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PlayStation 2 Review - 'Dragon Ball Z Budokai'

by The Six Billion Dollar Man on Dec. 30, 2002 @ 7:49 a.m. PST

Dragon Ball Z Budokai is an authentic and deep 3D fighting game set in the spectacular world of DBZ and filled with the fiercest fighters the universe has ever known. Test your skills against the most powerful Dragon Ball Z heroes and the most sinister villains. Every battle is more intense, more dangerous, and more epic than the one before. Will you be the last warrior standing?

Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Infogrames
Developer: Bandai Interactive
Release Date: 04-Dec-2002

I was a bit apprehensive about buying Dragon Ball Z: Budokai because of the memories of its predecessor, Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout, which, as you know, was hailed as one of the WORST GAMES EVER! Memories of the crappy controls and fighting system were flashing through my mind. Since I believe that lighting never strikes twice in the same place, I had to give DBZ Budokai a try because Goku is probably the most respectable role model ever. With that said, let’s power up and go Super Sayian!

Upon booting, you are greeted with an excellent intro which blasts the American version of the Dragon Ball Z theme. The opening holds true to the series, and just to see the eternal dragon break through the clouds, I began exorcising those DB:GT memories from my mind. At the main menu screen, your selections are: story mode, duel, world tournament, practice, edit skills, and options.

DBZ: Budokai takes you through the Sayian Saga all the way up to the Cell Games saga, which left me wondering why they didn’t take it all the way to the end of the DBZ series with the Kid Buu saga, but I am more than happy to settle for the Cell Games. Wanting to save some of the surprise, I immediately jumped into story mode, which plays quite like the series. To sum it up, it takes you through all the major parts of the sagas, which I found to be excellent because, as any DBZ fan would know, many of the episodes are loaded with dialogue and multiple scenes where the Z fighters would just stand there screaming things like “Aaahhh … Uggggh … Haaaaa … Aaoooooowwww” at the top of their lungs. The story mode was extremely well done, and once you beat it the first time around, you can go back and play different parts that you have now unlocked, which show the story from different points of view. Some parts are only available on a certain difficulty setting, but the developers weren’t so cruel as to make you replay the whole story in order to see these exclusive scenes. Budokai has a menu that shows you which chapters you have played and which ones you haven’t. Sadly, the story mode ends just like the cell games: Goku chooses to stay in other world.

Next up is the duel mode, which is a quick one-round battle to see who is the best and how many combos one can pull off. It is the focal point of every fighting game, and rightly so. My best mate and I grabbed our recliners and fought it out over every terrain the game has to offer. At first there weren’t many available characters because you have to unlock more characters as you proceed from saga to saga, as well as completing those extra missions after the story mode has been beaten. The maps in Budokai are from all of your favorite DBZ places: the hyperbolic time chamber, planet Namek, the world tournament arena, and every location that was present in sagas.

After that, we have the world tournament, where you select your character and compete to become the champion of the tournament. There are three different difficulty settings for world tournament: novice, adept, and advanced. You have to complete each difficulty level to unlock the next. As you continue to win the championship you are rewarded with items as well as “zene” (money in the Dragon Ball universe), which you can use to pump up you character or to buy new skills at Mr. Popo’s skill shop. The world tournament mode is a welcome addition to Budokai.

The final fighting mode is practice, which is pretty much self-explanatory. Basically you just wale on your opponent till you master your moves and perfect your fight style. It is also is a great tool for setting up your custom characters and fine-tuning them to be the ultimate warrior. The practice mode is also a great stress reliever for when you are disgruntled and want to kick someone’s butt.

As far as game play goes, Budokai has captured the very essence of Dragon Ball Z. The controls are extremely responsive, and all of your favorite moves are there. I just love how you can beat down your opponent and then end it with one of your character’s signature finishing moves. My current favorites are Vegeta's Final Flash and Goku/Gohan’s Kamehameha. InfoGrames even added the extremely fast punching/kicking combos that you can use in every match as much as you like. One cool feature in Budokai is the ability to custom-build your own character. As you work your way through story mode, world tournament, and your purchases at Mr. Popo’s shop, you acquire capsules that give you skills or items. Once you have acquired these skills, you can then go to your “Edit Skill” menu and start placing in your skills and mixing and matching skills from other fighters. However, there are certain skills that only a specific fighter can use. For example, Super Sayian 2 can only be used by kid Gohan or teen Gohan, so don’t think you can equip Final Flash with Goku.

