Developer: Namco Bandai
Release Date: June 5, 2007
"Vegeta, what's his power lev—"
(sound of gunfire)
Now that that's out of the way, anyone who was here for copious jokes of that ilk can leave. Still here? Okay, then. Dragonball Z is a fairly well-known anime series about people who fight one another. There's a plot somewhere, but it takes a back seat to drawn-out fight scenes.
Dragonball Z: Harukanaru Densetsu for the NDS takes those fight scenes and reenacts them with cards.
No, I'm not joking.
Believe it or not, it actually works pretty well. In DBZ: HD, every action you can perform is card-based. If you want to move, play a card. If you want to hit an enemy, play an attack card. Everything in the game proceeds in that manner.
DBZ: HD is actually a far cry from other card-based games, though. For starters, the game is really a RPG because your character's stats tend to matter just as much as actual cards. After you win enough battles, you level up, and afterwards, you can assign a capsule (point) to increase a stat. Enemies are all of a certain level too, so you'll know when you're outmatched.
Another differentiating factor from a typical card game is the board. Every level is really a board game; the board has spaces, and depending on the attack power of the played card, you move a certain number of spaces. Visible enemies do the same, and when you and an enemy land on the same space, a battle ensues.
The gameplay sounds pretty basic so far, right? Well, this isn't a normal Dragonball game; it's so intricate that the first part of the game is just a big tutorial. It's not a playable tutorial, either, but is more like reading an instruction manual. Many gamers don't want to read for half an hour before playing the game, but you have to know how everything works in order to stand a chance against even the lowliest villain (Raditz, I'm looking at you). I don't really understand why the developers couldn't have created a tutorial level, so that gamers could've had fun while learning how to play.
Once you finish wading through the tutorial, you can finally get into the meat of the game. As with any good board game, everyone on the board takes turns. It doesn't really capture the speed or intensity of a Dragonball battle but opts to capture the plodding feeling of the filler-packed anime (I kid, I kid). At the beginning of each turn, you select a card, and based on the attack number of that card, your character will move that number of spaces.
After you're done moving, you'll encounter an enemy, which is the equivalent of random battles in this title. See, I told you it was an RPG! Anyway, before you fight, your card's defense number is matched with the attack number of your opponent's card, and the higher number wins. If you win, you avoid a fight, but if the enemy wins, you have to battle it.
The battle system is actually pretty neat. If you play your cards right (badum-pssh!), your opponent will never get a chance to attack you. At the start of the battle, both you and your opponent select a card. Unlike on the movement board, only the attack number of each card is matched up in battle. The owner of the higher numbered card gets to attack, while the other person is forced to defend. The defense number of the defending player's card comes into play here; basically, a card's attack stat decides the number of times a character hits another character. Therefore, it doesn't determine the damage done — the stats of the actual character do. The defense number of a card mitigates some of that damage by blocking a number of hits. Even if it blocks all of them, some damage will still get through.
Remember how I mentioned that there were eight types of cards? Well, only attack cards result in an attack if the attack number is higher. Other types have all kinds of effects; a couple of them increase the attack or defense number of all the cards in your hand, while another allows you to escape from battle. I'm only going to highlight one other type, however, because explaining all of them in-depth would take up this entire review. The card I wanted to highlight is the reverse card, which, when used outside of battle, will allow you to discard your hand and draw a new one. In battle is where it really shines, though. You play it like you would any other card, but when it matches against your opponent's card, the cards trade attack values. If your opponent keeps playing high-numbered cards, just pop down a reverse card and turn the battle around. It also forces you to play more strategically because you don't want your best attack getting turned right back at you.
The cards system isn't all smiles and giggles, however. It has one major flaw: Instead of creating your own deck, you have an infinite supply of random cards. While this certainly streamlines the experience, it also removes some strategy, and part of the fun of games like this is in customizing a deck.
Since DBZ: HD is card-based, it's probably not much to look at, right? You might be surprised; although the graphics themselves aren't anything to write home about, the overall look is very attractive. The menu screens (of which there are many) all have cool-looking fonts and bright colors, which lends to the Dragonball feel.
The game boards also share in that authenticity. If you're familiar with Dragonball, you'll recognize many of the levels and gleefully point out your favorite landmarks. The boards retain Akira Toriyama's colorful art style and immerse you in the world in ways other non-board games have trouble accomplishing. Unfortunately, the battle scenes are graphically flawed. When a character launches an attack, it's only a cut-out of that character firing a blast of some kind, and the character doesn't move at all. This leads to some awkward attacks, like a character shooting a beam from his elbow.
Sound-wise, DBZ: HD is serviceable. The music is nice for the first few minutes, but you'll quickly tune it out. Most of the story is told through text, text, and more text, so while there are a few voice clips, they're only used for things like battle cries. The attack sounds pack a suitable punch, as expected from a Dragonball game.
The story proceeds from the beginning of Dragonball Z all the way through the Cell Saga. Most of the scenes are taken straight out of the anime, although they sometimes have card references thrown in, which adds some comedy to the dialogue. For instance, "Learn to use your energy card, Gohan!" was a favorite of mine. There are four playable characters (Goku, Gohan, Piccolo, and Vegeta), and each has a fairly lengthy story mode. All in all, it's a pretty long game.
Dragonball Z: Harukanaru Densetsu is a completely different beast as far as Dragonball games go. Not only that, but it's also different when compared to licensed titles in general. DBZ: HD feels like the developers actually put some effort into its creation. It's fun, and — dare I say it — somewhat innovative. Hopefully, more developers will follow this example.
More articles about Dragon Ball Z: Harukanaru Densetsu