Review: Dragon Ball Z Ultimate Tenkaichi (Sony PS3)

Dragon Ball Z Ultimate Tenkaichi
Publisher: Namco/Bandai
Developer: Spike
Genre: Fighting
Release Date: 10/25/2011

I have a somewhat sordid history with the Dragon Ball Z series. I loved the TV show up until it hit the Namek and Freiza saga and dragged on for a whole season in one fight. Then I got back into it when it started focusing on Gohan and really got annoyed that it shifted back to Goku just as fast. So there are bits that I love and bits that I don’t. That being said there are certain things I expect from a Dragon Ball Z game. I got a chance to review Dragon Ball Raging Blast two years ago and the follow up Dragon Ball Raging Blast 2 last year. While I genuinely like the first Raging Blast, its sequel had me raging in a whole different way. This year, they’re giving us Dragon Ball Z Ultimate Tenkaichi (a name actually chosen by fans and going by Ultimate Blast in Japan) and I’m happy to say that I’m enjoying this one more than Raging Blast and a helluva lot more than Raging Blast 2. That’s not to say the game doesn’t have some problems.

You’ve got several play options in this one, and I’m happy to say that unlike its predecessor in the series, Ultimate Tenkaichi has a competent story mode. Story Mode lets you play through the major battles in the Dragon Ball Z franchise as well as some from Dragon Ball GT. It starts off with the fight of Frieza against Bardock for the Saiyan home world. Well we all know how that went, so even if you’re kicking Frieza all over the map, say goodbye to the Planet Vegeta. We get a great animated cutscene of the planet exploding and Goku landing on Earth an being discovered in the first Dragon Ball series, but then the game leaps forward to the point where Radditz has landed on Earth and is wreaking havoc by way of a really long and slow scrolling and plodding wall of text. You’ll get these every time there’s a time jump and you can skip them. In fact I highly recommend skipping them for your sanity, especially if you’re at all familiar with the show. For some reason instead of giving us a montage of scenes from the show and a brief voiceover we get this terrible slow scrawl and then a few screenshots after of the events from the show leading back into the story.

This is quite honestly one of the most bizarre, lengthy and annoying means of telling a story I’ve seen in awhile. Story Mode is how you unlock characters which is closer to how it worked in the first Raging Blast and makes a lot more sense than the second game. Aside from Story Mode, they’ve put in a way to make your own character for Hero Mode which tells a whole separate side story using your original character that you have to train up. One of the big bad guys from Dragon Ball GT has used the Dragon Balls to wish for Hell on Earth and you’re out to train with a few random heroes that are still left alive and apparently sitting around waiting for someone else to put all the Dragon Balls together again to wish to undo whatever he did. While it is interesting, I find it highly unlikely that Earth’s “heroes” would be sitting on the Dragon Balls doing nothing waiting for some untested new guy to come and fix it for them, but whatever. I just think it was fun beating down Cell, Jr. in under 3 seconds with a series of combos and not even being Super Saiyan at the time.

Tournament Mode is basically what it sounds like. You participate in the tournaments that are held in the world of Dragon Ball. You can actually access the tournaments in Story mode if you fly to where they are held on the world map but be prepared to have it go all over the place. I was flying around with Goku and Piccolo and tried it out and it populated the tournament with a few characters that were around at the start of DBZ, but then added in Cell and Freiza to the mix. I was left scratching my head but then realized that it randomly populates the tournament from the available characters, but it’s completely breaking the story by having characters who haven’t even gotten involved yet in the tournament. You’re also stuck with whoever you enter the tournament as in Story Mode. So I was stuck as Goku at that point as I was playing him in Story Mode. This isn’t the case outside of Story Mode. Just something to remember when you’re playing.

Visually the game looks like you’re watching the show. The cell-shading is pretty spot on, the environments, the characters and movements, the attacks and destruction; they all match what you’d expect to see in the Dragon Ball Z show. In fact I’d drop that this is the best that these characters have looked on screen in any of the Dragon Ball Z games I’ve played. The environment destruction is on a scale that you’d expect to see in the show and looks amazing. Then it gets less amazing. You see after you’ve pummeled you opponent throughout the sky and thrown him into a crater he made when you shot him into the ground and he starts to recover, all that beautiful damage mysteriously vanishes and the ground is whole again. So while it looks great while its going on, it’s like someone is there with an etch a sketch, shaking that thing and wiping all that gorgeous destruction that you just accomplished away with a few quick shakes. So while everything looks amazing, they kind of missed the mark here with this, especially given how short battles can be. I’ve clocked my longest at four minutes, and that was a boss fight with a Great Ape. You’re telling me that they can’t keep track of the destruction for 4 minutes of gameplay at this day in age?

