It's amazing to see that an anime series as old as Dragon Ball is still as popular today as it was over 20 years ago. The adventures of Goku and his eternal search for the seven Dragon Balls seems to be timeless as more people become fans of the series just about every day. It's also amazing to see that video games based on the series are still being made today, specifically titles based on the Dragon Ball Z series. With no new material since the end of the Dragon Ball GT series, the amount of fighting games to come out of the original story line is staggering. Last year, the franchise moved on to the next generation of consoles with the release of Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit, and it proved to be good for fighting game fans and Dragon Ball Z fans. A year after the release of that game comes Dragon Ball: Raging Blast, a fighting title that may have a different developer and a different look but ultimately feels a bit too familiar.
The second Dragon Ball game for the Xbox 360 is presented in a completely different viewpoint from before. Instead of going for a 2-D viewpoint, the game is presented in a 3-D viewpoint. It's similar to the Budokai Tenkaichi series on the PlayStation 2 and Wii or Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm on PlayStation 3, where the camera is slightly to the left or right of your fighter, giving you an idea of the distance needed to reach your opponent. Like Budokai Tenkaichi, the game requires you to pay attention to altitude as well as distance because your fights can either be on the ground, in the air or underwater, with all parts of the environment being destructible. The result is something that more closely resembles the type of fighting found in the anime series.
The game features several different offline modes of gameplay. Super Battle mode has you going through the standard fighting game staples like Arcade, Survival and Time Attack modes as well as some similar challenges, like KO Attack (knock out as many people as possible in a given time limit with your invincibility on), Score Attack (score as many points as possible before death) and a few other locked away until the other modes are completed. Versus mode is another mode expected out of any fighting game, while World Tournament has you replicating the World Tournament found in the show with any combination of 16 human and CPU players. Ultimate Customize lets you customize any fighter with unlocked stat builders and new special moves that have been purchased with the money you've earned in all other modes. Finally, you have the Dojo, which acts as your practice area for learning the intricacies of your chosen fighter, and Museum, which lets you see background information on every character and important fights in which they're involved.
Dragon Battle Collection is the closest the game has to a story mode, and it allows the player to go through some of the series' major story arcs, including the Android, Bardock, Broly, Frieza, Majin Buu and Saiyan sagas. This time around, the game has a complete what-if story arc, where battles that never happened in the official series get to happen here. For example, players get to have a battle where the teenage Trunks goes up against his younger self or where Hercule's daughter becomes the student of Piccolo. It's an interesting set of scenarios, and while this is something that can easily be accomplished in the versus mode, it's nice to see that the developers decided to do this for the fans.
The Dragon Battle Collection mode exposes one big issue that the series has had in the past that is repeating itself here, and it is the issue of story content. The game covers the major story arcs in the series, but this material was already covered in the previous game, Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit. Worse yet, the title has the same problem that Burst Limit did, which is that it is very unfriendly to those not already familiar to the series story. There's barely anything outside of text boxes to get you familiar to the battles, and even then, some stories can be complicated enough that the text won't explain it all. The battles remain fun, but not as fun as they could have been if more background were included. The what-if scenarios are a good way to diversify the single-player story mode, but fans will feel that the scenarios for the rest of the modes are simply recycled over and over again.
The game's other issue has to do with the fighting system, which doesn't feel as organic as the one in Burst Limit. Most of the time, you want to build up your meter in order to get to the special moves as quickly as possible. It never feels like your normal moves or fireballs are doing much damage, and the character energy meters don't make you feel that you can get close to winning until you see their portrait start to blink red. With the focus on getting the big moves to appear, the fighting feels disconnected, and that's not the type of feeling you want in a fighting game.
Online multiplayer is where the game shines. Both regular versus mode and tournament mode are accessible online, and there's also a ranking system, where your wins and losses come together in a point system that determines your given rank and overall online letter grade. It's a well-designed system that keeps players playing for a long time, as evidenced by the number of matches encountered at the time of this writing and the opponents' various grades and titles. Finding a match was easy and quick, as it occurred within seconds of the search being initiated for both ranked and player matches. Lag was virtually nonexistent on medium quality connections, and poor ones had a minimal amount of lag at best. Surprisingly, no games were dropped, even though it's a common occurrence in some titles, including Namco Bandai's own Tekken 6. Overall, online Dragon Ball fans will be more than pleased with the performance of this title.
The graphics represent Raging Blast's high and low points. There are several high points: The fighters all look like polished versions of the anime characters, and while the cel-shading makes them more anime-like, it isn't heavy enough to produce the thick, heavy lines we're used to seeing from this graphical style. Little details, like folds in clothing and insignias, show that just an extra bit of care was taken with this aspect. Animations are done well when fights occur, and each move has smooth transitions from one action to the next. The quality in animation carries over when each fighter stands, still since you'll see antennae and hair move as naturally as one would expect. With fireballs flying all over the place, it's good to see that the particle effects are good enough to not feel overwhelming.
The bad aspect of the graphics, however, has to do with the camera. As long as you're fighting on one plane, the camera works fine. Go in front of a barrier, like a mountain or a wall, though, and things will go haywire. In these situations, the camera zooms in too close to your fighter, making it so that you can't see the moves you're performing but you can see the opponent taking hits or hitting you instead. Go above or below your opponent, and the camera will try to track your foe but provides no indication as to how far he is from your position. Considering that this is a full 3-D fighting game, many matches and moments of inactivity occur because you simply have no idea where the opponent is. The camera is bad enough that any enjoyment you may have with the fighting gets quickly erased because of the confusion, and this is definitely not an asset for any fighting game.
The sound isn't really all that different from Dragon Ball games of the past. The effects sound the same as before, with environmental damage being loud and deep and the fireballs come at just the right pitch to match the anime. Punches and kicks don't carry as much weight as they do in other fighting games, but that doesn't make them less meaningful. The music is exactly the kind of harmony you'd expect to hear from the show. Just about every environment comes with a generic rock medley that perfectly fits with the fight and subsequent cut scenes. The voices are the same ones that appear in the series, and everyone's delivery of their lines is how you'd expect it to be if you've watched the series before. This is the new crop of voice actors from the Cartoon Network airing, mind you, so it definitely fits better than what fans had to sit through for the syndicated showing. As expected from anime games nowadays, voices are both in English and Japanese, but there's no volume difference in either language — something that plagued Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo pretty badly.
At the end of the day, Dragon Ball: Raging Blast just isn't that good of a game. Despite the rich amount of content present, it doesn't seem to have the amount of polish and playability as Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit — or even some of the earlier entries. It certainly isn't the worst game for the franchise, but it shows that when it comes to the 3-D fighting space, the Budokai Tenkaichi series does it better. Unless you're a hardcore fan who can stand the flaws here or just crave fighting online, stick with Burst Limit to get your Dragon Ball fighting fix.
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