Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z Xbox 360 Review

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Video games based on Dragon Ball have been coming out for nearly as long as the original showing of the anime way back in 1986 in its home country of Japan.  Various development teams have crafted different genres for the franchise, from the popular fighting games to lesser known RPGs and platform beat ‘em ups. If you’ve played any of the recent Dragon Ball Z titles based on the Budokai or the Budokai Tenkaichi engines, then you’ll know that Dimps and Spike are the two development teams that have crafted some of the best fighters in the franchise. For whatever reason, these two have been giving a rest and Artdink (who just happen to be founded the same year Dragon Ball started airing on Japanese televisions) has taken over the reins for the release of Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z – a rather different approach to the typical versus fighting that fans might have come to love about the franchise.

On first boot up of Battle of Z, you’re met with a basic menu that has “Options” and “Single Player” unlocked. Single player is where you will find the game’s main story mode. It’s not really a story mode as such, but more a list of missions that you need to complete that are based on the various Dragon Ball Z story arcs, such as starting in the Saiyan Saga and beating down Saibamen and Raditz, to taking part in the recent Dragon Ball Z movie, Battle of Gods. There are also special battles that have the player taking part from the opposite prospective, such as having Vegeta beating down on Goku and PiccoloLike I mentioned, this isn’t a single player mode in which cutscenes or animations are shown to display parts of the story that fans have seen plenty of times before. It’s often a quick scene before the mission begins, so people expecting an in-depth tale of their favourite Saiyan adventures won’t be finding it here. This game is more focused on getting straight into the gameplay.

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This is where the biggest changes appear for the franchise, as Battle of Z is not a typical one vs. one fighter, but a group-based fighter that can feature up to four vs. four on many of the game’s large, but sparse, 3D arena battlefields. The wide open space of the levels allows for plenty of freedom to run or fly around. It’s similar to Budokai Tenkaichi, with even the camera zooming in and out as it hangs behind your fighter to give a better view of the action. Although the camera does have a mind of its own and can obstruct the view when using the game’s target lock-on. After the quick tutorials, you’ll soon see three computer controlled A.I heroes (or villains) fight by your side, changing the game into something that hasn’t been seen before in a Dragon Ball Z title. These AI buddies can be controlled with four basic commands – all-out attack, defend, support and free-for-all. It was a little awkward at first, as I felt that I wanted to be able to switch between each character, which sadly you cannot do, but after a while it became clear that each AI characters you bring to the fight is based on a class, with each of the game’s 60+ heroes fitting into a specific role on the battlefield.

Powered-up forms, such as any of the Super Saiyans, Goku’s Saiyan God form or Frieza’s various builds, are all classed as separate entities, meaning that you cannot transform into more powerful states during battles. Fans might have an issue with this, and I did find it disappointing that I couldn’t get excited at the prospect of Goku going Super Saiyan during a bout in a style of badassery, but on the flipside, it does mean I can have an army of Super Saiyan Gokus.

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Before getting more in-depth with the battle system, I should talk about what the fighting system is actually like. On paper, the game sounds awesome, and in practice it should be a great game, but some design changes to the battle system’s depth mean that the combat has become extremely simplistic, to the point that the game can become tiresome after long stints. The complexity of the Budokai and Budokai Tenkaichi is completely gone. There is only one button for physical attacks (Y), which produces a basic combo. Each characters’ basic attack is different, but you won’t be able to change their combo, so you’re always dealing out the same few hits time and time again. The game is heavily focused on having the player attack with their one combo to build up enough metre to fire up a damaging super move, which can be activated twice in a fight, once at the halfway point of the metre bar and once at full.

Even though there are options to do more than just combo with Y button, it doesn’t help to fend of Battle of Z’s issue with overly simplistic combat.  You can fire beams with the range button, dash into enemies and even do the trademark teleporting punch from behind the enemy as they are sent speeding across the battlefield from your last impactful punch, which is actually kind of great when you see the AI join in to follow up with their own dash attack. Character specific special moves can be activated with each of the trigger buttons, which range from healing abilities to charging up Ki to launching big beams at the enemy. These special powers are where the class aspect of the game’s characters comes into play, so it’s best to have three sidekicks that cover each area, offering the player a wide range of support options from the cast.

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But even with those mechanics in place, you still end up just bashing buttons a lot. The game is fun, and it does capture the madness that Dragon Ball Z has with the over the top battles, but it’s a real shame that there isn’t more depth or weight behind it’s main concept. I see potential in Battle of Z, and I would love to see it turn into a more action-focused take on gameplay featured in such games as Monster Hunter. Sadly, the game isn’t that, but a sequel could easily go deeper and flesh out what has been created and started with this new title.

Successfully winning fights rewards with cards and special points. The cards are used by linking them to your chosen character, often buffing the stat they are associated with and in turn raising the character’s power level. There’s no way of knowing what card you’ll receive, making it similar to buying a packet of trading cards, but since there’s so many characters, having a few copies of the same card isn’t as bad as it normally would be. Points are used to buy specific cards or items from the store, with even a special store selling rare cards that change on a weekly basis. You’ll need to put in a lot of time if you want to keep buying each of these rare cards that pop up every week.

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As a game that focuses on team play with AI partners, it’s great to know that the developers put in a cooperative mode, which allows four people to play missions together online in the Shin Battle Mode. Sadly, local versus and cooperative play is none existent, which is a total shame, as it would be a great game to play on the sofa with a friend. Versus takes the player count higher, with special modes that pit two teams of four against each other. A fun event is the dragon ball hunt, where the teams have to collect the seven dragon balls that are scattered around the level, while also being able to steal them from the opposite team. The free-for-all is a bit more frustrating, due to its hectic nature, but playing the team games and having the right members filling the specific roles can be a lot of fun.

Namco Bandai (or is that Bandai Namco now?) has never done wrong when it comes to the presentation and sound for their Dragon Ball Z games. Battle of Z once again uses a cel-shaded style to capture the essence of the TV show and that anime appearance that a lot of manga/anime games have crafted over this generation. It looks great, but it’s starting to show similarity with past games, which I would guess is due to hitting the technology barrier. The soundtrack is enjoyable to listen to, but you won’t remember much from it apart from the more modern rock take on Cha-La Head-Cha-La. Voice acting is virtually the original cast from the Kai version of the show and the voice actors from the previous games, so fans will already have an idea on the quality of voice acting – good, but not amazing.

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I had a fun time with Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z, but it’s not a title that stands out, nor is it as well designed as some of the past recent Dragon Ball Z titles (not including the atrocious Kinect game). It’s nice that Namco Bandai has opted to get a company to do a twist on the standard fighting action, and fans will no doubt enjoy what’s on offer here, but with a lot of depth ripped out of the game, it becomes a title that’s has the creativity, but is nothing more than a bundle of shallow fun. The concept is still in its infant stage, so I hope Artdink gets the chance to build on it with a sequel to turn this arena-based fighter into a deeper and better action game.

6/10

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Version tested: Xbox 360

Also available on: PS3, Vita

Developer: Artdink

Publisher: Namco Bandai

Genre: Fighting