Like many others who had the opportunity to grow up in Australia during the 90s, one of my fondest memories was tuning into Cheez TV every weekday morning and catching episodes of Dragon Ball Z. Of course, years have passed since then, but DBZ continues to hold a special place in my heart. This seems to be equally true of many others around the world, given the continuous release of movies, video games and other media. The most recent of these is Battle of Z, in which players can form a team of up to four of their favourite characters and do battle in a variety of scenarios.
Similar to other DBZ games, Battle of Z spans the series’ huge storyline, from the Saiyan saga all the way to the Majin Buu saga, and all the movies throughout. However, any actual storytelling in Battle of Z is pretty much non-existent, and if you’re unfamiliar with (or just don’t remember) the story of DBZ and its movies, prepare to be confused. Battle of Z does away with recapping the sagas or the films and instead has some brief cutscenes where nothing really happens. Even iconic events such as Goku discovering his Super Saiyan form or Future Trunks killing Mecha Frieza aren’t mentioned in the game’s main story missions. Enemies show up and quip a line or two before you are thrown into a fight, leaving you to figure out what is happening and why. To its credit however, Battle of Z looks damn good, with beautifully cel-shaded character models and stages that really bring the world of DBZ to life. The voice acting is pretty good as well, even nostalgic, although there are some notable issues with lip-synching.
We’ve had a lot of DBZ fighting games, but Battle of Z gives an experience a bit more true to what we’re used to seeing in the anime. The game can be described as a beat ’em up, with up to three other players or NPCs participating in battles against various enemies. Battle of Z has a massive roster, with characters unlocked as you complete each stage. Every character has basic melee and ranged attacks (ki blast) as well as special abilities that vary depending on what ‘type’ they are. For example, Fighting type characters will have close-range specials, Support type characters will have specials that focus on buffs and healing, and so on. Characters are also customisable to an extent with the help of cards earned after every victory, which is a neat little system that allows you to add your own touches to the game. These boost stats such as energy, health, melee ability, etc., making it important for you to pick the right cards to play to each character’s strengths. There are also some special cards with various effects, such as increasing experience points earned after each battle.
As for combat itself, well… ‘misguided’ would be an appropriate word. Encounters take place in huge arenas based on familiar locations from the anime, which makes sense within the context of the show and should, in theory, lend themselves well to aerial combat. However, they’re so large that you’ll find most of your time is spent flitting about and trying to catch your enemy. This issue is particularly highlighted with Meteor Chain, which allows players to launch an enemy, which can then be followed up by attacks by other team mates. It’s a cool concept and is something that fans of the anime will immediately recognise from the series, but most of the time your enemy will recover before you can even come within striking distance, thanks to the massive stages. It also makes reviving your team mates a tricky task.
Combat is billed as ‘high-speed’, but only really consists of whittling away at your enemy’s health without too much thought or strategy coming into play. Admittedly, this does get a bit more difficult (read: frustrating) when you’re pitted against multiple enemies, mostly because it’s practically impossible to break out of combos. Some kind of counter-attack system would have been cool to see. It’s also worth noting that Super Saiyan forms, rather than being power-ups or a special ability, are included as separate characters, which is rather disappointing considering it could have added a bit more depth to the game.
Make no mistake, Battle of Z is a very repetitive game. During battles, all you really have to do is mash Triangle, occasionally dodge, and throw special attacks when you get a chance. Stage objectives never really get more creative than ‘defeat X’ or ‘survive for X minutes’. There are also only a handful of stages, although this isn’t really a surprise given how many episodes of the series took place in the same locations. But for all its faults, Battle of Z does get better once you start playing online with other people. That’s not to say that the NPC AI is particularly awful, but they aren’t the sharpest. They, for the most part, stay out of trouble and heal/revive you when needed, although as you’d expect, they’re no match for characters controlled by a competent human being. Battle of Z‘s online modes have a nice amount of variety to them and consist of Co-op Mode, which is self-explanatory, and Team Battle, which supports up to eight players. Team Battle is broken up into four modes: Normal Battle, Score Battle, Battle Royal and Dragon Ball Grab. Normal Battle pits two teams of up to four players against each other, Score Battle sees teams trying to knock each other as many times as possible in a certain amount of time, Battle Royal is a free-for-all and Dragon Ball Grab involves each team fighting for each of the seven Dragon Balls.
It’s sad that Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z ends up being such an average game, considering it tries so hard to represent the heart and soul of an anime so many loved and grew up with. However, although many of its elements are clunky and repetitive, such as the lazy storytelling, unfortunate combat design and uninspired mission objectives, there’s still plenty of fun and nostalgia to be had, especially once you start playing with others. And after all, fans needn’t fret; if history is any indication, this isn’t the last Dragon Ball game we’ll ever have. Not for a long time.
Huge cast of characters | Fun online modes | Beautiful visuals
Non-existent storytelling | Repetitive, misguided combat | Dull selection of missions