catching an episode every now and then. So when I stepped into this game, I had a very basic idea of the story. This is why I enjoy story modes. It's their job to tell me why I'm suddenly alive again and Buu is absorbing everyone. Likewise, why Vegita gets a cool M on his forehead. The story mode exist purerly to reference hardcore fans to where they are fighting in this epic saga. Anyone outside of the fanbase will definately have a hard time following. At least, until you complete all of the characters stories. Until that point, though, you'll know a whole lotta nothing for a long time. The other thing that annoys me is that I'm flying around, completely lost in the narrative and yet I find random sequences of characters talking about how hard they are training? I was half expecting things to come of it but alas, no go. So if you're not a hardcore fan, expect to be lost in the narrative. Big time.

The second issue with the single player is that a large amount of it consist of only a limited number of possible activities. The first one being, flying around to find something besides the world checkpoints. These "somethings" are usually a small flicker on the map or a random cut-scene. Press the button and hope it's either something interesting, or something you haven't already found. The other is to run from checkpoint to check point to "progress" the story. And the 3rd, finding all the Dragonballs. Once again, hardly necessary put it would have been nice to be presented this large world and something to actually do in it besides moving from point A to point B. It was a horrible concept in Zone Of The Enders and it's especially bad here.

Closing Comments
If you are a hardcore DBZ fan, you'll find amusement here. If you're a hardcore fighting game fan, you may wanna rent this one. Especially if you're a fan of the "dial a combo" engine. If you're a casual fighting game fan and not interested in DBZ, move along. Some may find this game excellent where as I find it underpar in most respects. But once again, to each their own.

It should also be noted that this final rated is where I stand. I find it a shame the reviews nowadays are counting 7's as the average point instead of 5. Nowadays, it seems people throw 10's arund like candy in a parade. For the rating, I'm going old school. This is an average game and thus it gets an average rating.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 01/18/05

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