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Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden

Platform(s): New Nintendo 3DS XL, Nintendo 3DS
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: Arc System Works
Release Date: Oct. 20, 2015

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


3DS Review - 'Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden'

by Brian Dumlao on Nov. 24, 2015 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden brings high energy 1-on-1 2D fighting action to the 3DS.

When the 3DS first launched, it seemed like the handheld would be well supported by fighting games. The first year alone saw Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition as a day one launch title with Dead or Alive: Dimensions following a few months later. Even a niche fighter like Blazblue Continuum Shift II showed up. After that, however, the genre was all but abandoned. Save for Nintendo's own Super Smash Bros. for 3DS, handheld fighting fans have relied on the Vita, which saw a decent stream of fighting games both big and small come in at a good pace. Bandai Namco games enlisted Arc System Works to end the long drought with Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden.

While the games picked up in popularity in North America with the 3D Budokai series and beyond, Japanese fans remember the series' 2-D roots with the Butoden entries on the Super Famicom, and that's where this game gets its inspiration. The mechanics revolve around separate buttons for weak and strong attacks, with another dedicated for unleashing Ki-powered attacks. There's a modifier button to augment the attack buttons, a charge button powers up your special meter, and a dodge lets you dash through opponents or teleport behind them for a counterattack.

Following in the tradition of most anime fighting games, the controls make things seem simple, but there's a bit of depth to it. The characters have different basic moves and combos, and even their Ki attacks are different from one another. Throw in the modifier button and some pretty simply combos, and you've got something that rides that border between deep fighting game and simple button-masher, a technique that has served the console versions of the game pretty well so far.

That is as deep as Extreme Butoden goes, though. It doesn't take long to discover that there aren't more moves to perform with directional movements combined with button presses — a staple in fighting games for over two decades now. You'll also discover that everyone has the same combos and same ways to initiate them, since everyone shares the same button sequences. In essence, once you know how to play as one fighter, you pretty much know how to play as everyone. With nothing left to discover by changing to another player, boredom can set in quickly.

The game states that it features over 100 characters spanning the whole Dragon Ball Z universe, from the first story arc all the way to the recent movies. What it doesn't tell you, though, is that only a quarter of those characters are playable fighters. Even worse is the fact that there are repeats of the same character with slight tweaks to them. You'll see plenty of variations of Gohan, Goku and Vegeta, but they take up space that could be easily used for other characters of importance, like Android #17 and Hercule.

Those characters, along with a large majority of the cast, are relegated to being support characters. Much like those in the original Marvel vs. Capcom, you can call them out to unleash a special attack against your opponent. Some are pretty good, like Yamcha delivering a flying punch across the screen, but others are detrimental to both parties, like Chi Chi using a large screaming speech bubble to obscure the screen for a few seconds. At the very least, this provides a chance for obscure characters to show up.

The fighting mechanics may be standard and a little disappointing, but the setup is interesting. Though you need to have at least one fighter in your party, you can set up bouts to be any combination of up to three-versus-three. No one will stop you from having completely uneven teams of one-versus-three. In case you don't fill in those slots with fighters, you can have up to four support characters. Should you choose to have more than one fighter, you'll have standard Capcom vs.-style tag mechanics, so players can be tagged in and out of a match at any time. Interestingly, the game also takes a page from the original Capcom vs. SNK in that your support characters and fighters have numerical rankings, and you have a cap about who can be on your team, so you don't go in with a squad of high-level characters.

The game comes equipped with four single-player modes, and outside of the versus mode against the CPU, you'll need to play through Z Story to unlock the rest. You'll go through the major story arcs of the series, from the opening arc with Raditz all the way to the Majin Buu arc. It is only comprised of 10 missions, but finishing that opens up other modes and different perspectives from other major fighters.

What makes the mode suffer is how these exciting story arcs are told. Players expect the visual novel style, but they won't expect it to gloss over major plot points. Major deaths are mentioned in passing, and the scenes lack the drama and emotion of the anime and manga. The alternate takes are no better, as they provide no new insight to each of the fights, choosing instead to rehash things told several times before. What you're getting here is worse than a Cliff's Notes version of the whole series.

Adventure mode is the first mode you unlock, and it comes with a story that is both new and familiar to those who dabbled in Dragon Ball Xenoverse earlier this year. Using the power of minus energy, Omega Shenron has been able to fuse both past and future together. The result is that all of the villains that have previously been defeated are back, and all of them want to kill Goku for offing them first. To fix this, Goku needs to find all of the Ultimate Dragon Balls, enlisting his friends along the way to help.

While the level of storytelling here matches that of Z Story and is, by proxy, skippable, there is some motivation to fight well. Each bout you participate in is given a rank, and each stage in the trek gives you a number of rewards depending on your performance. Most of the time, you'll get Zenni, which can be used in the game to buy items to give yourself an advantage in a fight. Get the best ranking, and you'll unlock a host of assist characters as well as a few playable fighters.

However, the grading process is frustrating because it isn't clear what is being graded. It's tough to determine whether damage taken, match speed, or flashiness in using different moves is a driving factor for your grade, since none of it is explained. Furthermore, the grading system seems to be inconsistent, as the same performance in a match can result in either an S rank or a B rank. The result is the player has to repeat matches until lucking their way into getting that reward.

Extreme World Tournament is the other mode you can unlock. You create a team of available fighters and assist characters, and you take on other teams to claim the championship. In a way, it's a glorified versus mode, but it has the advantage of setting up more than a few bouts before you have to return to a character selection screen.

These modes sound pretty decent for a fighting game fan going solo. The big issue, however, is that the AI for the CPU in every game mode is pretty terrible. Even on the highest setting, you can easily mow down the most powerful foes without breaking a sweat or using any technique. Without that level of challenge, all of these modes become boring very quickly, since you can button-mash your way through every mode.

As expected, if you're only playing the game for the multiplayer, it'll have to be local offline play only. Considering how few of the 3DS games support online play in the first place and how third-party games practically avoid the option altogether, this is commonplace. However, the developers promised a patch to add online play, though they never proposed a timeline. If it comes to fruition and if there is a decent population of players still around when this happens, Extreme Butoden might be more appealing.

Graphically, you expect more from Arc System Works, considering their pedigree. The animations aren't smooth, so the game looks like it was upgraded from the 16-bit era. There are also bouts of slowdown that are pretty rampant, especially when you call on your support characters in the middle of a fight. On the bright side, the characters look great in 2-D, and some (like Nappa) look especially intimidating due to their large size. Also, your character's idle animation changes depending on their health level, so there are visual cues of their decline instead of seeing a healthy fighter suddenly collapse.

The audio wavers wildly from decent to terrible. The music borrows elements of the series well enough, and heavy guitar riffs are present throughout, making sure that you know this came from the house that Guilty Gear built. This is evident in the versus screen, which has the same opening riff as the developer's flagship series. The voices are restricted to Japanese only, which may be fine to some fans, but those who grew up with the English voice cast will be disappointed to not have the option. The voice samples have been horribly compressed throughout the title, to the point where they sound unintelligible at times. The system has certainly demonstrated that it can handle dialogue, so it's disheartening to hear this.

As a whole, Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Budokai is just kind of there. If you can get past a few presentation issues, it looks fine, and the simple fighting system is fun enough for those who aren't seeking an advanced game. However, the stories seem haphazardly put together, and the fighting system lacks any depth. More importantly, the game lacks challenge, and with no online multiplayer in place, that is a huge problem. As it stands, the game does nothing to support the idea that fighting games belong on the 3DS, and genre fans are better served hoping that someone down the line gets it right.

Score: 5.0/10

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