Dragon Ball is a beloved franchise. While the original anime and manga has been done for some time now, fans – including myself – still yearn for more DBZ content. When Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z was announced, it left fans on two sides: one side was excited for a Dragon Ball Z game that could finally mimic the epic fights that made so many fall in love from the other mediums, and others worried that the type of fighting in DBZ would be too messy to translate into a video game. As it turns out, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z finds an odd median between those two mindsets, and delivers a game that satisfies a lot of wants DBZ fans have been waiting for, while still falling short on numerous aspects that diminishes the game.
In Battle of Z, you’ll play as the entire cast of Dragon Ball Z – both friend and foe – across various missions that take story elements from the original story, as well as offering up ‘what if’ scenarios. Battle of Z doesn’t spend much time explaining the stories, which works great with the game’s very short missions. Battle of Z is a great fit for Vita, as even the more in depth missions won’t take longer than 20 minutes, and that’s what makes the Vita version the definitive one: it’s great for quick missions and doesn’t need to be fleshed out like a full-fledged console game.
Nailing the look of Akira Toriyama’s art isn’t new – plenty of games have done this exceptionally well – but it’s always awesome to see it fleshed out in a 3D game. Battle of Z looks fantastic on Vita, and Dragon Ball’s unique color palette really pops on the Vita’s OLED screen. I was almost shocked at how well it looked on the Vita, and the discrepancy between the Vita version and the console versions are very little, sans some larger battles that the Vita can’t quite keep up with. In one scenario, I was fighting five enemies on-screen along with my three allies, and the game did stutter occasionally. This isn’t too terrible of an issue, since most of the the game is limited to four-on-four combat, but when every character is using ki blasts or doing ultimate moves, the game can’t seem to handle all the load.
Playing through the Saiyan, Frieza, Android, and Buu sagas still bring great stories, but after playing numerous Dragon Ball Z games, the same old song and dance is beginning to grow a little old. Luckily, Battle of Z spends little time dwelling in the story by only having short and sweet cutscenes to introduce a plot that surely most people playing Battle of Z can practically recite. Battle of Z does include story lines from the DBZ movies – even the brand new Battle of Gods – which help keep the game’s story from being entirely the same as other DBZ titles.
Battle of Z offers one of the most ambitious combat systems in recent memory. The combat feels like it’s made specifically for the Dragon Ball universe and not just some cut and paste gameplay from another franchise. You can recreate almost any scene from the anime and manga, because the combat relies on fast-paced ground and aerial combat. This uniqueness can deliver tense confrontations. There was a fight I had with full power Frieza when I was Super Saiyan Goku on Namek, and we both were zipping past each other exchanging blows, defending attacks, counter-attacking and so on. It made for some really tense moments, and made every decision crucial and monumental in survival.
The problem with this initially fun combat is that it lacks any substance under the hood. What you see if what you get. Besides basic blocks and dodging, there aren’t any real in-depth fighting mechanics that could propel the game into something that could deliver truly unforgettable fights. Once you learn punching, ki blasts, knock-ups and specials, there really isn’t much more to learn, and it makes Battle of Z grow a little repetitive over extended play.
There’s a decent RPG element for Battle of Z where you can upgrade your character with a card system. After each battle, you can be rewarded cards – which can also be bought with points accumulated through fights -that can be applied to any character’s card slots to improve their stats. This customization isn’t terribly deep, as you’ll only really be trying to get the highest card possible in each slot to increase your power level, but it creates a nice feeling of growth to whatever character you choose to play with, and yes, even Krillin can become incredibly strong through this.
With Battle of Z’s ambitious combat system comes a very questionable button layout that feels strange. Cross and square are used to determine your altitude when flying, circle is used for ki blasts, and melee is assigned to triangle. The controls work, but it isn’t necessarily the most ideal. Since melee is used fairly often, and triangle is the least used face button on controllers, generally, it makes little sense for it to be there. The inability to change the controls is maddening, because switching the face buttons just a couple of times would yield much better results.
A.I. in Battle of Z is one of the more frustrating aspects of the entire game. Your allies will range from decent distractions for your enemies to completely useless. You’re only given a limited amount of revives after falling in battle, so when these revives expire – you lose. Allies can come to your aid and revive you so no revive is lost, and with human players, the sense of urgency is there, but with computer allies, it’s almost as if your death is inconsequential to them – even when there are no revives left and your death would mean game over. This is aided by raising each character’s partner rank, which increases their usefulness in combat, but not enough that it dramatically changes their erratic behavior.
Luckily, there’s a multiplayer component in Battle of Z that solves most of the A.I. issues. You can either team up with three others to tackle some story missions or fight with up to seven other players in a competitive mode. Co-op is a nice option for those wishing to take on the DBZ story with friends, but competitive multiplayer can be an absolute blast – when it works. It can take a while to connect, but when it does, it’s a nice change of pace from the computer enemies that all have similar combat strategies. Assembling a balanced team is essential, as characters have their strengths and weaknesses. You’ll have characters that deal lots of damage with melee, other who do so from afar with ki blasts, and even healers that have special powers to heal teammates in a pinch.
Battle of Z comes so close to being a very solid game. The groundwork is promising, but the actual delivery was fumbled and doesn’t live up to the idea. Battle of Z feels like the first game to really capture the feel of the anime and manga by making battles as big and loud as the source material. By ditching the typical fighting game trope that has been the basis of most Dragon Ball games and instead going with a unique action game, Battle of Z comes as close as possible to creating battles just as epic as most fans will remember.
Questionable control mapping, inconsistent A.I., and shallow combat significantly detract from what is an otherwise really entertaining trip into the DBZ world. Fans who love the Dragon Ball franchise may be able to look over some of the shortcoming found in Battle of Z, but those who are indifferent about the tale of Goku and the Z Warriors will find little to keep them interested. When it comes down to it. Battle of Z is a good game for Dragon Ball fans, but just an average game by itself.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z by Artdink and distributed by Namco Bandai
- Same classic DBZ look
- Great Multiplayer
- Shallow combat
- Odd Button Layout