We’re used to seeing Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z fighting games in the US, so the Dragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans DS RPG is a rarity, and even a bit of a luxury. It also means that it’s geared more towards fans of the series. It isn’t like the fighting games, where anyone can jump in, even if they’ve never heard of Dragon Ball before. This game is best enjoyed when you actually have some idea of what’s happening and why.
Once I started up Dragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans, I discovered something totally unexpected. Monolith Soft was responsible for developing the game! Monolith Soft worked on some of my favorite games (Xenosaga I-III, Baten Kaitos and Soma Bringer) so this new knowledge instantly made me re-evaluate any preconceived notions I may have had about this game. When I first heard about it, I feared it would be some quick anime RPG shuttled out to capitalize on the series’ popularity.
Dragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans is structured similar to an anime or manga. The story is presented in chunks. You start off in an epilogue where Krillan, Yamcha and Tien are finishing training with Master Roshi. The plot then proceeds to follow them as they train, Goku defeating Piccolo Jr., the saving of the Ox-King, Saiyan arrival and so on.
The first thing that hit me in my Dragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans adventures is that this is definitely a game for fans of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. It is created for people who are already familiar with the characters and basic storyline. I honestly haven’t watched Dragon Ball since grade school, and the only characters I remembered from my encounter with the series then were (child) Goku, Bulma, Oolong, Yamcha and Master Roshi. Dragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans expects you to be familiar with the end of the previous series and the three epilogue characters Krillan, Yamcha and Tien.
Once you get past that though, it seems like Monolith Soft did a great job of capturing the feel of the original Dragon Ball Z. The source has an epic storyline that stretched out over hundreds of anime episodes. All things considered, I think it did a great job of condensing everything into a manageable format, keeping everything essential and covering the story up to the Saiyan Saga arc of the original series. It is a little disappointing that, sometimes, the game skips over story sequences with visuals and brief summaries, but understandable considering how much content has to be shoved into the game.
And it is a pretty good game. Early on, you’ll be on short adventures that center around one area and don’t require much exploration. You’ll basically be looking for someone, or something, and will encounter multiple random battles along the way.
Battles occur in an interesting manner. They’re standard, turn-based, RPG fare, with some notable additions. First, characters can start Sparking. There’s a rage gauge, and when that gauge is filled characters become slightly stronger. Another boon is, when all three of your characters are Sparking, special attacks can combine into a huge ultimate attack. Finally, players can have a bit of impact on battles while they’re taking place. Your three in-battle characters are connected to the X, Y and B buttons. When an enemy targets one of them for an attack, you can press the button connected to make them guard and take less damage.
Winning battles give you AP which you can use to level up characters skills and make them stronger. When they learn or master skills, they can end up learning new ones. It makes it feel more like you’re actually training your characters, rather than the usual process where they magically acquire a skill after X number of battles.
Dragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans also stays true to the original series by making capsules a place in the game. You can equip certain capsules, and they appear on the bottom screen. The catch is, some capsule items are only effective when equipped. On standby they could be ineffective, slightly effective or occasionally 100% effective. They can help you get past certain areas in dungeons, inflict ailments on enemies when a battle starts, make certain characters abilities more effective and so on. They’re helpful, without making the game too easy.
Another great feature is the crystal ball. I think it almost makes up for the inability to save anywhere. The magic ball can be accessed from the main menu, and is basically a help guide and dictionary. You can check and see what you’re supposed to be doing, look up information on enemies and see what joint attack combinations you’ve discovered so you can know what to do in your next battle.
Most of Dragonball Z: Attack of the Saiyans problems center around the games’ visuals. The only time the game really seems to look good is in battle, when you have full and detailed character sprites for Goku, Gohan, Krillan, Piccolo, Tien, Yamcha and all their opponents. Otherwise, it looks like a shrunken GBA game. Character sprites are only a few pixels tall, forcing you to hold your DS closer than normal to follow your character.
But that’s nothing compared to the environment issues that can stem from the forced perspective and expansive, static environments. The background dungeon maps, while detailed and colorful, can be difficult to navigate at times because the path to the next part area isn’t always so clear.There’s often little distinction between areas at two different heights, and an area that looks like a dead end may have an obscure road you missed. In the case of hidden rooms or secret areas, this is forgivable, but I spent about 10 minutes in Yamcha’s training/epilogue quest because I couldn’t find the path to his former hideout. (Hint: Look behind the hilly area on the second dungeon screen, then try and get up to the plateau.)
Overall, Dragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans is really a great game. True, the character sprites could be a little larger and the path to follow in some environments could be a little clearer, but when you consider how much Monolith Soft managed to cramp into the game, it’s easy to forgive those minor imperfections. Battle is fun and rarely boring, especially since your blocking skills can make you more successful. It’s a great game for fans of the series. People who’ve never seen Dragon Ball or Dragon Ball Z will probably get more out of one of the 100+ non-anime related DS RPGs though.
Food for Thought
- It would have been nice if the game’s instruction manual had a brief summary of the events of Dragon Ball, to help assist newcomers.
- It seems like, at some points, there were image stills that were supposed to show up but didn’t. For example, when Goku and Chichi are talking with Annin as they try to save her father the Ox-King, the game would pause, suddenly go to a blank, black top screen, then return to normal dialogue and play.
- I love it that characters earn EXP even when they’re not on the active team.
- It’s disappointing that Namco Bandai hasn’t publized or hyped it up more. I had no idea it even existed until I was given the opportunity to cover it.