Inside Pulse 12

Review: Dragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans (Nintendo DS)

dbzcoverDragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans
Publisher: Bandai
Developer: Monolith Soft
Genre: RPG
Release Date: 11/10/2009

Back in the late nineties, there wasn’t a day that went by without be being glued to Toonami for two hours each day. (I really didn’t have anything going on.) While there were plenty of shows in the rotation, none caught my attention quite like Dragon Ball Z. For some reason, the power level loving series just clicked with me on the same level that shows like Mighty Morphing Power Rangers and Dexter’s Laboratory did when I was even younger.

Of course now I can’t watch the show without cringing and wondering why a single battle has to be drawn out for ten episodes. Its pretty much one of those things you grow out of. While I do occasionally like the odd Dragon Ball episode, the Z saga just doesn’t interest me anymore.

That’s not to say I’m not into the games at all. I’ve made sure to have at least one DBZ game on any system that I own. Usually I go with the fighters, but when I saw that they made JRPG for the DS detailing the first chapter of DBZ, I had to go for it. After all, this was back before everyone’s power got so inflated that you could add up the strengths of everyone else on earth and multiply it by ten million and still not equal half of the power of Gohan’s left big toe. After the Cell Saga I just stopped watching all together.

In any case, this game interested me enough to justify playing through it and the pedigree of developer Monolith Soft meant this was one licensed RPG that just might not suck.

So, what’s this game’s power level?

(Sorry for that. Just hoping everyone gets “Its over 9,000!” out of their system early.)

Story

The game actually starts off several years before the beginning of DBZ. Instead, we start off at the end of the last Dragon Ball arc. The gang is fresh off the battle with the Demon King Piccolo and they’re all training for the next world martial arts tournament. All of the battles before and immediately after this serve as decent introductions for the main characters of the game and serve up some nostalgic goodness from the original DB. Soon after, Raditz comes to earth and Goku is killed during the battle. Then everyone starts to train for the impending arrival of two even more powerful Saiyans.

Its mostly old ground for those of us who’ve seen or read anything related to the series in the past decade. Even still, there’s a lot of new story content to be found. Instead of just focusing on Gohan’s training and Goku’s path down Snake Way, the lesser know Z fighters get moments to shine as well. Krillin, Yamcha, and Tien all have their own turns with the spotlight, making this an interesting story for those of us who’re tired of the same old tale.

dbz1One good thing about the plot is that it digs into the vast well of Dragon Ball characters. You’ll find such characters as Monster Carrot, Jackie Chun, Pilaf, and even the Red Ribbon Army at different points in the game. Considering that a lot of these characters were far more interesting than the villains of DBZ, I was happy to see them getting a moment to shine as well.

Even still, the overall story isn’t all that great. A lot of these nifty references are merely filler for when the gang is looking for the dragon balls or finding an item for Korin as part of their training. There’s also not nearly enough recognition on the part of the villains for my taste. It takes Pilaf a good while to notice that Goku is standing right in front of him and even then he doesn’t run scared like you’d expect. The actual DBZ plot is still pretty much as thin as it was in the show. Let’s face it, you weren’t watching it for the story. Still, there are some good moments such as the final battle against the Saiyans, that make the overall experience worth it.

If you don’t know the DBZ storyline by heart already, this is as good a starting point as any I suppose. For those of us already versed in the ways of the series, this is mostly just a rehashing with some nifty references. It is definitely above the norm as compared to other licensed games I’ve played, but it still won’t hold up to the really good stuff on the DS.

Graphics

When you’re walking around on the map, the detail and colors of the environment can be downright breath taking. Even in drab areas like caves or inside of Yamcha’s hideout are full of detail and nice touches. Several of the vistas such as the inside of a cave with waterfalls or an enchanted forest are some of the nicest backgrounds I’ve seen on any traditional RPG. I was shocked by the quality in the game. The only problem I had was that the sprites were too small and had limited animations on the over world. When they’re moving around, attacking each other, or the like, it just isn’t that interesting. There was one point where Goku is supposed to be holding Radditz’s tail, but the sprites appear to simply be standing in a line. It kills the sense of disbelief. Still, its the only blight as far as I’m concerned.

It only gets better in the battles. Each character is well colored, drawn, and animated. Enemies react to different types of attacks, and emotions change depending on how much life a character has left. The best part of the game has to be the visual effects however. All of your Kamehamehas and Destructo Discs light up the DS in a way that very few games have. In particular, there’s a move that Gohan uses where he smashes an enemy into a wall and unleashes a barrage of Ki blasts. I never got tired of seeing this because it was so cool.

Overall the game simply looks fantastic and manages to be one of the best looking RPGs I’ve played on the DS to date. It nails the look and feel of the show, and for a licensed game, you can’t ask for anything more.

