Dragon Ball Z: Battle for Z Review
Sony PlayStation 3Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PS Vita
Dragon Ball Z may have ended in anime form almost twenty years ago, but the legacy of the Super Saiyans still lives on even after all this time. The retelling of the popular nine sagas in video game form seems to have played an essential role in assuring that one of Japan’s most popular cultural exports remains a household name. Battle for Z represents the latest in a long line of Street Fighter-esque fighting games that retread each one of the anime’s impressive sagas word for word, battle for battle. What was once a novelty is now as drawn out as waiting for Goku to power up over the course of six episodes.
Battle for Z contains sixty missions, forty of which take place within the confines of the Dragon Ball Z canon. To call them missions is a bit of a stretch considering the goal for every one of them is to defeat all opponents before the time runs out or you metaphorically get all your teeth knocked out. Even with its deceptively unimaginative new additions and expansive roster, the game doesn’t move as far out of the realms of beat-em-up as you might initially think.
As for the other twenty missions, this is about as far as the game gets from trying to get creative with the story. They feel more like bonus levels or challenge modes than extra missions, but they do provide some interesting match-ups that may never have actually taken place in the show. There are also a number of boss-like missions where characters must team-up to take down larger character transformations such as Giant Ape Vegeta. Without a doubt these missions provide the most variety and are the best fun the game has to offer.
Upon completing missions, power-ups in the form of collectable cards are awarded and can be applied to a fighter before a match. These can increase their speed, strength or energy and can certainly give you the edge over your opponents.
The other reward bestowed upon players for completing missions is new characters that are added to what is arguably the largest roster of Z fighters this side of Namek. Boasting around seventy cel-shaded characters, the number is actually a lot less than that when you take into account that transformations, such as Goku and his every-growing types of of super saiyan, have been separated. There’s not a huge amount of variation in fighting styles either, but when you’re running out of time and stamina, knowing the difference between a kamehameha and a ki blast won’t prove to be important.
Battle for Z puts these characters to good use by bringing four-player team ups into the mix, another addition to the series. Upon selecting your character of choice, you can also nominate up to three extra characters to fight by your side in battle. You also have the ability to give them loose commands during the fight, such as combining powers, sharing energy or putting up a defensive stance. The problem is that these commands seem to fall on deaf ears and in practice become more of a distraction from you trying to pull off your own electrifying special attack.
Perhaps it’s of no coincidence that the AI of your teammates is terrible, as Battle for Z sees a huge shift in focus towards online play. Aside from the opening tutorial levels, the entire campaign or “single mission” mode can be played online with others, whether that be your friends or random match ups. The problem with doing the latter is that finding people to play with is harder than it sounds, particularly if you are forced to sit in a lobby until the current mission is complete. It also invokes moments of jealousy when you venture online during the start of your career when the host chooses stages and characters that don’t feature until later in the game.
If the Co-Op Battle mode suggests an imbalance in the multiplayer setup, then the Team Battle drops the dragon ball altogether, with some incredibly unfair match ups being made. Early adopters of the game may well wish to steer clear of this mode until they’ve unlocked the full roster of characters and leveled their favourites up to near perfection. There’s no filter to stop a group of low level challengers going up against opponents using the meanest, toughest characters in the game, at the highest level possible. The one handicap is that teams of fighters with an overall higher level will have fewer respawns available, but it doesn’t equate to much when they’ve got more power than a Super Saiyan on Steroids.
Each of the game’s thirteen battle arenas feels like you’re stepping into an impressive 360-degree recreation of the anime’s colourful backdrops. There’s now plenty of room to maneuver and sending your opponents flying across the level with a carefully placed punch, kick and Kamehameha is both faithful to the show and incredibly satisfying. However, all this space means that linking your attacks is a much harder task, particularly when the fast combo style attacks are broken up by spending too much time chasing your opponent halfway across the level before you can so much as lay a finger on them.
*don't try this at home
There’s no doubt that Battle for Z is the biggest game to come out of the Dragon Ball Z universe yet. An impressive, if rather unbalanced roster of characters mean there’s an endless amount of match ups to be made online with friends and strangers alike. The three-dimensional arena and eye-popping anime-infused graphics make this the best looking entry into the series. However, looks aren’t everything, and the limited types of gameplay and rehashed storylines make this nothing more than another tired beat-em-up.