‘Dragon Ball Z – Battle of Z’ Review

Platforms: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360/Vita
Developer: Artdink Publisher: Bandai Namco
Genre: Versus fighter Platform Played: Vita

Dragon Ball Z – Battle of Z is a game that has left me with many conflicted feelings. There are parts of the game that surpass the expectations I had for the game which make me want to pick it up again and again but there are also many, many flaws and problems which severely hold it back from being a good game.

As a fan of the series, I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that Battle of Z is the first console Dragon Ball Z game I have ever played. Battle of Z is quite different to past games however as it introduces a new buddy mechanic which allows you to have four members on your own team to fight enemies ranging from a single foe to waves of lower class fighters. It’s an interesting new mechanic which on paper captures the feeling of the anime’s epic battles with a sense of real genuine teamwork. However when it’s put into practice, it’s too much of a free-for-all mess due to some simple yet crucial flaws.

The biggest failing in the game’s combat – by far- is the the faulty lock-on system which works fine for when you want to find an enemy and hone in on them but when you’re in close quarters surrounded by enemies it really lets the player down. The lock-on seems to react to the enemies’ squad line-up. For example, if you’re locked on to enemy number one and enemy number four attacks you from behind you’ll have to cycle through enemies two and three before you can attack enemy number four. There is a way around this of course as you can disable the lock-on, rotate the camera and reset it which will lock it onto the nearest enemy. However, you have to rotate the camera to do it. If you don’t do that then there’s no telling which enemy the game will lock onto.

The actual combat itself suffers from some terrible problems in addition. This comes from two factors, the limited number of moves a character has and the lack of any kind of countering whatsoever.

Since one of Dragon Ball Z’s core elements is fighting (because y’know, it’s a martial arts manga and anime), you would expect the combatants to possess more than three or four moves since they rank amongst the most powerful fighters the world has ever seen. Instead the attacks are extremely limited. Most of the character have some cool moves and powerful attacks yes, but they’re all the same. Combat consists of using the same attacks over and over so you can build up to a special attack which is usually quite devastating though sometimes it can be rather underwhelming depending on which character you use. (Saibamen, I’m looking at you and your self destruct ability.)

Coupled with the bad lock-on system, repetitive and lacking attacks, Battle of Z is one of those annoying games where once an enemy lands a decent hit on you, he or she is going to absolutely pummle you until they’re finished. This is because you cannot counter in anyway at all which really defeats the point of a martial arts game. You can block but unless your block is timed perfectly, they’ll just keep hitting you which takes away from the believability of the game’s characters. For example, why is Krillin able to beat the crap out of Frieza’s final form with little effort? Countering would not only make for better combat, it would be more accurate to the show. Frieza can blow up a planet but he can’t block a punch? Come on.

The game also features some command functions for combat such as telling your people to get on the defensive for example but if they work at all, I didn’t notice.

Battle of Z also allows you to allocate upgrades and bonus’ in the form of cards to your characters which can do things like increase their health or make their attacks stronger. The problem is, they don’t really do a whole lot. They may work at first but in the end you’ll just be repeating your attacks to reach that special instead of benefitting from the cards in any noticeable way.

Battle of Z also suffers from absolutely, godawful storytelling. Sure, it’s a fighting game so story shouldn’t really be paramount but when you have a story mode which has to cover the events of nearly 300 hundred episodes, it would be pretty helpful if the developer could sort out the pacing. The story mode in Battle of Z is entirely dependent on you having watched the entire anime and some of the spin-off films. If you haven’t seem them all then large gaps in the story are going to have you seriously, seriously confused. Then again, this is a game aimed at Dragon Ball Z fans but it still would have been nice to have some animated cutscenes or something to even out the pacing and hey, I’m playing through the story – give me a story please.

There are also some massive continuity errors due to the team-based combat mechanics requiring four team members for the battles. It’s annoying but you can understand why the developer had to do jumble continuity around a bit. 

Battle of Z also features some online functionality in the form of co-op and versus. The former sees you fighting against AI where versus has you fighting against other players. There aren’t a lot of game modes within these two and the same problems from single-player trickle in to plague multiplayer. However, versus can be quite fun to go up against other people.

By this point in the review you must be wondering just why I’m conflicted about this game. Well, the truth is that with all of it’s massive problems; it’s actually quite fun at times. Being able to fly around as Goku and the gang is a lot of fun in small doses. When you do get past the combat’s frustrating problems and actually land some decent attacks, it starts to feel like the manga and anime. Also, the best platform to play this game on by far is the PlayStation Vita. The patchy story actually comes in handy if you’re commuting with your Vita and you just want to have a quick battle or two. It’s a bad game for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 for this reason, but with the Vita it has a real “pick up and play” feel.

With the game stretching over almost 3oo episodes, this means you get to take control of 70 characters in total. 70 unique characters to try out in different battles against different enemies. It gives the game a lot of replayability because you can use them in the side-battles which run alongside the story. If you want to have all four forms of Frieza face off against the Ginyu Force, have at it. Want to use Super Saiyan Goku, Vegeta, Trunks and Gohan go up against legions of Frieza’s men? Do your stuff.

Though limited, the game also features some decent enough set-pieces to fight in. This makes it interesting for those of you who want to be tactical in battle. I often find myself flanking an enemy while they’re not looking to unleash a Kamehameha from behind because of the open ended maps. You’re given an environment to fight in and that’s fun. There’s a lot of rehashing of the same maps but hey, you’re not playing the game to focus on the scenery are you?

Battle of Z is a disappointment overall. I was really looking forward for this to be good. I knew going in that as a Dragon Ball Z game, it wasn’t going to be the best game to every grace my console but I didn’t expect this many problems which is a shame because despite the flaws, Battle of Z can be really fun. Even though I would often give up out of exasperation after playing through a game that feels really half-arsed, I was playing again soon after because I wanted to unlock more characters to screw around with. That and I want to be a Super Saiyan.

Is Battle of Z worth playing? If you don’t own a Vita you could miss the game and live quite happily without it. However, if you do own a Vita, it can be a really fun game to play in short bursts. I can’t say for sure whether I believe the game was made for this kind of play style but it works. So yeah, it’s kind of worth playing.

Overall, there is fun to be had here. You’re more likely to hate it than love it (or even like it) but what good it does is unfortunately overshadowed by stupid problems that just get on your nerves and hamper the experience.

The Good

– Lots and lots of characters.

– Really fun at times on the Vita.

The Bad

– Crap lock-on system.

– Poor pacing and story-telling in single player.

– No ability to counter attacks.

– Limited combat abilities.

The score: 5