Genre: 3D Fighter
Release Date: October 2006
If Super DBZ is the "professional" of the two upcoming Dragon Ball Z games, then Budokai Tenkaichi 2 is the feel-good, super mainstream title. Building off of the best-selling DBZ title in history, the original Budokai Tenkaichi, BT2 introduces new characters, stages, and gameplay modes. The gameplay is still super-accessible 3D brawling, complete with multiple transformations for most characters, an expansive selection of characters, and enormous levels in which to battle.
BT2 is determined to outdo the previous title in every respect. The already-large BT levels have been roughly doubled in size, and more series-authentic details have been added. Environments are also destructible now, so you can smash up those famous towers of rock in the desert by throwing or pummeling your opponent into them. The 11 battlefields that appeared in the original game have all been enhanced with increased size and new destructible elements, and five completely new battlefields will debut in BT2. Some levels introduce underwater combat areas.
The popular story modes have returned, with entirely new plotlines that advance as you defeat increasingly powerful opponents. An entirely new gameplay mode called Action-Adventure Mode debuts, which lets characters explore a city area and trigger events by speaking to other characters. The events can be battles, mini-games, cut scenes, or simply dialogue sequences, and characters complete quests by triggering events. Also debuting is Customize Mode, where characters collect Z-items that can be used to customize characters. Passwords can then be traded online or with friends to let others play around with the custom builds you've created. In total, the game will feature nine different gameplay modes.
The fundamentals of the combat system are essentially identical to the original title, still emphasizing true 3-D combat that allows the player to move in any direction at any time and fling projectiles around with wild abandon. Players can chain attacks into each other to create chain combos or use the same special moves they have access to in the original DBZ story. Each character has five individual special attacks at any time, which will change as the character powers up into stronger forms. So, one major challenge of using characters with tons of alternative forms like Goku will be actually learning each of the 20 special moves you need to know to play the character well in all of his various forms. Characters that have the power can use the Instant Transmission technique by simply locking on to their opponent and pressing a button. Instant Transmissions work so quickly, in fact, that it's now completely practical to use them multiple times within the span of a single combo.
The biggest gameplay change comes in the form of the new real-time transformations, which replace the original BT system that required a player to select a character form before playing. Now, characters can transform any time when you press down on the R3 button. This cycles the character into their next most powerful form, which expands the moves available to them and alters their physical stats accordingly. Characters with multiple alternate forms in the DBZ series itself, like Vegeta, can cycle through them all until maximizing power. Since the transformations are real-time, though, you give your opponent a valuable window of time where they can attack, block, or begin setting up whatever other tactics they want to use against you.
The other major change to combat is the new camera system, designed to be more user-friendly. It moves automatically to make sure both combatants stay in the camera's field of view during heated melee exchanges, and otherwise hovers just behind your character's right shoulder while targeting your opponent. By using the right analog stick, you can make the camera switch shoulders, which is useful when using some larger characters. It's an unusual camera system but works very well at keeping battles smooth no matter kind of high-speed projectile-flinging is going on during the fight.
The enormous cast of over 100 playable characters draws from every corner of the DBZ, DBZ movie, DBGT universe, giving you access to everything from SSJ4 Goku to Broly. Even little-seen lesser lights like Slug and Android 13 show up, and are as fully playable as any, more prominent character. In order to spread transformations around to more characters, appropriate characters have been given the ability to transform into slow-moving giants with enormous reach and damage potential, but little speed. The demonstration showed us one such transformation in action with Slug becoming a monster easily twice the size of his opponent. While certainly still beatable, the psychological edge the Giant Slug player had in the combat couldn't be denied. Character transformations now take place in real time, so you can see characters' bodies change into more powerful forms in a style consistent with the anime's.
Visuals for BT2 are simply unbelievable, even in the wake of visually spectacular titles like Budokai 3 and the original BT. Characters move in 3-D, but they're all seamlessly cel-shaded to create a near-perfect 2-D look. Motions are crisp and smooth, and some special effects, like the real-time transformations, are jaw-droppingly authentic to the look of the original animations. Every character has equally seamless "damage models," their clothing growing tattered as they take progressively greater amounts of damage. Few 3-D games can match the pure emotional expression of 2-D animation well, oddly enough, but BT2 appears to have nailed the style to near-perfection. There are moments where you will forget that you're playing a game and not rotating your way through an Akira Toriyama drawing.
Coming so close on the heels of a game as well-loved as Budokai Tenkaichi, BT2 has to satisfy some very high hopes. If it can deliver the sheer mass of content it's promising while keeping gameplay to the very high standard during the hands-on demo, then it will be one of the greatest licensed games ever made. I'm sure that sounds like pointless hyperbole, but seriously, it's hard to play BT2 and even believe that a PS2 is managing graphics like that. In terms of licensed games, it takes the genre to a whole new level. Players can grab a piece of the action for themselves in August, and who knows? Maybe BT2 can unseat its predecessor in terms of sheer sales.
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