Review by DarthHomer

"Third Time Lucky? Oh Yeah!"

Dragon Ball Z is truly one of the most diverse animes ever created. It's one of those shows where you either love it because of its epic battles and scope, or you hate it because it's one of the longest shows ever created (one battle between two characters can take up to 10 episodes, which includes subplots for other characters).

While the show ended 10 years ago in Japan, Atari have been making games for the show ever since it really took off. While some of the earlier efforts weren't very notable, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai (released in 2002), was the first popular DBZ game, featuring a story mode covering half of the DBZ story, and a fighting system that almost had the feel of the show. The games sequel, imaginatively titled Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2 (released in 2003), improved on this, offering a much greater selection of characters (ranging from the start to the end of the show), but let down in a boring single player game. One year after this, Atari release Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3, this time, promising modes and features that would truly bring the games closer to the show, and it has.

To know what I'm talking about, I'd best provide a little backstory on the whole story of Dragon Ball Z. The show is the middle chapter of three animes, each centering on the character of Goku, a martial artist with extraordinary power. Dragon Ball (the first show), followed the story of Gokus childhood, Dragon Ball Z followed the rest of Gokus life, and Dragon Ball GT (the third and most recent show), ends Gokus story. The one thing in common (other than Goku) in all three shows, are the Dragon Balls, which, when all gathered together, allows the user to have any wish they desired to be granted. That should provide you with enough of a backstory for me to continue off with the review...

So whats new in this game compared to Budokai 2? Well, the fighting system has been revised and perfected, making for some great fights. The single player mode has been redone and bettered, and additional characters from the DBZ movies, Dragon Ball GT and Dragon Ball have been added, making the roster close to 40 selectable characters.

The main mode of the game is called Dragon Universe, and this is the next evolution of the boring Dragon World mode which was the focus of Budokai 2. In Dragon Universe, you select a character, and you experience their story from the beginning of the show to the end of it. In the middle of this, you fly around a map, collecting Dragon Balls, skills (more on this later), unlockable characters, and fighting individuals, to earn an item, experience, or to progress in the story.

You can use the experience earned in fights and use it to upgrade your character, upgrading their health, energy, strength, defence etc. By doing this, you receive a password, which can be given out so people can fight your customized character, and you can do the same to their customized character. While this mode is a much needed improvement over Budokai 2's lackluster single player mode, there is a problem with this. The storylines for each individual character are too short, but this is complemented with up to 12 characters to play as in DU, so by playing as all of them, you learn the story of DBZ, and snippets of the movies and the other shows.

The fighting system has also been refined. If you want to compare all of the Budokai games to a pure fighter, like Tekken or VF, the Budokai games are much simpler, but contain more hectic fighting and a faster pace. Instead of offering rounds, like in most fighting games, all of the characters have 3 or more health bars, and once all of them go down, it's the end of the fight.

The new changes to this system are the Ki Burst mode, which allows energy beam struggles, something which is integral to the show. Hyper Mode, which allows you to attack without reeling from attacks, but at a great sacrifice to energy. Hyper Mode can turn the fight around drastically, as it allows you to perform a Dragon Rush (a 3 part, guess the button game, which can cause some massive damage), and an Ultimate Move, which, if pulled off, causes massive damage to your opponent and can destroy the arena you are currently fighting in. However, if you waste all of your energy, you are fatigued, or stunned if you prefer, allowing your opponent to get in a quick attack, causing more damage then normal. Guarding constantly also increases your chances of stunning yourself.

So if guarding now becomes dangerous to do, what else can you do to avoid enemy attacks? You could sidestep enemy attacks, but this takes off a little energy, but is a good move. The best (but most energy wasting) way to avoid attacking is called the Warp Defence. By pressing Forward and Guard, just as your opponent attacks, you warp behind them, allowing for a quick attack. If you have a lot of energy, you could warp behind them, knock them away, warp to them again, hit them, repeating this until your energy is depleted.

Finally, the ki, or energy bars have been redone. Each character has a baseline Ki (which usually defaults to 3 bars out of a maximum 7). If the Ki is above this line, then it'll slowly decrease, but if it's below the line, then it'll increase. Transformations and Fusions between characters become vital to this, as they can increase the Baseline to the maximum amount of bars, allowing for much bettered attacks.

Like in previous Budokai games, the E.S.S (Exciting Skill System) is back, allowing for customization of your characters moves. By buying or finding skills, you can equip them to your character, allowing for bettered attacks (such as Ultimate Moves), or increasing your attack, defence or energy during a fight. You have a custom tray which has 7 spaces, and each skill takes up a number of spaces. Knowing which skills to equip becomes vital in strategy. And also, like in previous Budokai games, you can take your customized character to a friends place, and battle it out.

If there is one thing wrong with the game, in general, it has to be the AI of the computer. Put simply, they can be tough sometimes, and the next moment can be all out vicious. They like to use Dragon Rushes constantly, and if you can't guess the buttons they use, you're in danger of losing the fight. Thankfully, this is the only problem wrong with the gameplay itself.

The games graphics are excellent. Budokai 2 featured some cel-shading for the characters, giving them a much more incomparable look to the show. Budokai 3 refines this, and now, there is little difference between the characters in the show and the characters in the game. In fact, this game actually has a purpose to use cel-shading, not unlike other games, who use it as a gimmick (like XIII or Auto Modelista).

The game sounds decent as well. Every character in the game has a voice, and it is done by the people who voice the English Dub of DBZ. This may annoy fans, who would've preferred the original Japanese voices, but the acting is good, and is done to the same standard as the show. The music is very decent in this game, and while it doesn't feature the best or the worst music in videogame history, it's still listenable, and doesn't sound so bad.

It may have taken Atari 3 years, but they've done it, they've finally created the best DBZ game yet. This is thanks to a great single-player mode, and complemented with one of the best (albeit simple) fighting engines ever created, allowing for some intense fighting, akin to Tekken or VF. The game also has a solid presentation, featuring some excellent visuals, and some great audio. While initially, the AI may pose a problem, you'll find ways to get over it. Do try this...

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 04/25/05

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