Dragon Ball Z game is released. Fans of the anime and the games inspired by it are an impassioned and vocal lot, likely to chew your ears off with complaints if you dare issue their dear game a bad score or make fun of their beloved franchise. However, this is one case where fans don't have to worry, as Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit is a fine fan service, even if won't draw many new fans to the series.
Burst Limit begins modestly enough, with only three characters to choose from and a very small number of special enhancements and attacks for those particular protagonists. In order to open up the roster and get everyone involved, you must play through the Z Chronicles, Burst Limit's single-player campaign spanning over three chapters. Those familiar with the show will likely enjoy reliving the Saiyan, Frieza and Cell Sagas, while those new to Dragon Ball Z will likely be scratching their heads and wondering what on earth everyone is so worked up over. Sadly, the game only conveys the story line in brief cut scenes before and after each fight, all of which are devoid of context or any real connection to the overall story arc. I still don't know if characters like Vegeta or Androids 17 & 18 are good guys or bad, and I'm at a loss about who the heck Broly is.
Those who know the story backward and forward are likely rolling their eyes and shaking their heads by now, but for those folks, the good news is that the Z Chronicles cater to your every whim. You will play through important story events as both good guys and bad, and after finishing the main story, there's a bit of revisionist history you can undertake if you're so inclined.
Playing through the Z Chronicles unlocks basically all of the game's content, giving you access to the full roster of characters (21 in all), as well as all the ultimate moves, stages, and "drama set pieces," which we'll discuss later. For those worried about having to waste a lot of time and deal with a good deal of frustration just to gain access to their favorite character, don't fret, as the game features six difficulty levels, and you can likely get through the whole arc of the saga on the easiest difficulty in around five hours.
Aside from the Z Chronicles, you have your traditional versus match, as well as a trial mode where you try to either defeat 100 enemies in a row without dying, rip through as many foes as quickly as possible, or earn style points for beating down opponents by using a wide variety of moves. There's also a great training mode for those new to the series or just rusty on the fighting system; it'll teach you just about everything you need to know with a string of simple lessons.
Speaking of combat, Burst Limit features a system that is both easy enough for newcomers to pick up and play, yet deep enough to satisfy more savvy players. While the face buttons control simple moves like light and strong attacks, blocks, and ki blasts, slightly more complex button combinations grant access to Ultimate Moves and Aura Spark (a new mode that temporarily amps up your power but drains your ki). While those who are new to Burst Limit can jump in with basic punches and kicks, those who take it more seriously will find that the system governing more complex things like Vanishing Maneuvers and Ultimate Hit Attacks to be intuitive and relatively simple.
Adding to the combat is the introduction of "drama set pieces," short cut scenes that trigger when certain battle conditions are met. These are normally deployed when your character is on the wrong end of a beating, though they sometimes emerge regardless of the situation, or even occasionally when you have your foe on the ropes. More than just a simple break from the fight, drama set pieces actually impart either a useful boost for the character they are attached to, or inflict a detriment on the enemy. Some pieces restore lost health or amp up attack power, while others drain your foe's ki or inflict a little damage. You can select up to three of these devices before any versus match (they are assigned automatically in the Z Chronicles), and purists can turn them off and ensure that the battles are straight-up fighting. Honestly though, there's little reason to go without them because they are all supremely balanced, and none is so powerful that you would call it out for being cheap. The drama set pieces add some spice to the fighting and manage to keep the experience fresh.
The only real complaint to lodge against the combat is that AI enemies can fall into predictable patterns and become fairly boring after a time. At the beginning of most fights you'll be able to unleash just about any attack you want until you knock your foe down to around half health. At this point, they'll start to turtle and block and dodge your attacks to an almost annoying degree. Trying to sneak inside and use a guard break usually gets you punched while charging up, whereas backing away means they'll go nuts with ki blasts and Kamehamehas until you manage to close in again. Ultimately though, once you learn how the CPU fights, you'll probably grow bored fairly quickly as you whip out the same formula of moves to win basically every fight.
Of course, if you're tired of playing against the computer you can always go online and look for a match, which will likely lead to mixed success. Matches against nearby players with a strong signal are buttery smooth, and a truly enjoyable experience. However, if you take on someone far, far away or with a weak signal, the lag is likely to get so bad that you can't finish the match. While the development team was excited to make the online play region-free (so you could take on show fans in Japan, for example), they might have been better off restricting it a bit so that everyone was ensured a better match.
One thing everyone will likely enjoy is the absolutely beautiful character models, who are rendered to near perfection to reflect their televised counterparts. Sadly, this attention to detail seems to come at the expense of the stages you fight on, nearly all of which are flat, drab and boring. Occasionally you get a fun, fresh arena to fight in, but those usually only last for one special match, and then it's right back to the grind. Also, the team seemed to reuse a lot of animations in the cut scenes, and you'll often see the exact same pattern of attacks, knockdowns, and evasions you've watched a dozen times before — only this time, with two new characters. So while the fighters themselves look absolutely amazing, the world around them isn't all that impressive.
The music and sound are also solid, with both the Japanese and English voice actors reprising their roles for the game. If you want the best experience, turn on the Japanese speech with English subtitles, the actors are much less annoying, plus that's the only way the lip sync matches properly. The soundtrack features the Dragon Ball Z theme song as well as other anime-inspired J Pop, so it really comes down to a matter of personal preference there.
With a great combat system, good-looking characters, and a ton of unlockables, Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit was poised to be the game that brought in new legions of Dragon Ball Z fans. Unfortunately, the lack of any explanation of the story — coupled with a few nitpicks here and there regarding online lag, boring stage design and predictable AI — means that this one isn't likely to find mass market appeal. However, fans of the television show or any of the Dragon Ball Z: Budokai titles will likely feel right at home here, picking up right where they left off. So calm down, Dragon Ball Z fans; I actually like this game, which is more than I can say for the TV show on which it's based.
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