Release Date: November 7, 2006
Last year, in my review of the original Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi, I'd declared that DBZ fighting perfection was almost at hand.
This year … well, if we're not there by now, I'm pretty sure this is as close as we're going to get.
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2 is developer Spike's second time out the gate, and from what can be seen here, it would appear that since they spent all of last year formulating and implementing an innovative fighting engine, they had all of this year to tweak it, refine it, enhance it, and then just toss in a whole lot of fixings because they thought it'd be cool.
Yes, "cool" would most definitely be the word.
Budokai Tenkaichi 2 is more or less a souped-up redo of last year's game. You get to play through the entire Dragon Ball Z saga, plus a glossing over of GT. Once you're done with that, or if you just get tired of it, there are plenty of modes for you to practice fighting, for either money, items, or the advancement of skills. Finally, you can pit yourself against a challenger in single, tag team, or multiple-tag (five on five!) modes. If you don't have a friend, you can practice against some brutal AI that fortunately is nowhere near as cheap in the first game.
Any good fighting game has a meaty and stable fighting engine to help it stand the test of time, and in this regard, Tenkaichi 2 does not disappoint. It plays like a distant cousin of Sega's Virtual On, involving two characters in an enclosed 3D arena. Characters can jump, dash, and fly at will, as well as launch specialized attacks. On top of this, throw in series-specific frills such as air combos, teleportation combos, teleportation-dodges, and a host of other special abilities that each of the game's 120+ characters can use in a fight.
For a DBZ fan, this sort of fighting is a dream come true. It perfectly captures the spirit and nature of a real DBZ fight scene, but is fully interactive, adding a level of immersion that few games achieve. For someone who isn't much into DBZ, it still makes for a fulfilling fighting experience. It's obviously not as deep or dedicated as something like Virtua Fighter — don't expect online dojos for this game to pop up any time soon. Still, people able to kick back and relax while beating the tar out of each other (see: Super Smash Bros.) will be able to have the same experience here.
Tenkaichi 2 uses Dragon Ball canon balance instead of standard fighting game balance (don't expect a Krillin player to hold his own against an equally skilled Gogeta player), but there's a bit of fun to be had in attempting to beat a stronger character with a canonically weaker one in a fight. It's even more fun this time around because the engine has been tweaked and enhanced, making it more conducive to competitive play.
Rush attacks, for example, are no longer the cheapness force they used to be — they don't travel full-screen anymore, and there's now a special blocking technique than can render them (and other super attacks) null and void. In-match transformations and fusions have been added for applicable characters (i.e. the Saiyans) to give you their full range of powers at the touch of two buttons. Finally, every single character has moves that fit their canon selves — no longer do a wide range of fighters share the same rush or beam super. Even individual speeds and melee combo strings have been taken into account. This means that there's a reason to try everybody. The controls seem daunting at first, but with time, they become second nature. Still, said controls are fully configurable in the options, so you can find a setup that works for you.
Along with the gameplay, the visuals have received an overhaul in Tenkaichi 2, though only in certain places. Character models look the same as before and are almost blocky, so it's easy to see where character proportions end and polygons begin. On the other hand, every other aspect of the game, from the size of the arenas, to the lighting, to the animations of the special attacks are now refined. It's a welcome trade-off, to say the least. All of these aspects combine to create a graphics engine that can perfectly recreate Dragon Ball Z anime scenes, and in the story mode, the game does exactly this.
The game sounds just as faithful to the series as it looks. It defaults to the American dub voices, but these can easily be switched to Japanese. The best news is that the music isn't recycled from Budokai 3 again; the original soundtrack is preserved. These pieces of background music encompass a broader range of styles than the last two games, which means there's something for everyone to be had here.
In all honestly, I can't find much negative to say about this title. The camera's been vastly improved, though it can spaz out if battles get too intense. Even when this happens, there are many manual camera control options to help players right their views. Also, if a fight is taking place near a corner (i.e. the wall, or the edge of a rock), attacks can whiff.
The story mode is more complicated than before, requiring special menu actions before a battle takes place. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it can temporarily confuse newcomers to the game. Finally, with all the tag-team action going on, I personally wish that Spike could have taken a cue from Arc's Supersonic Warriors 2, and come up with specialized team sequences for certain combinations of characters.
Even with these low-level complications, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2 is a well-done product with few flaws. It, in fact, accomplishes roughly 95% of what it set out to do, and with style besides. If you've ever liked Dragon Ball Z, even just as a kid growing up, then this game should automatically be added to your collection. If you like fighting games, this is a good one to pick up that deviates from the norm. With a huge single-player fighting experience and an engine that's tons of fun for duelists and spectators alike, everyone should at least give this title a shot.
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