Every character’s movements have been recreated for you in their entire splendor. With a host of 60 combos for EACH fighter, you will have plenty of moves to add to your arsenal. Every power-up set forth in each saga, every transformation, and all of your special moves are there and accounted for so you truly feel like you are playing the TV series. There are, however, some down sides. Many of the characters from each saga have been left out. Insignificant people that appear for an episode are not there, much of the story has been cut out, and some monologues, like Vegeta’s when Freiza killed him, were condensed. Also, you cannot fly, which was a kick in the stomach for me because I couldn’t wait to zoom up into the air and wage our battle off of the ground. Infogrames did implement flying to some degree, but you have to be knocked into the air before being able to fight in the air.

The layout of the maps is pretty straight forward. As far as map size is concerned, there are breakable limits. When you work your way to the edge of the map, you hit a barrier, which you can’t move past, but if you punch hard enough, you can fly through it. Usually, the game shows you punching through a mountain or wall, reminiscent of the show. There is a lack of maps, but the game’s scenery is so similar to the shows so the map thing is forgivable.

The AI in Budokai is the toughest I have ever experienced in ANY game. Even on the “Easy” difficulty setting, you run the risk of having your ass handed to you by the higher-level bosses. Since I haven't been able to defeat the game on its medium setting, I’m not looking forward to the maximum difficulty setting! Also, the AI has mastered all of the combos and has done it so well that they can chain-combo you like crazy. The AI in world tournament mode is where you truly see how tough it is. In the world tournament, there is a rule that states if you are knocked out of the ring, you are disqualified. The AI knows this and will use any chance it gets. I have literally beaten the stuffing out of my opponent, brought him down to a little bit of health, and he would land a lucky flip-kick and knock me out of the ring and win. That enraged me on many occasions and has caused many attacks on the TV screen or slamming down of the controller. However, it is understandable and offers me a challenge, and I like challenges.

The controls in Budokai are very responsive and simple to master; the tricky part is mastering the combos themselves. Budokai boasts 60 or more combos per person, but it doesn’t tell you how difficult some of these combos are to pull off. Looking at the controls, your directional pad is, of course, used for your direction and is also used in some combos. Circle, X, square, and triangle represent your punch, kicks, energy blasts, and blocks. Both analogs sticks can also be used for direction but are mostly used in the super fast fight modes during game play. The top L and R buttons are generally not utilized, but L1 is used for your hard kick/punch. Many of the combos require you to use different combinations of the buttons as well as some simultaneous directional and button combinations.

DBZ: Budokai’s graphic engine is killer and yields top-notch graphics. Every detail from the show is there; maps are exact replicas of the shows, and the player animations and powers are dead accurate. The player animations during fighting are extremely fluid and extremely well-rendered. You won’t see any of the classic clipping errors or deformed body segments when certain moves are executed. Dragon Ball Z isn’t a hard show to copy visually, but I commend Infogrames for paying attention to the little details.

With excellent sound and original voice acting, the audio in Budokai was icing on the cake. Many games made after a show or movie do not bother with the original voice actors or can’t get them, but Infogrames did, and I was jumping for joy when I heard them. Every character’s voice is there, even for the fighters that evolve, and all of the sound effects for each move and special moves are present. Most of the music in the game is an original soundtrack made for the game, but there are some tunes from the show but none of the vegeta bells or anything like that.

In conclusion, Budokai steps out of the shadows of its doomed ancestor and has established itself as one kick-butt fighting game. Despite the fact that AI has overkill tendencies, the lack of manual flight, shortened dialogue, missing storyline, and a few absent characters, Budokai offers some original ideas to the arcade fighting genre and is a must-own for DBZ fans. Also, if you just feel like something new, besides your boring, overdone Tekkens or Mortal Kombats, I suggest you pick it up.


Score : 8.5/10

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