Dragon Ball Z needs no introduction. The phenomenon from the ‘80s and ‘90s still continues to push out new releases such as the Battle of the Gods movie last September, the announcement of the upcoming reveal of Goku’s mother, as well as the just announced continuation of DBZ Kai covering the Buu saga airing this April in Japan.
Fans have plenty of screaming and ridiculous power levels that are over 9,000 to look forward to even after the conclusion of the manga in 1995. The franchise is a nostalgic staple now, and the newest game, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z, knows this well, for better and for worse.
Battle of Z moves away from traditional fighting games and is more of a beat-em-up in a 3D arena. You travel around the field in a team of four until you find enemies and then duke it out with Ki blasts and punches, as well as dash while on the ground or fly through the sky. Depending on if you are on the ground or in the sky, and your distance to your enemies, gameplay changes up a bit.
Each character has their own move type that ranges from Fighting (the melee specialty characters), Ki Blast (the long distance shooting characters), Support (health regenerators), and Interference (the characters that stop enemy combos). Alongside that each player also has his or her own special move such as Goku having his signature Kamehameha attack. You are also rewarded with cards in game that can be placed on your fighters to give them special bonuses and stat boosts. With these four types, alongside character-specific specials, and the minimal character customization via the cards, building a team offers the player a decent level of customization and strategy depending on what they want their team to play like. This is a good thing, since the game places importance on your team.
That’s right, the name of the game is having the best team that you can use. On the top of the screen is a giant energy gauge that is communal to your whole team. You and your teammates can place energy into the gauge or draw energy from it to resupply your own energy meter. And if you manage to fill up this communal gauge, you can unleash special attacks.
Moving away from the gameplay and getting back to how the game knows its audience, the first thing you are greeted with before the start screen is a brand new opening anime theme song featuring our favorite heroes and villains from Z duking it out over an auto-tuned version of the classic Cha-La Head-Cha-La theme and then topped off with Super Saiyan God Goku fighting God of Destruction Beerus—emulating the film that just came out.
Now, this opening theme is a pretty apt set up for what you can expect out of the game as it really does try to pull at your nostalgia for the franchise while at the same time trying to be something new. It’s not hard to understand why such an approach is used, and while it may be somewhat lofty, ultimately the end result is a bit of a wash. The game really tries to charm the players with the classic music, the cel-shaded graphics emulating the show’s look, and having dialogue and acting from our cast. But ultimately, it really doesn’t manage to do much of this right.
While the graphics do look nice, the camera can become awkward. It really is trying its darndest to keep up with the shifting fast hits that send characters flying across the levelm but you’ll usually get a nice look at someone’s crotch or the ground, and not so much the characters in the game or the action going on around you. The camera is serviceable in most situations, but after these combos the player is just disoriented and trying to escape the CPU— who will no doubt pounce and spam as many cheap attacks as they can on you, which is frustrating. Even the targeting, while once again serviceable— isn’t great. Switching between targets especially had me slipping up a bit in the early segments of the game. It’s a nice enough world to look at, sure, but moving around in it and trying to fight in it can be bothersome.
Even the dialogue falls a little short of the mark. It’s always nice to hear the cast from a TV show or movie return to voice the video game, but honestly you can’t hear much of any of it. It all becomes white noise behind you, as the chaos in the battles unfolds. Multiple characters talk at once, or a character keeps talking to you while you’re trying to escape an enemy combo and can’t really focus on any of what they’re saying. It’s an audible mess of unfocused conversations that really don’t even matter much in the end anyways. The execution and mechanics constantly gets in the way of the nostalgia, and even worse, in the way of the gameplay.
This is the key problem with the game—while in theory it provides a decent set up for some DBZ action, with some competent gameplay ideas, and knows its own audience well, it falls short in execution. The fighting is a little choppy. The early levels can be won with simple button mashing while later levels suddenly step it up in difficulty and knowledge of gameplay is finally needed and stat. The camera, while it works, just isn’t good at its job. Obstacles get in the way, the quick action of combos gets you disorientated, and adjusting for flying doesn’t feel as natural as it should. The levels while being pretty just aren’t designed that well. Not only are there obstacles in the way of the camera, I usually found myself running around trying to catch up with enemies over actually doing something to them. This happened far more often then I would have liked. And control of the characters, especially the flying, never felt as natural as it should, making getting around even more awkward.
The game does offer a Co-Op mode as well as battle modes, which include normal battles, score attack, a battle royal, and a capture the bag like “Dragon Ball Grab” mode. Co-Op can be fun when you get a match going and it is much nicer to have a team of real life people over CPU teammates, but the battle modes are merely distractions at best. The real meat of multiplayer is no doubt enjoying Co-Op missions with a friend. The worst part of these other modes, though, is that the game requires online play, so you can’t play the game with a buddy at home. That’s just such a missed opportunity and a darn shame in a game that touts team play.
In one word, Battle of the Z is ambitious. It has a decent set of ideas and concepts but falls short and delivering those concepts, and then wraps itself up in a nice bow of good presentation values and nostalgia. It can be a fun game to play at times, but it is just not that good. The shortcomings really outshone the concepts for most of my play through, and the learning curve initially takes some time. Even to hardcore DBZ enthusiasts, I would be wary recommending this game at full retail price. While the Dragon Ball Z franchise has always seen a fluctuating quality in its games, there are still far better ones out there then this. It is an honest effort, and by no means bad or unplayable, but it still never quite lives up to its own ambitions. If you’re still interested, I would really suggest waiting for a sale or price drop first.
Food for thought:
1. The game offers dual audio with both the classic Japanese cast and an English voice cast. As far as I can tell, all the actors for the English dub are from Funimation’s dub of Dragon Ball Z Kai.
2. The opening anime theme is quite nice to watch with some real good animation, even if Cha-La Head-Cha-La is a bit auto-tuned.
3. Hilariously enough, Yamcha was the first teammate of mine to die in the game.
4. The game came included with a DLC code to redeem Super Saiyan Goku wearing Naruto’s Sage outfit.