Funimation has gotten involved once again so the game retains many of the voice actors that they’ve used over the years for dubbing the show into English, so for the most part it won’t be jarring, but for some reason a few of the characters will shift from one dub style to another. Freiza is a big culprit in this respect. The music is the standard Dragon Ball fare, so if you’re not a fan of the audio of either the dub or the shows music and sounds you’re kind of SOL, but I’d be wondering why you’re playing the game anyway.

The controls have been greatly simplified for this game, and while at first glance don’t feel very deep, there are many combo attacks and ways to link attacks that not only play out well but look fantastic on screen. Most of the basics have been reduced to dodge, ki blast, attack, super attack, fly up, down, and so on. Then hitting in different combinations unlocks a flurry of attacks that brings you to what is either going to really piss off a fighting game fan, or be somewhat intriguing. You see once you get your combo attacks off, you’re presented with what amounts to a quick-time event where you have to hit one of two buttons, either the square or the triangle. Your opponent also gets this option. If your opponent picks the same one, they block your attack and counter it. If they don’t guess your choice, you launch into a string of attacks that sends your opponent flying and that you can continue by hitting the right combination of buttons and directional sticks to continue kicking and punching them around the map, usually ending with your opponent getting tossed into the ground as you pummel them from above with some form of Ki blasts.

Personally, I love this system. It emulates what happens in the show for me pretty well. From a fighting game perspective though, cutting down your combo attacks to a 50/50 draw might really tick you off. The only thing that ticked me off about this was when I was getting beaten up. You see when they’re kicking you all over the map, an option pops up on screen to hit a set of keys wildly to break out of their assault. Much like the blocking in Raging Blast 2, I have never, EVER gotten this to work. I’ve basically resigned myself to getting kicked all over the map and saving my fingers for the retaliation I’m about to dish out when its done because it’s pointless to try and stop it once it’s started.

While the characters are unlockable and the bigger attacks and power modes look different, and each character has different health levels and so on, it all really breaks down into the same gameplay, which can be kind of a letdown. Kid Gohan, Krillin, and Goku all play the same. At range fire off Ki blasts and when you move in perform combo attacks until you get your chance to do the extreme butt-kicking, follow through on combos until they’re in a smoking crater, then rinse and repeat until your opponent is a fine meaty paste. So it does look very different visually, especially as a Super Saiyan, and it seems as though it’s somewhat different, you’re really employing the same methods of combat over and over again, which sounds like a big turn off, and it can be, but it also allows you to play it in fits ans spurts, put it down and play it again without having to learn the characters all over again. That has its advantages, but again I can see fighting game fans getting really annoyed by this. It feels like the system is designed for more of a casual fan, and in a way it is, but at the same time there is a bit of depth to the system as you can dodge and block before the combos get started and the more advanced enemies will, but ultimately the combat is fairly simple.

One of the things I both love and loathe are the big boss fights. I’m not talking about the regular sized ones, I’m talking about the Great Ape style fights with creatures 12 times your size. These fights all center around timing and avoiding getting hit by the big guys as they will decimate you in a few hits. You start off ranged usually, which is fine as you can pelt them with Ki Blasts, but the game starts off a series of Ki Blasts with even just one push of the button at range, which makes using it extremely annoying when the Great Ape tosses a boulder the size of a school bus your way and you’re expected to dodge it and can’t because you’re in the middle of a chain of Ki Blasts even though you only hit the low power Ki attack button once. Timing is everything in these battles, and it feels like there’s no other way to fight the big guys, which is fine, but that’s not how it presents at first.

Hero Mode not only presents a new story line to play through, but a new style of gameplay. When you first start out you have to build your hero which you can make a variety of ways but then you’re dumped out into the world map where you can access a trainer, which was Yamcha at first, but as you meet more fighters and level up you gain access to more trainers. You can also customize out your fighting style, your bonuses that you’ve accumulated from your training sessions and so on. While I liked Story Mode, I liked Hero Mode more mainly because I felt like I was accomplishing something by leveling up my own fighter and trying to fix the world instead of just going through the same set of fights that seem to be in every DBZ game out there. My big complaint about the controls from Raging Blast 2 is gone, I’m happy to report. The on-screen fighter responds with every button I press or moves with every turn of the analog stick.

