Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi Review - 360° of movement is a power move for the franchise

    October 6, 2005 (Japan)
    October 18, 2005 (North America)
    October 21, 2005 (Europe)
Platform(s): PlayStation 2
Genre(s): Fighting
Developer(s): Spike

    Bandai (Japan/Europe)
    Atari (North America)
Player(s): 1-2


While the Budokai games were generally seen as clunky and stiff fighters by critics, that didn't stop them from selling like hotcakes. Actually... Budokai 3 was a different story- not only was it a good Dragon Ball Z game but it was simply a quality game regardless of it's license. The fact Dimps actually went and addressed the issues people had with the games shows they really do care for the fans, and when Budokai Tenkaichi was first announced... you bet your ass fans were hyped. However despite carrying the 'Budokai' name there is next to no relation between this game and Dimps' highly popular game series... in fact they aren't even by the same developers. But more important... does it hold up? Let's find out.


Let me reiterate Budokai Tenkachi is NOT the beginner-friendly traditional 3D fighting game like Budokai. In fact I don't think there's any fighting game that plays quite like this one. First thing about this game is instead of dedicate it's camera to the side of the characters it has more of an "over-the-shoulder" camera angle and as the title of this review indicates this game boasts of allowing players to have 360° control over movement across the battlefield making it a more authentic combat system to the show than previous attempts. One complaint off the bat I have with the camera is that it's too close up to your character's back which isn't so bad when you're actually fighting (since it's designed with that angle in mind), but when you're not directly facing your opponent especially if you're in a corner, your whole perspective is fucked up and you can't do anything about it. Another thing about this unique system is that you can use the huge environments to your advantage either it be hiding behind mountains, slamming your opponents through or into obstacles, or destroying parts of them entirely.

Now for the controls... well one button does basic melee attacks, one button does ki blasts, one button is for guarding, and another for dashing. The right shoulder buttons allow you to jump/ascend into and descend from the air while the left shoulder buttons allow you to lock-on into your opponent (which only works if their within eyesight minus a few exceptions) and to build up ki. For more advance moves is where things become real tricky. You can teleport like you can in Budokai 3 (only it's not a counter and requires no special gauge consumption) but the timing is extremely strict as you have to tap the guard button just before the attack lands and it only works against specific attacks... you can also escape grabs by tapping the guard button at the right time. Speaking of grabs.. they are done by pressing forward and the dash button at the same time but only if you're close to your opponent. The melee attack button can be held to do a smash attack and the longer you charge it the stronger the smash attack is but how long it can be charged depends on how many hits you land (good luck with that). You also have a stun hit move (which has to be pressed at the right time or it's easily blockable even if you already hit your opponent with a basic melee attack) by pressing the dash button, a kiai (which breaks guard on impact) by pressing the ki blast button, and a counter by pressing the guard button as combo chains. There's also a more powerful dash move which makes you dash at greater speed (at the cost of some ki) by pressing the building ki button and the dash, jump/ascend, or descend buttons at the same time but you can't steer your dash once you start it so it's better to just avoid it. You can still do special moves by pressing the building ki button and guard button at the same time for ones that boost states and are more defensive called Favorite Techniques or pressing the building ki button and ki blast button at the same time for ones that more offensive called Finishing Moves... but you can no longer transform while in-game as transformations themselves are treated as different with their own movesets instead of mere power-ups like in Budokai. There are two of each super move type for every character. Ultimate moves are done by pressing the building ki button, the ki blast button, and down at the same time while in Max Power mode (which makes your other moves stronger and even allows you to do an unblockable smash attack) called Super Finishing Moves only the ultimate moves in this game aren't necessarily sequence-based like in Budokai.

This game does sound quite like a handful and to be frank, I had never felt so overwhelmed by the controls of a fighting game before this one but once you do get the hang of the mechanics... there really isn't much to the game beyond that. Every character in this game plays pretty much the same aside from their special moves (and even those are shared plentifully throughout the roster). Sure their playstyles may differ and their attributes may vary like some characters aren't as easy to knock down as others (or in the case of Hercule, you can't knock anyone down easily not even himself... well shit), but you won't find yourself switching between characters with much trouble and there really isn't a whole lot of variety offensively or defensively to keep things interesting for long. You just wind up using the same moves over and over again hoping they land. The computer even realizes this and tries to win battles by being a cheap bastard in the higher difficulty settings.

It may seem like I'm hating on the game but hear me out the game can be quite fun with it's authentic and fast-paced combat. It's just after how good Budokai 3 was, you'd expect a little more polish with this game especially when it prides itself as being the "Ultimate Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball GT Fighting Game".


The staple game modes Dueling, World Tournament, and Practice have made a return but there's yet another single-player campaign introduced for this game called Z Battle Gates where you play through various key battles from each saga of Dragon Ball Z and some of Dragon Ball GT plus a few alternate storylines and a couple Dragon Ball Z movies. Each battle varies in terms of objective either having you simply win the battle, defeat the opponent under a time limit, survive till time runs out, or defeat the opponent with a specific (Super) Finishing Move. Generally you're required to clear battles in linear order but completing a whole saga with the extra battles is all up to you. These battles mostly provide a reasonable challenge but some are ridiculously hard for the wrong reasons like the one in the Saiyan Saga where you have to defeat Nappa using the Ki Blast Cannon Finishing Move with Tien and since Tien is supposed to drop like a fly in the actual fight your attacks do barely any damage to Nappa while he can take a HUGE chunk of your health with just regular physical attacks. Another thing is the dragonballs.. since there's no RPG exploration aspect like Budokai 2 or 3 they are achieved through battle and I'm sure some game designers' laughing their asses off when they decided you have to collect them by finding one ball per match as it's hidden within stages... WHILE IN THE MIDDLE OF A GODDAMN BATTLEFIELD!!!

