Dragon Ball Z: Infinite World Review
The Dragon Ball Z phenomenon has proven its staying power over the last few years, as the fans continue to watch the shows, buy the merchandise, and play the video games. It has gotten so huge, in fact, that a non-animated feature film adaptation will hit theaters in the spring, and although we’re not holding out much hope for it, we still think Namco Bandai is fully capable of churning out top-notch DBZ fighting games. Unfortunately, while Dragon Ball Z: Infinite World is advertised to be even better than its Budokai predecessors, it’s actually a gigantic step backwards. We have no idea why the developers chose to remove the features that made those past titles appealing, and provide us with a title that's bland, unnecessarily difficult, frustrating, and erratic in terms of pacing and objectives. For the most part, we understand that these games really only appeal to ardent followers of the series, but Infinite World certainly won’t satisfy the fans. In fact, most will simply ignore it and stick to the older DBZ fighters that were, well…good.
The graphics have never really excelled in the DBZ franchise, and these visuals certainly don’t represent a giant leap forward. Basically, Namco created a graphical presentation for these games several years ago and they’ve continued to use that same foundation, which has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side, they have plenty of time to iron out any visual kinks that plague earlier titles but on the minus side – and this should be painfully obvious – the technicals never really advance. In the case of Infinite World, we get the same type of vibrant Japanese anime-style artistry, which always boasts plenty of color and large, sometimes even pastoral landscapes. Sadly, there’s typically a ton of pop-in, there isn’t a great deal of environmental diversity (as usual), and we just aren’t quite as impressed with battle effects this time around. Sure, it’s easily recognizable as Dragon Ball Z, but not only is this presentation growing tiresome, it’s also showing its age with every progressive installment in the franchise. The die-hard fans deserve better.
The sound is in much the same boat. We still can’t stand the absolutely vile voice acting that makes us cringe, but as it’s a bizarre trademark of the cartoon, anyway, we figure it fits. The sound effects include some okay battle exclamations and little catch phrases, along with a somewhat spirited soundtrack that is a tad more upbeat than it has been in the past. In fact, the music is often so bouncy, especially in the main story mode, that we often found it disconcerting; it created an atmosphere that almost felt like the game was mocking itself. …that’s a strange thing to say, but the soundtrack really did make us think we were playing a spoof of a DBZ game. Anyway, the effects work for the most part, although everything did sound a tad subdued and less intense that we would’ve initially expected. We suppose the purpose of fan-based titles like these is to cater to the target demographic, and if the game sounds like the cartoon, everything should be fine. If we consider that fact, we have to say that Infinite World, while not of the highest quality, probably won’t disappoint the followers.
Now we get to the game’s biggest downfall: the gameplay. In other DBZ entries, one found a unique, in-depth combat mechanic that rewarded the diligent players who practiced and honed their technique. But in Infinite World, you get very little direction or instruction, and most of the anticipated depth just boils down to random button mashing that completely eradicates the fun factor. As soon as we got into the first battle, we knew something was terribly wrong. For some strange reason, they took out the Beam Struggles and Dragon Rushes from Budokai 3, and instead, all we’re left with are regular punches, kicks, Ki Blasts and Ki Burns. You gather up Ki energy and can use it for special attacks or brief bursts of speed and power, but that’s about the only intriguing aspect of the entire fighting system. Yes, there are over 100 total combatants to unlock in the game (via the also unlockable Fighter’s Road), and you have Training and Duel options. But that really isn’t enough to compensate for the lagging gameplay.
Then you’ve got these random little quests that you can do in the Story mode, which can involve running and fetching with time limits or searching for certain items. You can also purchase new abilities, which certainly helps to expand the longevity of the game, but what’s the point of new abilities if we have no idea how to use them? The many characters perform very differently when on the battlefield, and while you might misconstrue that as an opportunity for depth, it all comes down to one thing: button mashing. It’s just infuriating. The game has plenty of potential but it falls so far short in so many different areas, and before long, you’ll probably question why you’re playing it at all. The other problem is that we didn’t get that epic encounter feeling we’ve felt in other DBZ titles: despite the size of the backdrops, you don’t really have the ability to separate with any speed, and most all battles just end up in a traditional face-to-face showdown. And that’s really a huge problem, because DBZ has always been about non-traditional fighting.
We just couldn’t figure out the combat system, and that’s not a good sign, because we’ve played most all the other DBZ titles. Just when we thought we were getting the hang of it, our character would do something we certainly never expected, and most of the time, we just sat back and tossed energy balls all day. The gathering and dispensation of Ki was an appreciated addition, but our interest in that feature lasted all of an hour. We kinda liked being able to wander around a world map during the story mode, but it’s really not that much different than what we’ve had in previous installments, and the Training mode didn’t really help at all. Perhaps the gameplay gets better when you’re playing against a friend, but if neither of you can gain a firm grasp on the controls, you’ll both just bash buttons until the controller snaps in half. Lastly, we could’ve really used a few more gameplay modes to experiment with; something that would be a significant departure from the same ol’ same ol’. One of these days, Namco Bandai might finally decide to do something innovative with this franchise, but it sure as hell didn’t happen here.
Dragon Ball Z: Infinite World is a disappointment, plain and simple. The gameplay is so erratic and the AI is so obscenely challenging that you’ll likely become irritated in record time, and the old technical palette has finally outworn its welcome. This happens sometimes in long-running franchises: for some reason, they just churn out yet another title, forgetting that it just might be broken and worse, fans aren’t about to tolerate mediocrity. We hate to say it, but Infinite World is a major step backwards and nobody – even the hardcore enthusiasts – should consider a purchase. There are far better games out there, and if you have most any other DBZ title in your library at home, it’s likely a good deal better than this one.
1/29/2009 Ben Dutka