DragonBall Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 Review
Sure, we all know about Tekken, Virtua Fighter, Soul Calibur, and Dead or Alive, but one of the longest-running fighting franchises out there isn't quite as well known. It's Dragon Ball Z, which has numerous installments on the PS2 and other platforms and continually garners significant critical acclaim for being fast and entertaining. These games provide a slight twist to the straightforward genre, primarily because you have the option of doing battle in the air (remember, you're dealing with superhero-like characters), but that's not all. There's always a surprisingly deep combat system beneath all the Japan-imation and flash, and the franchise's final entry on the PS2, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3, might just be the deepest of the bunch. There are a few problems and it's not good enough to entice those who aren't big fans of Dragon Ball, but that's okay. Like all the other games, it still works. And works pretty well, too.
There's always a lot of vibrant color in these titles, and the cel-shading here is actually quite appealing. No, it doesn't stand up to some of the more impressive graphical presentations we've seen on the PS2 lately, but then again, it's not really supposed to. Namco Bandai's goal, as it is with every Dragon Ball, is to simply reproduce the cartoon as accurately as humanly possible, and they do an admirable job. Every fan will appreciate the effort, especially when it comes to character and battle effect detailing. The background environments are the biggest downfall of the visuals, as there isn't often anything but a fairly blank combat landscape (how can there be nothing but grass outside?). You will fight in different venues and arenas, though, so that adds a great deal to the graphical diversity. We've seen better examples of cel-shading palettes in the past few years, but again, your expectations shouldn't be too high for this category. If you're a fan, you know what to expect. If you're not, than this presentation may not appeal to you; it's not quite as refined or polished as you might like.
The sound, despite some repetitive soundtracks and a few annoying voiceovers, is also quite good. The effects are sharp and "impactful" enough to rattle your teeth during ultra-intense encounters; throughout every battle, regardless of gameplay mode, this sounds exactly like the television show. So that's a big plus. We have extreme difficulty liking the character voices, but we have to admit we're not big fans of the voices in the cartoon, either. The soundtrack that consists mostly of driving rock music emphasizes the dramatic, over-the-top fights, but it has a way of wearing on you when playing for extended periods of play time. And for whatever reason, Namco apparently wants to jam a lot of the same tracks down our throat if we stick with the same game mode. This isn't a major issue, but it's enough to annoy the heck out of you despite the fact the soundtrack - for the most part - augments your experience. But other than that, the quality, balance, and clarity are all solid for every aspect of the sound, and that means we end up with an appealing-sounding game.
The whole point of Dragon Ball is simple: fight! The only difference is, you won't be fighting on a standard 2D or even 3D plane; you'll be rising up into the air to do battle high above the earth. You can even shoot magical fireballs from your hands to supplement the hand-to-hand combat! However, despite having multiple gameplay modes, just about every mode comes down to a straight-up one-on-one battle. On the other hand, nobody is really going to complain too much about this, because the fighting is (of course) at the crux of the gameplay. The control is different than anything you might be used to as well, but it forces the player to fully understand the scheme; mashing on buttons over and over won't yield any results. This is arguably the best part of the game: its relatively unique style and fairly deep combat mechanic translates to an engaging learning experience. That's right, we said "learning." If you're familiar with previous DBZ entries, you'll have a leg up on the competition, but if you're coming straight from a Tekken tournament, you'll be very, very lost. Well, for at least a little while.
And we can't possibly ignore the size and scope of this one- there are no less than 10 different game modes, over 150 characters (that's right, 150), 20 battle stages (which we need due to that aforementioned lack of detail in a lot of them), and more than 10 types of "AI balancing" for your foes. Furthermore, for those of you who have already played either Budokai Tenkaichi or Budokai Tenkaichi 2, you will be able to take advantage of the all-new Disc Fusion System (exclusive to the PS2 version of this game). If you have game saves from either of the first two games in the series, you can access that data to unlock exclusive modes in Budokai Tenkaichi 3! A few other nifty additions includes the Battle Replay mode where players can both save and replay their best rounds, and a special mode called "Dragon History" that lets you relieve classic confrontations from the TV show. In other words, there's a whole lot of fanservice going on, here, and that's certainly not a bad thing. After all, Namco Bandai knows who will be buying this game, and they take full advantage by including features only the hardcore would truly appreciate. This works very well, although it still leaves basic fighting fans out in the cold.
Between free flight, range, and melee attacks, there's plenty to discover and utilize. Toss in that massive selection of characters, and you could spend a great deal of time with this one. Even so, it's sometimes too difficult to understand exactly what works and what doesn't, the opponent AI is almost too stiff (especially for kids), and we still spend far too much time doing the same old thing. Yeah, we know it's a fighting game, but with all those new modes, we had expected a little something more. On top of which, with obviously bland landscapes and a significant lack of balance, the game tends to drag horribly after playing for a few hours. Again, we understand the point of targeting a very specific target audience, but it's almost as if the developers went out of their way to eliminate everyone but die-hard Dragon Ball Z fans. The worst part is, this game has enough going for it at its core to make it enjoyable to fighting aficionados...but there's too much in-your-face DBZ stuff to ignore. It's one hell of a huge series, especially in Japan, but it simply won't prove interesting to most American gamers. Don't worry, though; we love a lot of games the Japanese despise, so it's a two-way street.
The controls are responsive and they never let the experienced fighter down. However, for some reason, they seemed to lag a bit when we were getting pummeled by a furious combo, but that could've been due to early inexperience. Once you get your head around to the somewhat original fighting style, you can really delve into the meat Ďn potatoes of the system, which appropriately rewards the diligent player. Beyond this, there really isn't too much to say. Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 is quite the mouthful, but it's a worthy addition to the franchise, and most importantly, it really nails its intended audience. The technicals aren't as sound as we would've liked, the different modes tend to boil down into the same exact experience (the biggest problem by far), and the controls may frustrate those who aren't familiar with the style. Too many times, we were left shaking our heads in consternation, wondering how on earth our opponent got the best of us. We have to reiterate- rabid button mashers need not apply; you won't even win one round.
The game isn't great, but it delivers the goods for the fans, and that's all it really needs to do.
11/15/2007 Ben Dutka