Reviewed: December 24, 2004
Released: November 16, 2004
Dragonball Z has quite the history from manga to anime. Not to mention its LONG history in videogames. In fact, Dragonball has had a game for almost every system since the days of the Famicom, which was the Japanese NES for the uninformed.
If you lived on this side of the pacific, you'd hardly know it though. The very first "Dragonball" game ever released here was "Dragon Power" for the NES, which is a neigh recognizable (due to censoring) version of the Famicom's "Mystery of Shen Long".
But enough about the past, this is 2004 and you're here to read about Dragon Ball Z Budokai 3 by Atari. As were the previous two, Budokai 3 is a one-on-one fighting game pitting the greatest warriors in the Dragonball Universe against each other. With a huge host of enhancements, Budokai 3 looks to be the best one yet.
As a fighting game, Budokai has a remarkable variety of modes. You get a full-blown training section; complete with twelve lessons about the game each does a great job of teaching you the intricacies of controlling your fighter. You also get the standard practice mode where you can wail on another character to learn and/or see your moves in action.
As anyone who has seen Dragonball knows, fighting is a large part of the property, usually fast-paced and quite brutal. Budokai does the best job of capturing this as any DBZ game Iíve ever played. The controls are simple, yet you still retain a great assemblage of moves and are always in full control. The fights look almost identical to the show. Blocking, teleporting, beam struggles, itís all here and done in such a way that isnít intimidating or needlessly complicated.
My one caveat about the controls is for the transformations and hypermode. Transformations are done by pressing the X, Square, and Triangle buttons. Hypermode is entered when X, Square, Triangle, and Circle button are pressed. Sometimes I accidentally went into Hypermode went I meant to transform or attempted a throw move (X and square) when I meant to transform.
The main story mode is Dragon Universe. Here you can guide a total of eleven fighters through the Dragonball Z story (some even peek into aspects of GT) As you progress you can find capsules, fight enemies, and unlock more characters for use in Dragon Universe, Duel or tournament modes.
Each of the eleven fighters has a version of the same story, different enemies to fight in different order at different power levels. It even has RPG aspects in that you can level up and enhance areas of your fighter, like attack power, defense, energy, etc.
In order to unlock certain bonus characters, it is necessary to play through the Dragon Universe a second time with the same character. In this case, the story can change in certain instances so itís almost like a brand new experience.
You can also collect the seven Dragon Balls during the game and get to pick one of three things at the conclusion if you find them all. Each is something that is quite rare and valuable.
Capsules are another important aspect of the game. Those capsules are your attacks. Every fighter gets punch, kick, guard and teleport, but capsules greatly add to your arsenal, be it transformations, senzu beans, or powerful energy attacks. Some capsules add to your attack, others to your defense, and some can greatly alter the course of battles.
The capsules are a neat idea, you can have people play as the same fighter, but the capsules they choose make the play experience different for each one. You can outfit your character into an offensive juggernaut with Super Saiyan 4 transformation and kamehamahaís or a defensive turtle with shields and energy replacements.
Transformations are another big part of Dragon Ball. A lot of characters have the ability to transform into a more powerful fighter (if you find the right capsule) the characters who had the ability in the show have it in the game, likewise those that didnít are unable to transform. Certain characters also have the ability to fuse together; youíll see everything from Gotenks to the absurdly powerful Super Saiyan Level 4 Gogeta.
Duel and tournament are the other modes. Duel is the standard two player versus mode. You pick from the selection of fighters and face each other. Tournament is a fighting ladder. You start at ďAdept-classĒ but once that is conquered you can buy higher levels from the capsule shop.
The capsule shop is where you can buy skills for your fighter; these can be used in all modes. This is also where skills can be bought for fighters that are unable to play the Dragon Universe mode.
Budokai is cel-shaded, since itís based on a cartoon that makes perfect sense. The graphics serve their purpose without being overly flashy (in the character sense) you can tell exactly who each character is supposed to be and they look remarkably similar to the program. Thee transformations also work quite well with no noticeable corners cut.
The attacks themselves are quite adequate, basic energy blasts and orbs. Things donít really pick up until we get into the dragon rushes and ultimate attacks, each is a thing of beauty. If the standard attacks are bread and butter, these would assuredly be the desert sundaes.
Most Ultimate attacks (every character, sadly, does not have one) are horrendously powerful. Some even ďdestroyĒ the board youíre on and pull back for nuclear level type explosions. These, of course, are VERY satisfying and VERY damaging.
A little disappointing are the text bubbles in the Dragon Universe mode. I noticed a surprising amount of errors, mostly grammatical. The wrong tenses being used and mysterious double spacing being the ones popping up most often. Not game breaking, but shows a slight lack of polish.
In a rare move for a game, the menus are almost completely read by voice actors. You get Goku explaining each of the modes and several other characters with their own sections. You even get some characters that arenít fighters in the game speaking. In the Dragon Universe mode, certain ďimportantĒ messages are read by the voice actors while others you must read yourself.
The inclusion of show voice actors, as in Budokai 2, greatly enhances the realism. The stories seem much better. Of special note are the ďalternate takesĒ of some Dragon Ball history on second play through of Dragon Universe.
Itís clear and crisp, the stage music and such do get somewhat repetitive after awhile but not anything maddening. The battle sounds, attacks, and dodges also sound great and show accurate.
Fighting games are one of the most versatile forms of gaming, each player you face will be different, plus theyíre great at parties. As a single player game, Budokai 3 is more then adequate and really goes above and beyond the call of duty.
You have unlockable fighters, capsules for different attacks, and stages. This is in addition to a story mode that can subtlety change in certain instances to keep things somewhat fresh.
You also have a tournament to go through and ANOTHER mode unlocks once you beat Dragon Universe with all eleven characters.
Wow, to say Iím impressed would be an understatement. My friend used to live in Japan and I remember when we used to play Super Butoden and Hyper Dimension on his Super Famicom, then Ultimate Battle 22 and GT Final Bout on the PlayStation.
Quite frankly, Budokai 3 completely outclasses every one of those in almost every way. To be honest, I had never played the previous Budokaiís, but I see now I had been missing out. Iíll certainly be looking forward to a Budokai 4.
In all seriousness, this is the best fighting game, period; Iíve played in quite some time. Itís a licensed game that perfectly captured the property while still being fun and accessible. If you like fighting games and are looking for something new to try, you canít go wrong with Budokai and Dragon Ball Z fans (with PS2ís) have no excuse not to own this game.