Audio

One thing you’ll notice after you get in your first battle is that the developers decided to use the Japanese voices exclusively. Since battle is the only time there are voices, most of the talking is relegated to shouts or battle cries and the like. It was a little weird for me since I’m used to the American voices, but overall I’m glad they made the change. I find characters Goku have far less annoying voices in the Japanese version.

dbz2The music in the game is another surprisingly good aspect. There are a good number of midi tunes throughout the game that fit perfectly with whatever level they’re attached to. In particular, the music that plays when you’re at the base of Korin Tower delivers some great beats that you’ll find yourself humming along to after awhile. Its not the greatest track ever by any means, but its good, fits the game, and never once makes you want to turn the sound off. Once again, that’s a rarity in licensed games.

That’s not to say all is well here. The music is fixed for any one screen, so even if the mood changes, the music remains the same. At one point, Krillin was trying to explain Goku’s death to Chi Chi (his wife) and the music was crazily upbeat and just didn’t fit. The scene went on for awhile, so it became really noticeable and a bit unsettling.

Still, this is a small mar on an otherwise great audio presentation.

Gameplay

In a lot of ways, Attack of the Saiyans is a typical RPG, but there are several elements that make it more interesting.

For one, while moving around the field, you’ll come across obstacles that need to be destroyed. You do this by charging a Ki blast until you’ve got enough power to destroy it. There are some rocks that can’t be destroyed until you’ve leveled you’re blast up. This happens periodically throughout the game at timed intervals. Depending on which character you use, the blast will be different. Yamcha uses a Kamehameha, Krillin uses the Destructo Disc, and Tien uses the triangle beam. The obstacles you blast are often used to solve puzzles or open up new pathways. There are also the occasional switch panels you need to activate.

Capsules are also nifty addition. You can equip up to four capsules at one point and they have various effects during battles and on the over world. Whichever capsule is in the first position has its effect occur at all times and secondary capsules have smaller effects. You can switch up the order on the fly by pressing a shoulder button. The various capsule types include a gas mask that allows you to move through poison gas, cold gear to prevent freezing damage, and even the dragon radar for when you’re searching for the titular spheres. Playing around with what capsules you have equipped is a fun little diversion and is even used in some of the side quests.

Battles are round bases affairs where you select an action for each character and all of the sprites take turns acting bases on their speed. You’ve got standard actions such as attack, defend, use item, and flee. You can also use Ki to use super moves. These include your blasts, special attacks, buffs, and combo attacks. After you unlock them, you can also use ultimate moves when your rage gauge is full. You can also switch out any one of your three characters for one of your standby characters. You can only have three characters on screen, but there are six in total and on one turn you can switch out all three and have the new guys attack.

Instead of simply attacking, characters attack in flurries. Each strike has its own chance of missing and landing a critical hit. The same holds true for blasts, as most attacks do successive damage rather than a single lump sum. Also, as you take hits or land attacks, your rage meter fills. When its full, you can use ultimate attacks or combo attacks if multiple characters have full meters. You can also use the active guard feature. When an enemy attacks a character, you’ll have a small window to press a corresponding button to put that character into active guard. You’ll take less damage and have a greater chance to prevent any status ailments. You’ll also regain some health each round.

Further increasing the game’s depth, you can manually upgrade each character. As you gain levels, you’ll gain bonuses to your stats, but also extra points you can assign as you see fit. You’ll also earn ability points for winning battles that can be uses to unlock and upgrade new moves as well as upgrade skills such as maximum energy, accuracy, and chance to launch a chain attack.

Overall, the battle system is fun thanks to the impressive looking attacks and active guard system. Its simple, yet there’s a lot to tool around with and you can customize characters enough that they don’t get shoehorned into specific roles unless you want them to. Its a decent setup that I found to be quite enjoyable.

Replayability

dbz3I was shocked at the length of this game. When I played my Naruto RPGs last year, the two of them combined barely equal the amount of time it took to beat this game. That’s without partaking in any of the side quests All told, you can get well over twenty hours from the story and another several hours if you get into finding the dragon balls to unlock the game’s toughest challenges. For DBZ fans, the temptation of fighting Brolli might be too much to overcome.

There are several notable side quests you can take in the game as I’ve mentioned. Early on you get an item that allows you to turn enemies into carrots. Since this prevents you from gaining money from battles, you might not want to work on it until later in the game. Collecting various types of carrots will grant you new items if you deliver them to a man in West City. Also, Kami tasks you with using Tien’s Evil Containment Wave to seal enemies in a rice cooker. It sounds silly, and the move really is, but he’ll give you some powerful items in return. The side quests aren’t intrusive or necessary like in some RPGs so its merely an option for those looking to get more out of the game. I prefer it that way.

If you’re looking to play the game multiple times start to finish, you’ll be saddened because like most RPGs, it just doesn’t hold up for multiple playthroughs. However, the amount of time you’ll get on that first through is pretty darn good for this kind of game.

Balance

One of the major drawbacks of the game is that it is too easy. While its true even early enemies can take huge chunks of your health, the fact that each turn you regenerate some health helps keep things under check. You can also pretty much set aside a healer to keep everyone’s HP up while the other two launch hard hitting combos. I got a game over only once during my play through, and that was because I stumbled upon one of the post game sections long before I was supposed to.

