Up until this point, virtually every console game based on the Dragon Ball Z anime restricted players to a narrow play field. You could glide across the floor, shoot off into the sky and even toss your enemies into the surrounding hillside. But it was still restrictive. You couldn't take to the skies and explore the heavens at will, for example. And you couldn't use the environment to your advantage, either, save for the throwing-someone-into-a-mountain thing. It's this very lack of freedom that Atari and Avalanche Software set out to eliminate with their latest game, Dragon Ball Z: Sagas.
Atari has described Dragon Ball Z: Sagas as a sandbox brawler, in that you can take characters from the Dragon Ball universe and run amok, demolishing everything in your path. It sounds like a dream game, especially for long-time fans of the show. The truth, unfortunately, winds up feeling far less glamorous. In fact, Sagas coughs up one of the most abysmal Dragon Ball experiences in creation. The problems stem from every aspect imaginable, from control and camera issues, to insipid AI and boss characters. After a few hours, you realize there isn't much in Sagas that works as it should, or at least as developers intended. It's a shame considering the source material, and the fact that Sagas was meant to take DBZ games into a new direction.
Sagas splits into different chapters, with each chapter starring specific characters from the show. An edited and re-cut segment from the popular TV series precedes every chapter and helps move the narrative forward. Sagas also hands out mission objectives at the start of every chapter, which a player can recall by pausing the game. Objectives range from collecting items, defeating specific enemies and protecting key characters. A small radar on the screen helps locate enemies and mission objectives. Thing is, much of the game winds up feeling the same. You'll plow through waves of enemies, destroy a few dozen rock formations and battle bosses, but all of it feels the same. And none of it is particularly engaging. On the contrary, it's either excruciatingly boring or just flat-out frustrating.
While each stage brims with fully destructible items such as boulders and trees, there's just so much wrong with this game that it doesn't matter. You won't want to run around blowing stuff up, because actually progressing through the game is such a grievous chore. Who cares that you can kick an opponent 200 feet away and watch him explode into the side of a mountain. What gamers want is compelling gameplay, which requires finely tuned game mechanics. If a game fails on the most basic level, as Sagas clearly does, then it doesn't matter if its anemic core is surrounded by layers of filler, such as destructible environments.
As far as control goes, Sagas suffers from a myriad of issues. To start, any action game requiring the near-constant mashing of buttons needs to respond quickly. On top of that, button layout needs to enhance the fluidity of battle. It needs to make things intuitive, natural. You're supposed to fight the enemies on screen, not the controller. Your controller, especially in games like Sagas, should stand as your greatest ally. Well, it doesn't in this case. The jump button, for example, sits between the punch and kick buttons on the GameCube version. And since you need to punch and kick everyone to death, the layout seriously hinders your ability to kick ass. Still, it's incredibly easy to kill enemies, so long as they approach you one at time. All that's required to kill anyone (including most bosses) is to alternate between punching and kicking, making sure to chain attacks without completing a combo. This way, enemies won't recover quickly enough to block or retaliate. And kids, be sure to head into the media section to watch this brilliant, boss bashing technique in action.
Beyond this, most every character in the game lacks the speed to dodge attacks. And blocking winds up feeling relatively useless, on top of that. Enemies can block just fine, but you'll be left defenseless as foes pummel you to death. Interestingly enough, Sagas does a damn good job of exposing its own weaknesses, as it constantly throws hordes of enemies at you. Trying to beat them down requires inhuman levels of patience, not only due to sloppy control, but also because your foes lack any intelligence and simply charge you. And while you're trying to fend them off, enemies in the background launch projectiles at you. Of course, you can't really dodge those either, since each blast tears through the sky much faster than you can. Even later in the game, when you can purchase speed upgrades, it's still hard to dodge.
Unfortunately, it's not just controls that drain the fun out of Sagas, it's the camera, enemy lock-on system, and skills upgrade system too. To start, the camera needs work, plain and simple. Months and months of work. Manual control of the camera is non existent. It gets stuck behind boulders and hills, granting the hellishly cheap enemies an even greater advantage. And forget about backtracking. Since you can't move the camera, you will never see what's in front of you when backtracking to find items, some of which may be mission critical. Moving on, the enemy lock-on system is crippled by terrible implementation. The camera always locks-on to the nearest enemy, regardless of who it is you want to kill. Never mind that a distant foe busies itself by launching a barrage of projectiles at you, the camera will lock-on to someone two feet in front of you. Making matters worse is the fact that projectile-shooting enemies usually sit atop a hill, so you absolutely need to shoot them down, which is far easier with a lock.
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