While trophies and multiplayer will probably bring you back, building your own character again should as well. Despite its limitations, Hero Mode has grown on me. Story Mode though is a bit rough. Sure the battles are well done, and the animated cutscenes, but even waiting for the script to start scrolling is a bit agonizing. Yes you can skip them, there are load screens involved. And how. I’d actually say the one thing that really kills the game for me as far as being addictive and replayable is the insane amount of loading screens. Leave a menu, loading screen, watch a custcene, loading screen, start a fight and finish it, loading screen, hit the button to go back to the main title screen, loading screen. The game is littered with them. There is a cute min-game involved that does absolutely nothing for you and would be more interesting if there was at least a score, but as you’re loading, capsules show up on screen and you can hit our attack buttons and move the cursor around to punch them off the screen, which is amusing the first three or four times. After that you just start wishing there was less loading screens.

Other than the loading screens though, I loved playing this game. Throw up a scouter to look around, just flying around the world looking for someone’s head to beat in, leveling up my own hero, getting the beat down from a Great Ape, yeah I had a good time with this. The added Hero mode would be something else people could look at as well for some appeal. But then there comes the rub. While Hero Mode is a big selling point for this game, it is their first run at it. The story isn’t that great, and you’re stuck making a male Saiyan that looks like all the other Saiyans, just with the colors and options you chose to throw on him. No Nameks, no other aliens, nothing. Hell, I’d be happy if we could make a girl fighter, they do exist in the Dragon Ball Z world. So while it’s great there’s this new mode and single player option and that you can even share your generic recolored Saiyan with everyone online, Hero Mode ends up feeling very tacked on and limited. I could see them expanding on this in the future, but realistically, if you’re just getting the game for character creation, you’re not going to be happy with this.

At first the game feels balanced, but like I mentioned earlier, even on the easiest settings there’s not a real way, that works, to break a combo move once they get one started on you, and neither can the enemies break out of one that you’ve started. Even then playing on normal, the only time I really had issues with this was in Hero Mode as I was building up my Saiyan. In Story Mode they almost never got a combo in because it’s more of an even playing field. Dragon Ball Z Ultimate Tenkaichi feels far more substantial than the last game in the series, Raging Blast 2, but looking back at the first Raging Blast, I almost feel like that game had more content to it, but I think it evens out to about the same when you include Hero Mode. So really it all comes down to what you’re looking for in a Dragon Ball Z game. If you want more complicated fighting styles go for Raging Blast, if you want something that emulates the show a bit better, this game is your bet.

One of the biggest problems the game has is that other than the character creator, this is all places the series has tread before. We’ve played this game, bring something more substantial to the table your third go round. Right now, especially being churned out year after year, the game is feeling more like a WWE or EA Sports title that gets a new release every year but only a tiny portion actually gets a facelift. The character creator and Hero Mode could have been a solid piece of the game especially if the story had been fleshed out more and if there were more character creation options other than a recolored version of Goku, Vegeta or Radditz. I do like that they included the GT cast and parts of that story as well, as that’s something I think they missed before, even if it’s my least favorite of the Dragon Ball TV shows.

I’ve been a little hard on the game, but honestly I have enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s a solid title that plays well and I like the simplified style and that after a few quick minutes with it anyone can play it and can actually have a chance against an experienced player. Even though the character creator was limited, I got an extreme sense of satisfaction beating opponents all over the world and training up my own Saiyan to make things right. The one thing I didn’t like that I touched on was the loading screens. There are just way, way, way too many loading screens in this game. The PS3 has a hard drive. A quick install to either eliminate or reduce these would have been immensely helpful in letting me enjoy the game more and have to sit there waiting for another fight to start.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Great
Graphics: Incredible
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Enjoyable
Originality: Pretty Poor
Addictiveness: Decent
Appeal Factor: Below Average
Miscellaneous: Classic
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
asheresizeWhile Dragon Ball Z Ultimate Tenkaichi is a big step up from Raging Blast 2, compared to the first Raging Blast it has some flaws and loading issues. The combat system has been simplified quite a bit and some of your combos are left to a random selection by the player which will infuriate some fighting game players, but it also serves to put people on a level playing field with other even if one player is more experienced. While it’s nice to have a character creation system, it needs more options to it than to simply create a variation of existing Saiyans. Even with the issues I think it’s a stronger game than the previous two entries and I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit. It catches more of what I think Dragon Ball Z felt like while watching it, and at the same time giving players the option to do their own thing by exploring the landscape a bit.

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