The thing that makes it so easy is that all of your health and Ki is refilled after each level. You gain levels fairly frequently, so there’s no need to conserve Ki or hold back in any way. Also, if you put points in your regeneration stat, you’ll start gaining more life back per round than the enemy can deal with a critical. Even if they deal massive damage to a character, the enemies won’t focus on the injured fighter and often attack evenly, allowing the regeneration to be that much more of a factor.

The best example of how easy the game can be actually came during the final fight. Using Goku, I would use a move that raised his evasion drastically. Vegeta couldn’t do enough damage to account for my per turn regeneration. Then, I would build up my rage meter by landing my hardest combo. Then I raised his evasion again right before casting Spirit Bomb. This move is supposed to be risky because it takes two turns to charge, but Vegeta couldn’t land enough hits to hurt me and took huge hits constantly. This whole scenario was possible because of the section leading up to the fight. Sure there were some tough enemies, but they were nothing I couldn’t handle and they gave tons of experience. I gained something like eight levels on that walk, and not as much of that was grinding as you might think.

What we have here is a game that will most likely bore hardened RPG fans because of its lack of difficulty. More than anything, this makes it a perfect game for kids, which is probably what the developer was going for.

Originality

While the game has a nice mix of ideas, none of it seems original. The active guard system is similar to what you see in the Mario RPG games, the rage meter is a cousin of the limit break, etc. I’ve also seen other RPGs have attacks that land in flurries as opposed to a single strike. Still, the game does feel at least a little unique because not too many games take all of the ideas and refine them to fit a license quite like this game does. I will give them some credit for that.

As far as its license goes, this is a bit of an odd man out. What I mean by that is that it is the rare DBZ game that doesn’t simply force you to relive key moments. It tells the whole story without too many time gaps between important sections.

So while you won’t find too much new hear, it definitely doesn’t feel like a plain old RPG.

Addictiveness

Now while the story may have some interesting elements, it also has a tendency to drag in several sections. During one chapter, I spent maybe all of two of the thirty minute length going through dialogue. Worse off, between most spoken words are pauses for the sprites to emote some form of punctuation depending on the situation. It makes these sequences really hard to sit through. It certainly doesn’t put you in a rush to keep going By the time you’re in control again, you’re dreading the next long story section.

dbz4Also, this is where the game’s ease comes back to bite it in the butt. Since there’s no challenge, battles just aren’t as interesting as they should be. Sure, the combat system is fun, but it doesn’t do enough to alleviate this feeling entirely. After you’ve unlocked all of the moves and find the few that work best in terms of damage output, you’ll have a tendency to use them repeatedly. This certainly happened for me and led to most battles going the same way. I’d blast them all to kingdom come with the same moves over and over again. The only time I’d deviate was to avoid boredom.

It’s a shame really. The game isn’t bad, but it just doesn’t draw you in the way a truly good RPG (or game for that matter) does.

Appeal Factor

Despite its claim, this isn’t the first ever DBZ RPG to come to the states. In fact, the GBA had a series devoted to Goku that fit nicely into the RPG genre. Still, there hasn’t been an RPG like this that I can find. Also, this is the are DBZ game that isn’t a fighter, so fans will most assuredly take some interest in it.

For long time fans of the show, this is probably a must buy for the DS. For new fans, this is as great a starting point as there is, especially if you can’t get into the show because of all the artificial lengthening. There are a lot of references to Dragon Ball that you might not get, but that shouldn’t deter you.

The one thing that would help increase this score even more is if the price were a bit lower. While thirty dollars is right in line if not lower than the usual going rate for a DS RPG, this is a licensed game. It just doesn’t feel right to charge full price for it.

Miscellaneous

Once again, I’d like to thank the developers for making this game focus more on the Earthlings rather than just he Saiyans and Nameks of the series. Its sad that if a sequel to this were to come out, Krillin would be the only playable human. For a series that takes place on Earth, this can be a bit demoralizing.

Overall, I rather enjoyed this game even if it didn’t engross me at any point. It doesn’t quite reach the excellence of Dragon Ball Origins from 2008, but it was a fun ride. I would have liked some sort of series themed extras maybe in the way of clips or screens, but for a first effort in the DBZ universe, Monolith Soft did a pretty bang up job.

The Scores

Story: Decent
Graphics: Great
Audio: Good
Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Poor
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Poor
Appeal Factor: Enjoyable
Miscellaneous: Enjoyable
Final Score: Above Average Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjackFor a licensed title, Attack of the Saiyans is pretty darn good. More to the point, it is a decent little RPG. The presentation is fantastic and the gameplay is solid. While it might not appeal to more hardened players because of its ease, it is a decent buy especially for fans and younger gamers. If you’re a fan of the show or simply looking for a fun RPG to tide you over, this is a game you should definitely take a look at.

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  • chi

    i beat this game in about 23 hours, this game is one of the best games ive ever played for ds

  • georgie

    how do i get the dragon radar????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

  • I believe the Dragon Radar is given to you as part of the story. It might be in Bulma’s house.

  • endaksi

    does anyone know if a sequel is being made?