Another game mode Budokai Tenkaichi introduces is Ultimate Battle where you choose a character (both normal or customized) to engage in two courses: Super Warrior 100 Ranking or Warrior Training.  Super Warrior 100 Ranking is a 100-man challenge fighting characters from weakest to strongest which earns you one point after winning a battle plus extra for either getting a perfect, a near-death win, and/or winning with a Super Finishing Move with a chance of earning five points from defeating a sudden intruder, but if you lose two points would be subtracted and losing all points would get you booted from the course (if losing all points is even possible). Warrior Training is a survival challenge course that earns you points depending on how many wins you get and you don't lose any points for losing so you can participate anytime. It's no Dragon Arena but it works well for what it is.

The Dueling and World Tournament modes are largely unchanged from the Budokai games. Dueling is the standard versus mode that either allows you fight against the computer, the second player, or watch the computer fight itself. World Tournament is where you select a character and compete against other characters to put your skills to the test where elimination is either determined by K.O.! or by ring-out (which is very easy in this game btw... much easier than Budokai). There are four classes in total (Notive, Adept, Advanced, Cell Games) and each class is harder than the last with more contestants... the difference here is Adept, Advance, and then Cell Games are unlocked immediately after winning each the classes respectively. There's also no prize money earned if you win so there's not much point to World Tournament unless you just wanna mess around with your friends (up to seven of them).

The Practice modes has been changed and it's not for the better. The practice section has been stripped down to the point where the only setting option you have is to either have the computer do nothing or fight back and the tutorial isn't interactive like in Budokai, instead it's all text-based with a short demonstration clip which doesn't do much to engage newcomers to learn the ropes of the game's core mechanics.

With the Evolution Z mode, Budokai Tenkaichi introduces a brand new customization system called Z-items which functions similar to Budokai's Exciting Skill System (still a lame name) in terms of boosting stats, enhancing abilities, and crippling your opponents but unlike the E.S.S, Z-items doesn't allow you to customize your characters' special movesets to your liking (all moves are integral to the characters). The way Z-items are found is also completely different as instead of buying them from an Item Shop or finding them specific spots within certain modes, they are pretty much given pretty much entirely at random (kinda putting the RNG of the Skill Shop from the first Budokai in a totally new light) and each item is determined by one quantity anytime you earn it instead of being practically infinite like the E.S.S. The most notable difference is you can mix-and-match two Z-items to take a new item with a Z-item called Z-item Fusion (another lame name) including some characters aren't readily unlocked from playing through Z Battle Gates. Rather unnecessary if you ask me.

There is no extra game mode to be unlocked like in the Budokai games but you do unlock the Character Encyclopedia, which gives you a biography on all the characters including their voice actors/actresses (both in English and Japanese), after winning a battle in Z Battle Gates.


Budokai Tenkaichi uses a very similar cel-shaded style to Budokai 3 though the color scheme is more muted in comparison, but it's still quite a pretty game regardless. The character models along with the beams, power auras, particle effects etc. capture the look of their anime counterparts almost perfectly and the stages are highly detailed even though there's not a whole lot going on within them. The effects characters have on the stages are also really nice like when you power up on the ground with the dirt piling up and rocks are leveled or when characters are flying across the ocean with the speed skidding across the water... though getting knocked down doesn't damage the ground like Budokai 3. 

The animation isn't nearly as impressive as in the Budokai games especially since it runs at 30 fps instead of a silky smooth 60 fps but it works well enough on it's own... at least during gameplay. The animation is otherwise limited and often robotic which is especially noticeable during cutscenes. One thing I would give it is the basic fighting animation is completely unique between each character and really compliments their fighting styles from the actual series.


A couple voice clips are recycled straight from Budokai with the new voices are made courtesy of the new OkraTron 5000 sound production company founded by the voice actor of Vegeta in the FUNimation Dubs, Christopher Sabat, and it really shows. The new voice clips notably more quiet plus they downright goofs at times like some characters would mistakenly have their Japanese voices instead and speaking of Japanese... you can change the language to the original Japanese voices for fans who prefer the original dub for Dragon Ball.

The soundtrack for Budokai Tenkaichi is also made entirely of Kenji Yamamto's tracks for Budokai only here it's not really done to enhance the experience as so much as a cost-cutting alternative to getting the remixed tracks of the anime's soundtrack (which the Japanese version of the game has... lucky). It's all stock especially during gameplay which is randomized with some of the less memorable tracks.


The Z Battle Gates tells the story of Dragon Ball through in-game cutscenes like Budokai's Story Mode minus the episode prologues and next episode previews, but the storytelling is just plain lazy. Sure you can look up basic info for the characters in the Character Encyclopedia mode but that only serves to hinder the (poorly-told) story rather than help explain it. Aside from that the aesthetics for this game is spot on.

A ton of moves from the series are recreated in this game including the iconic Kamehameha Wave and they're represent very nicely even if they look plain in comparison to Budokai 3. The menu screen also continue to get better and better with the anime/manga-inspired layout... the only complaint I do have is the character select has all the characters lined up in a single, narrow row with no fixed order which isn't really a big deal but it sure is annoying considering the game has like 60 or so characters and there's no way to shortcut this. They at least fixed the loading time while adding a new fun and interactive loading screen where Gotenks makes his Kamikaze Ghosts before they explode.


What can be said about Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi? Well... it's a nice little experiment but that's pretty much all I can say. It was fun while it lasted even though all it really left me wanting is a sequel (something I was surprised was even being made at all) that improved the formula.

Overall, this game gets a 6.2 out of 10. 

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