Dragonball Z: Budokai 3
Dimps’ Budokai series has been a high note in the history of anime games. Before they stepped in, the Dragonball Z series had been host to some of the worst fighting games ever. Dimps changed this with their first attempt at making a 3d DBZ game. It was not without its flaws, but it still incredibly fun. The follow up, Budokai 2, was very playable and corrected some of the major flaws in the first game, but it was still far from perfect. Well Dimps returns again to try and get the job done with the third (and possibly last) entry into this excellent series.
Gone is the board game story mode from Budokai 2. In its place stands the Dragon Universe. Dragon Universe is a MK Deception-like map system that allows players to control one of eleven different characters (quite a few of whom need to be unlocked) through several levels fighting all sorts of new enemies. There are branching paths for practically every character and this is how you unlock the majority of the game’s characters. Additionally there are experience points that can be gained from each fight, which will eventually allow you to level your character up and make them stronger in a variety of ways.
The story is nothing new if you’ve seen the Dragonball Z anime. It follows the familiar path of starting on Earth, going to Namek, and then returning back to Earth for the last two arcs of the series. The DBZ story isn’t very deep. Big bad guy wants to take over the world/universe or destroy it and it is up to you to stop it. The story is slightly altered depending on who you play as and what path you take. The traditional story is also slightly changed to integrate several characters from Dragonball GT series and the Dragonball Z movies.
Dragon Universe is a great improvement on the board game system ditched since the last game. It does an excellent job of integrating almost all of the familiar faces from the Dragonball Z anime series, and a few from Dragonball and Dragonball GT into the story. Additionally, the story mode gives players a much more options if they don’t feel like playing through world tournament mode to gain enough money to purchase the items in the game. It’s an absolute cakewalk after you’ve beaten the game twice even with the super hard modes because your character is just so much more powerful then the ones you’re fighting. This is by far the biggest flaw of the story mode.
Beyond story mode, there are a few other new modes. The unlockable Dragon Arena allows players to use their powered up characters from Dragon Universe mode and fight against stronger computer players. While this idea is fun, the true potential is never realized, as this would have been a perfect place to implement an online mode. Instead, we’re left with a password system that allows players to trade character data with other players for use in Dragon Arena. The lack of online play really hurts when it is so apparent how beautifully it could have worked.
In addition to these two modes, you’ve got World Tournament mode where up to 32 characters can battle it out in single elimination style for cash to by skills. Versus is also here and offers a relatively simple interface. Nothing too special. It is worth noting that the Practice mode has been redone and it is as engaging as ever. While most practice modes are completely boring, Budokai 3 tries to infuse some humor into it. It’s a nice touch.
Story/Modes: 8 out of 10
Budokai 3 is bright and flashy, just like the series. Each character’s likeness is represented to the tee with changing facial expression for several super moves. The stages also have a great DBZ feel to them. It has perfectly captured the look of DBZ. This may not be as pretty as some of the other PS2 games on the market, but it is certainly the best looking DBZ game so far.
There is a slight bit of slowdown during the game, but it is not enough to take one out of the experience. The game handles the flashy ki blasts, teleportation, and destructive environments fine, but when characters start pounding on each other in burst mode, the game always stop for a second to switch the background. Again this is not a major flaw, but it is enough to be noticeable.
Graphics: 7 out of 10
Sound is one of Budokai 3’s strongest points. The voice acting is superb. The practically the entire voice acting of DBZ is present to play a role voicing each of the fighters and non-playable characters. The voice acting in the story mode really brings the whole experience alive.
Background music is also exceptionally well made. Several themes are lifted straight from the series or the various DBZ films. The music fits the flavor of the game very well and enhances the entire experience. While none of it is orchestrated, it is still a superbly put together collection of themes that almost always works in every situation. It is disappointing that no character themes from the anime have been adapted for stage music, but it’s tough to find any fault beyond that. There are certainly better sounding games out there, but I’d be hard pressed to find games that uses sound more effectively then Budokai 3.
Sound: 9 out of 10
Budokai 3 had some noticeable tinkering done in the control department with some variable success. For the uninitiated, in addition to the health bar, Budokai has a ki bar as well. Ki can be gained from landing physical attacks, blocking effectively, charging, and to an extent, it recovers on its own. Ki is used to perform blast attacks, special moves, perform last second teleportation dodges, or to power Hyper mode.
Hyper mode is brand new to Budokai 3 and it adds to the feel of the game. In Hyper mode, a player can either perform death moves or pursue attacks, which results in massive amounts of damage to an opponent if a player can win the rock/scissor/paper style guessing game. Being in hyper mode rapidly depletes the ki bar, which helps play into the fundamental difference between Budokai 3 and 2. Hyper mode is quite fun and really enhances the feel of speed in the game. Hyper mode is one of those intangibles that didn’t exist in Budokai 2, and its addition to Budokai 3 is a big improvement in making the game feel like the anime.
