IGN Review of Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai
Holy crap there are a lot of Dragon Ball Z games -- typing the name into our
search engine returns no less than 44 results. Granted, some of these releases are multi-platform and so really only count as one game, but even after you consolidate those you're left with what is easily one of the largest franchises in gaming's history. Though it's hit nearly every platform to date, PSP DBZ fans have been chomping at the bit for a Saiyan fest since the handheld's release. Z fans may finally rejoice however, for the fight has come to the PSP in Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai.
Loosely following the story behind the DBZ movie "Rebirth of Fusion" (or "Fusion Returns!", "Fusion Reborn" or "Resurrection of Fusion", however you take the translation), Shin Budokai features nearly 20 characters from said adapted storyline and offers both a standard Arcade mode as well as a fleshed out Dragon Road story aspect. Adding in a Z Trial mode that pits fighters against certain conditions, like Time Attack or Survival play, 2-player Network Battle over Ad Hoc and unlockable goodies in a shop, there's plenty of stuff here for DBZ fans to fight over.
The main combat system is a fair bit simpler than the most recent release on PlayStation 2, Dragon Ball Z Budokai: Tenkaichi. All of your main (non-power) attacks are tied to two buttons, and move variations are made by using the D-pad in any of the four main directions. That is, you have quite a limited basic attack system, and since each of these attacks play out largely the same (aside from slight damage or possible toss distance differences), there isn't a whole lot of strategy here. The melee aspects of battles generally devolve into simple tradeoffs between button-mashing and blocking, with much more emphasis on the button-mashing portion.
Part of the problem is that it's quite difficult to recover from any sort of juggle or block combos once you're caught. Luckily, sort of, the combat system doesn't rely on either of these too much, which means that while it isn't a problem for you while you're on the defensive, there isn't a whole lot to do on the offensive to put someone away.
Really, the main focus of the combat system here is the ranged attacks via Special Technique, Super Ki Blast and Super Attack moves. The Ki energy required to pull off these attacks comes from either being involved with close combat or by holding L to charge your Ki meter. Because of this, the two main tactics in combat are either to run away and charge your Ki or knock your opponent down with melee attacks and then charge while he's down. In either case, the main tactical aspect of each battle is knowing when to charge and when to unleash your attacks.
Like the original anime releases, Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai is most rewarding to see and actually land each character's Special Attack. Tossing giant balls of energy that resemble a small moon at your opponent's face is always funny, and the game does pull off this "power" aspect of the series pretty well.
Much of it is due to its capable graphics engine which renders the characters and their special attacks nicely. The art style matches the show really well with great cel-shaded characters, thick outlines and all, and flashy power effects. Since you're usually fighting in wide-open areas and high above the ground, the environment doesn't have a whole lot of detail to be shown, but that's how it is in the series, anyway.
The story mode itself is pretty damn beefy, offering a rather lengthy run through Shin Budokai's adapted storyline. Each chapter is broken down into multiple sections, each of which contain a fight of some sort, be it for sport between two friends or as part of a story point. One cool thing about this is that as these fights are directly tied to the storyline, you're constantly switching characters and even taking on the roles of the bad guys from time to time. It does pretty well to mix up the pace, even if the only major differences between many of the characters are their Super Attacks. You'll also find branching story arcs here, letting you choose whether you want to let a character run away or finish them off, for example, which then changes the next few story segments. Luckily for hardcore fans, you can jump back into any finished chapter without starting from scratch, so you can run through the finished segments with ease and check out the alternate story arcs if you feel so inclined.
The story itself is completely cracked out. Characters will fight each other for no other reason than just to fight, and some of the conversations that take place are almost nonsensical, especially if you're not already a Dragon Ball Z fan. Some of my favorite quotes are:
"Goku? He's my dad and my dad's biggest rival!"
"Your Instant Transmission is incredible."
"Anyway Goku, I've been looking for you; I need you to come to hell!"
Hmm, indeed. Speaking of Hell, in Shin Budokai it is apparently made up of a purple, barren wasteland with floating Peanut M&Ms in the sky. No, it really doesn't make any sense.
The game's storyline plays out like a B-movie, something along the lines of what Mystery Science Theater would make a mockery of were it a fully animated film. This isn't a bad thing however, and to an outsider like myself it actually enhances the experience. Were it some trivial story about collecting Dragon Balls and defeating some enemy I didn't care about with serious dialog I'd have been bored mindless, but it was so entirely stupid that I couldn't help but be constantly amazed at how ludicrous it progressed.
Again, I mean that in the most positive way possible as I'm pretty sure all of this was intentional. Granted, I'm no Dragon Ball Z fan by any stretch of the word, but while I don't "get" much of what makes it tick, I can appreciate what the fans see in it.
One thing that Shin Budokai does handle quite nicely is the portable nature of the PSP. Fights are rather quick of course, but so are the story segments, each of which ends with a save opportunity. Playing through each of these segments only takes about a minute or so, meaning that the game is great for bite-sized gaming sessions. You need to manually turn on the autosave to make things easier, but coupled with the reasonably short load times and quick segments, this is a great example of how games should scale down play sections for on-the-go ease.
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