Review: Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z
Dragon Ball Z has a rather lengthy history within the games industry – ranging from the popular Budokai titles of recent years all the way back to the Famicom games based on the original Dragon Ball anime. But its legacy will always unfortunately be remembered by the volume of games rather than their influence. Don’t get me wrong though, there’s the odd gem here and there. Dragon Ball Adventure Advanced on the Gameboy captured that sense of childhood wonder and adventure present in the original anime (as well as the prevalent epic combat). Or the aforementioned Budokai series has been entertaining and enthralling fans for years with its solid attempt at a fighting game mixed with the total badassery of being a Super Saiyan. There’s a lot to love about these entries into the medium, but the problem seems to be that they’ve just never been that fantastic; often opting for an emphasis on the massive combat of the series and totally forgetting that both Dragon Ball, and its sequel Dragon Ball Z, both featured charming characters and wonderful adventures. Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z then, presents itself as a new game series in the franchise – and with it attempts to readjust the experience accordingly. It’s still fundamentally a fighting game, but it removes the side view standard of the genre and broadens itself into a full open arena setting. It is a total reinvention for the franchise and most excitingly for fans, creates a much closer feeling of recreating the anime show. Flying is a fundamental part of the combat and the first time you smash an opponent through a giant rock precipice before zipping behind them to smash in the back with a quick fist jab is quite a fantastic feeling. It almost made me feel like jumping off the sofa and going full Super Saiyan myself. It’s definitely given it a far more distinctive feeling – abandoning more tried and tested tropes in favour of something much more ‘Dragon Ball Z’. The single player loosely follows the plot of the anime by splitting missions into the different ‘sagas’ of the series, but it retains an arcade feel rather than focusing on narrative. There’s no time here for backstory and explanation – Battle of Z presumes you roughly know the events the game is based on; and so after a brief bit of exchange between characters before each mission it throws you straight into the action. While it’s entirely possible to enjoy the game on your own, the ability to add co-op partners (either AI or human) focuses the playing on the 4 vs 4 element of the game. Even in missions you remember Goku being strictly alone during the anime, it’s absolutely fine to add a few mates in to back you up. The result is that Battle of Z feels very consciously like a game meant to be played with others. So with a readjusted focus to the gameplay you’d maybe be convinced that Battle of Z is the most refined entry to the franchise yet – but the answer is that unfortunately, we still need a bit more convincing. While it’s refreshing to see the game have a slightly different take on a fighting title, Battle of Z has ultimately sacrificed depth in favour of breadth. There’s a huge character roster (including the first appearance of Goku’s God form), more interesting arenas to fight in and huge boss battles usually in the form of one of the Saiyans in monkey form, but combat is hugely lacking in variation. Combos are virtually non-existent (apart from if you count pressing the same button over again to form a chain) and there’s no grand move list in which to learn and master. The flying combat does give a slightly interesting edge to it, and lord of Z have mercy on my soul, but Battle of Z does ultimately descend into button bashing territory. This coupled with the fact it seems impossible to actually outright ‘fail’ a single-player mission gives the game a real lack of a sense of challenge. There is some salvation in the different character types though. Each character has an emphasis in a certain field of combat (such as healing, aerial or long distance abilities), and when this is combined with the customisable card system that affects abilities, there does seem to be a small amount of strategy. The multiplayer mode also highlights the more positive aspects of the game: online battles are nothing short of epic and the variety of game types opens it up to even more fun and a little more variation. Where Battle of Z excels is in the complete bombast of the combat – and sharing these ridiculous moments online is highly entertaining. However this ultimately does not redeem the apparent whimsical nature of Battle of Z – where sheer frantic insanity seems to prevail over considered attack. While the multiplayer is exciting, it is poorly optimised and suffers from a massive ineptness at placing you in a match swiftly. From the ground up the menu, level and battle design emphasises multiplayer – so it’s slightly frustrating to see a multiplayer mode not being executed as efficiently as it could be.
To sum up
Ultimately Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z succumbs to its own history and sits firmly as a title for the fans. It loves to capture the style of the anime, but sadly lacks the substance that slightly more hardcore fighting fans might admire. There’s a lot to love about it, especially since it does to some extent try to move the franchise forward, but its appeal is short lived. Perhaps with a little more refining Battle of Z could become a more solid contender, but for now we can only admire it as an eccentric gem for a loyal fandom.