In addition, a new beam duel mode has been added where Budokai’s signature button mashing can be found alive and well. Unfortunately, just like Burst mode in the previous game, beam duels happen far too infrequently to be really that interesting of a feature. This is a shame too because the beam duels are one of the coolest additions to the new game.
There are some glaring collision detection errors in this game. When a player has just transformed, entered into hyper mode, or is even getting off of the ground, the game will rarely record any damage from energy hits. This can be frustrating especially in some closer fights where one or two hits with a Kamehameha can be a difference maker. This really hurts the game.
Controls: 6 out of 10
Oh boy. Anyone who has seen the DBZ anime can tell you that there are some characters that are completely and utterly useless. It is nice to see that the game has finally caught up to that in making several characters completely worthless when faced with some of the more powerful opponents.
At its core, Budokai 3 has become less of a fighting game and more of a resource management game. Every special attack and super attack can be done the exact same way. By making the fighting system more basic, the game becomes a much more simplistic fighter. Budokai 3 tries to make this up by making ki management the most important aspect of the game. Teleporting too much will leave a player wide open for an attack as well as entering hyper mode without any ki.
This is an interesting way to present a fighting game where the obvious target audience is for kids. Rather then taking all of the strategy out of the game, Dimps chose to shift it to a different aspect of the game. As interesting an attempt this is, it turns the game into an unbalanced mess. Several characters start out with more ki bars then the average three. In a game where ki is so important, some characters are completely broken even before a fight starts by having a clear advantage over an opponent. Furthermore, not every character can transform into a Super Saiyan or something similar to have more ki recover faster.
On the one hand, this falls completely inline with the anime. It would be stupid for a character that gets killed effortlessly in the anime be on equal footing with the person who killed them. On the other hand, there is no way to balance ki out with a simple handicap for versus mode. This game is completely and utterly unbalanced.
Balance: 3 out of 10
Wow, there is quite a bit to do in this game. In addition to having to unlock the majority of the game’s 38 characters, each of their moves have to be purchased, in addition to a number of different items. Beyond that, there are three unlockable difficulties for Dragon Universe and versus mode, three unlockable difficulties for World Tournament mode, and Dragon Arena, which has variable opponent levels.
Also, a variety of sounds, movies, and easter eggs are all over this game. Some of these are unlocked through purchasing capsules. Others are unlocked by winning a fight in Dragon Universe with a certain attack or by fulfilling a goal within a fight. To get every capsule in this game is a true accomplishment. Most of the things you unlock are relatively uninteresting though and don’t need to be unlocked to get the full experience of the game. Lots of the unlockables in this game really delve into minutiae though. There is really no reason to acquire every capsule in the game other then to just do it. Still, there is a lot of digging to be done if one is up for the challenge.
Replayability: 8 out of 10
By no means is Budokai 3 an original game. It does try to do some new things that haven’t really been attempted in a DBZ game. The teleportation is a neat new feature as is the ability to destroy stages with a large enough attack. Budokai 3 has accomplished nothing exceptionally innovative, but many of the potholes from the previous game have been filled in.
Originality: 5 out of 10
Budokai 3 is a relatively appealing game to quite a few people. It is an excellent anime game and will certainly appeal to that crowd. Also fans of the show will eat this game up as it allows them to play as most of their favorite characters. The fact that there are several bits of humor scattered throughout the game also breathes some air into the game. Hardcore fighting fans will get bored with this game after a while as there isn’t any depth to the fighting system, but this is an excellent game to pick up and play. Still, most people who will be playing this game will be fans of the series, and there are more then a few people who won’t even attempt to play this game because it is a Dragonball Z game.
Appeal: 7 out of 10
This is one of the most fun games I have on my PS2. I’ve gone back to it time and time again to unlock a new move or two or just to battle it out between some of my favorite characters. The over the top moves are worth watching more then once and going back to settle grudge matches from the anime is quite a bit of fun.
The shallow combat system hurts the addictiveness though. As easy as this game is to get into, it’s harder to stay into it, as there are fighting games with a lot more to offer in their combat systems. As fun as leveling a city is, there were still more then a few times when I desperately wanted more from the game in the simplest of areas.
Addictiveness: 7 out of 10
From the opening intro to the vast amount of cameos scattered all over this game, I was in DBZ heaven. This game, more then any other, oozes Dragonball. The menus, the skill editing, and even the load screens are filled with Easter eggs and little extras. If Dimps accomplished one thing with Budokai 3 it’s that they got the feel of the series down. I found myself saying outloud how cool it was that they inserted this hidden character, or this stage, or this cameo into the game. Truly this is a game by the fans for the fans.
Miscellaneous: 10 out of 10
Overall Score: 70 out of 100
Final Score: 7 out of 10 (VERY GOOD!)