IGN Review of Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3
Though they may not always get the credit they deserve, there's no denying the driving force of excellence that anime fighters have been putting forth over the last few years in gaming. The DS's top fighter – and one of the best pocket brawlers out there – is an anime fighter, Bleach DS, and Wii and PS2's most recent must-have battlers also hark back to classic anime inspiration as well with games like Naruto: Clash of Ninja on the Nintendo side, and the Dragon Ball Z Budokai series, which found its home on PS2 long before Wii was around. Last year's DBZ effort brought Wii and PS2 together, and we're seeing that again with Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3, as both versions have some improvements over the previous effort, but also some downfalls along the way.
To say that the Dragon Ball Z fighters have reached a saturation point would be a bit of an understatement. Every year we get a new game, every year they add a new word or number after the main Dragon Ball Z marquee, and every year a few more characters are brought into the package to help boast why exactly players need to drop another lump of cash down for the same general experience. When looking at the titles individually, there's no denying that Dragon Ball Z has delivered some of the best anime fighters in gaming history, complete with more playable characters, modes, and options than any of its competition. As a whole, however, the series does very little from version to version, acting like EA's own sports games or racing titles, and eventually everyone decides to skip a game or two along the way.
Budokai Tenkaichi 3 may just be that game. Not because it's a poor effort by any means, but because so much of it is rehash from the previous game, and what is new isn't always an improvement over BT2. The roster now stands at 161 fighters, the game includes new day/night levels (with some special abilities only working under specific conditions), and a few new tactics for seasoned fighters to make use of, but in the end the core experience is identical to previous versions, and there's even some content lost along the way.
Take a look at the main story mode, for example. In Tenkaichi 2, story mode made up a simply ridiculous mass of content, including more battles than any sane person would ever care to complete. You had every saga, every possible battle within each episode of the show, and a never-ending list of fights to enjoy because of it. The presentation was simple, but the payoff was huge. In this year's Dragon History mode – the new "story mode" – you'll get a more cinematic experience, but also a much, much smaller overall offering.
The game's scripted sequences are now handled in-engine, so while the overall flow of the story is well integrated with the battles now, they're also restricted a ton. Only two fighters are shown on the screen at once, and with some scenes utilizing over a half dozen characters at once (the overflow of which are audio only, as the characters are essentially talking from "off-screen") the actual storytelling is totally gimped. Players also miss out on a ton of potential battles too, as the story is far more cinematic, but glosses over the "inconsequential" fights from the show. Last year gave you every fight imaginable with very little cinematic offering, while this year does exactly the opposite, sacrificing a ton of depth for a decent – but far from perfect – story element. In our opinion, it's a step backwards for the series.
As far as the new fighting elements go, Tenkaichi 3 expands on the battle mechanic just as its predecessor did, but per usual the game remains to be a two-button battler at its core. The overall offense from BT2 has been dropped down a bit, making battles a bit more manageable - some much-needed balancing was done, and we're grateful – and the defense has seen a small overhaul as well, with the new addition of both Sonic Sway (a new dodge technique) and Z Counter (a fierce, but very difficult to pull off counter-attack). Are these changes mind-blowing? No, but for a series that hasn't changed its core controls much over the years we weren't expecting much, and what's there is a welcomed change to say the least. You'll find that multiplayer battles, as well as some of the tougher single player experiences, feel a bit more "fair" overall, as BT3 is a more balanced experience than previous efforts.
The console-specific specialties for Tenkaichi 3, however, are a bit of a letdown to say the least. For PS2, the disc fusion system does what could have already been included with the new game, grabbing content from the previous two Budokai Tenkaichi titles and putting them on the new game. For example, swapping in BT2 would unlock Course Battle mode for the new game. It's obvious that Atari wanted something for the PS2 crowd that rivaled Wii's online, and while disc fusion is really nothing more than a cop-out it ends up actually holding its own for one key reason: Wii's online mode is seriously lacking.
As far as content goes, online battling should have been a great experience, as you've got an online ranking system, the ability to play both normal and custom fights, and of course random or friend code play. If you aren't getting constant connection errors, however, you're experiencing what thousands of other DBZ fans have been suffering through (and sending complaints about to both Nintendo and Atari), which is tons of slowdown, control lag, and an overall letdown in the online department. Whether this will be fixed is anyone's guess, but we need to review a game based on how it currently plays, and it's obvious there are issues. Budokai Tenkahichi 3's top selling point is, at least for the moment, extremely crippled.
On the audio/visual side of things, Tenkaichi 3 is very similar to last year's offering, and while the effects and overall polish are improved, you're still getting a 480p experience that runs only in 4:3 display. The overwhelming amount of VO is again making a return, though that should come as no surprise really, and the music is still just as inspired and blaring with J-rock riffs as ever. Not much has changed here, but then again not much needs to.
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