New Dragon Ball Z games used to be a yearly occurence much like many sports franchises, however Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z is releasing two years after Namco Bandai’s last effort in Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi, with only a Budokai HD Collection and Dragon Ball Z: Kinect to tide over gamers. While the Budokai HD Collection bought us some of the best efforst of the PS2 era combining Budokai 1 and Budokai 3, Dragon Ball Z: Kinect was a major dissapointment, simply adding Kinect controls to the already poor quality Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi whilst also removing many of the things that made that game bearable such as the character creator and story modes. So with a longer development time and being the first Dragon Ball Z game to be developed by new studio Artdink (best known for the Gundam games on PSP), I was definitely hoping for something innovative and most importantly, something fun. Please keep in mind this is only an impression of the demo which has a large number of characters, game modes and story blocked out, but the demo still gives a good impression of what we can expect from the gameplay and game modes.
The demo offers the first four story missions of the game which must be played first to unlock the online co-op and battle modes. The first three missions serve as tutorials, with a few easy fights against Saibamen that introduce you to all the attacks in the game and the game really picks up. Characters talk to one another during the fights which is fun to listen to, and cutscenes also break up the action. Whilst cutscenes have generally been lazily constructed in Dragon Ball Z games ever since the first Budokai game, these ones are alot more animated and lively rather than just characters talking, and due to the games nature to stray away from the main storyline (it does follow it but with a few small changes here and there) it’s cool to see the characters in new situations.
This is also where you get your first look at the gameplay and to sum it up, it is fun yet shallow and you can’t help but feel they could have added more variety, especially with melee. Each character has a basic melee string and a big smash attack that launches the opponent away, but unfortunately thats about it for melee. While performing the string you can cancel it into other actions such as your unique actions or supers, but these will often end a combo so you don’t really get to continue beating up on one opponent for long. Characters can also shoot energy blast (although unfortunately most characters can only shoot one at time and there is a decent cooldown between when you can fire the next one), fire off supers if you have enough ki and perform a blast spark which is like a small beam. The coolest addition to this game is unique actions that are different for all characters. Each character has two and they can range from attacks such as Goku’s Kaioken which chases an opponent down and slams them away, from supportive such as Krillin’s ability to restore health with a spread energy blast. These unique actions along with their skill type (from either melee, ki, support or interference) help ensure each character feels different and it will be fun to experiment with the full roster when the full game is released (the demo only supports 4 characters, Goku, Krillin, Kid Gohan and Piccolo). Movement feels solid but a bit more speed in the dashes would of been nice to see as the battlefields are rather large. Luckily with 4 opponents on screen at once you normally don’t have to travel too far to find one.
The big new point of this game is of course the team battles, where two teams of 4 four battle against eachother or eight players can participate in a battle royale. The demo only has score mode available where each team scores points for knocking out members of the other team. These battles are chaotic but alot of fun and the chaos somewhat makes up for the limited battle system. You can be in a melee combo against one person and then someone will shoot you from the side with a Kamehameha. You really have to be aware of your surroundings and it’s very hard to do that while your also trying to keep an eye on your health and ki. Team actions such as ping ponging the opponent around, synchro rush which occurs when 2 or more team members are all attacking one opponent and revive soul help the team work together, and a team that works well together to make the most of these actions is very hard to beat. I had a mixed experience with lag online. If one player has a horrible connection the whole match will be basically unplayable, however if everyone has at least a somewhat decent connection, the game goes very smooth. The online lobbies could of been handled a bit better as there can be long wait times between games or even getting into a match and it is frustrating if the host doesn’t start the game quickly, but it’s good fun when you do. It is possible to do 1 on 1 fights, however from my experience the players must be friends. If you have only two users in a room on team battle, the remaining slots will be filled with computer players.
The graphics are pretty good and it’s nice to see the stages and character design all in a similar style. The cel shading style might not sit right with some but I think it looks great, except in some instances when there seems to be alot of levels of shading and characters look very blocky because of it. Energy attacks and special effects look pretty awesome and feel destructive. Mountains explode when players are knocked into them, dirt flies off the ground as you launch up and everything has that DBZ look. One rather large negative about the graphics is that the faces of some characters look off with some of the characters. Piccolo looks spot on, but Gohan just doesn’t seem to look quite right.
The music is mostly reused from previous games, but it seems the better tracks have been picked and you have the option to play your own custom soundtrack as well, even when your online. The voice acting is a highlight, as the new lines created for the story seem to have provided some new inspiration to the team and there delivery is strong as ever. All the other classic DBZ sounds are present such as beam launches and aura powerups. Nothing sounds out of place and it all fits well.
All in all the demo for Battle of Z provided a fun experience and a rather generous taste of the game. While the battle system could be more fleshed out and the lobby system improved, this is a great first try from a new studio tackling one of the largest anime licenses in the world, especially as they are trying something new by having 8 players on the screen at once. It’s definitely worth a try for any DBZ fan and any fan of more casual fighting games in general. Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z releases on the 24th of January for PS3, PS Vita and Xbox 360 and you can try the demo for yourself now.