Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 is a game of extremes. It’s all about extreme action, extreme over-the-top marital arts by all the show’s most popular characters, and extreme variation in quality. Simply put, it does some things extremely well, while it does other things extremely poorly. Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3’s strengths and weaknesses are best explained individually due to the game’s departures from the conventional norms of the fighting game genre, but in brief summary, it succeeds in pleasing hardcore Dragon Ball fans, while it fails to get all of the game mechanics right.Dragon Ball Z is probably one of the most popular anime (and manga) series in the entire world; occurring after the events of the Dragon Ball series, the story follows the adventures of a powerful martial artist named Goku and his friends in an epic saga that flows for hundreds upon hundreds of episodes with a sequel television series (Dragon Ball GT). Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 is a fighting game based on said epic, though it does not totally fall into the aforementioned genre. While the actual battles are fought like those of true blue fighting games, it contains a story mode called Dragon Universe which contains some RPG elements, following in the footsteps of Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution, Soul Calibur or Sonic Battle.
In the realm of visuals, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 fares pretty well. The characters are portrayed in a pleasing cell-shaded style that captures their essence from the animated series, while the backgrounds are pretty standard. Also, special effects are impressive and the actual world map from the story mode (more on that later) looks great. While it appears as though it could have been done in a first generation Dreamcast game, its presentation of the Dragon Ball world is brilliant. The attention to detail here is one of the many things in this game that is sure to please Dragon Ball Z fans; from Goku’s house to Kami’s lookout and the teepees below it (only seen in the original Dragon Ball series), this aspect of the story mode gives the game its charm.
However, all these pretty things to look at come at a price: load times. While they’re not horrendously long, they are frequent and try one’s patience after a while. And did I mention this time is spent watching a Saibaman rise up out of the ground? While those of you who are only casual fans of the series may have just tuned out, those who know what I’m talking about realize that this means staring down one of those creepy, little, green veggie-men as it stands there, wheezing in the corner of the screen. After extended exposure to this, I’m still having nightmares about the little beasts to this day.
The sound is pretty standard overall with musical scores that would sound perfectly at home among the television show’s soundtrack and fit the action oriented gameplay. The voice acting is also pretty accurate to the TV series for the most part, with about three quarters of the characters sounding like their television counterparts, while the rest seem to be a little off. Oh, and the dialogue is pretty wonky. Of course, anyone who knows anything about Dragon Ball Z would expect this since this to follows in suit with the television show, however the conversations in Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 are particularly horrendous and often make no sense.
Just like everything else about this game, the actual gameplay on which this brawler is based is a mixed bag. The actual fights are great in the sense that they look and feel like the epic battles Dragon Ball Z is known for, with their fast-paced action. Examples of such occur when both players enter a mid-air melee of flying fists and feet or simultaneously launch projectile attacks at one another, situations that are resolved by a contest to see who can rotate the analog stick faster. Or then there are the combos in which opponents are sent smashing through parts of the landscape and the lengthy beat-downs that play out like the summon spells of a Final Fantasy game. These are fun to watch, but they also diminish players’ sense of control over what’s going on in the battle, leaving them to look on passively. This leads into the fact that when it comes down to it, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 seems to require relatively less skill than established fighting games such as Street Fighter or Virtua Fighter and players are often left at the mercy of Lady Luck.
On the bright side, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 brings a huge roster of playable fighters to the table, yet another thing that is sure to please fans. Even the inclusion of the vast number of non-playable characters is likely to please Dragon Ball nuts, digging up characters from Dragon Ball’s early past, another appreciated bit of attention to detail. I also salute the game’s developers for throwing away the usual rubric of fast-and-weak through strong-and-slow fighters among the roster of brawlers, except wait… they created no alternate way to differentiate them. Essentially, all the characters play very similarly with little noticeable difference between them beyond their physical appearances. Luckily Story Mode does something to ameliorate this situation somewhat (and note, I said “somewhat”).
Most of your time with this game will most likely be spent playing the story mode which is named “Dragon Universe.” This mode allows players to choose one of the major heroes of Dragon Ball Z and play through their entire role in the saga. Dragon Universe includes many RPG elements such as the aforementioned gorgeous world and the ability to acquire abilities and items with which to customize the fighters. Unfortunately, even with these customization options, they still feel rather similar. On the bright side, this is also the mode that allows players to unlock additional characters.
Dragon Universe requires a certain knowledge of the Dragon Ball Z television series, otherwise the plot feels very disjointed and makes virtually no sense, a problem only aggravated by a poor interface with the world map. Players are also left with few clues as to what to do next when it comes to anything other than the most essential points in the plot, requiring them to search aimlessly. And did I mention the horrible, horrible dialogue yet? While being able to play through Dragon Universe with different characters gives it some replayability, you’ll most likely view it as a chore by the end, doing it only for the unlockable goodies.
Among the game’s other modes is a tournament mode which serves as a substitute for the usual arcade mode in fighting games, though it is slightly shorter and is organized into brackets with single elimination. The main problem with tournament mode is the fact that all the fights take place in the same stage. This normally wouldn’t be such a horrible thing except that it is held on the one stage where ring outs are not only possible, but exceptionally easy beyond reason, often making fights a matter of luck.
Versus mode is fun, as the chaotic gameplay and massive number of characters lend themselves to playing with friends. While it may not be able to keep the party going ‘till dawn like Mario Kart or Halo, it’s still a blast to play with your pals. Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 also comes with a Training Mode for practicing moves and an unlockable Arena Mode for leveling up your characters outside of Dragon Universe.
If you’re looking for a game that is a great representation of the Dragon Ball Z universe, then look no further than Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3. If you’re looking for a good fighting game that will entertain and challenge you for hours, then it’s best to look somewhere else. Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3’s intended audience is pretty clear due to the fact that its greatest strength is unparalleled Dragon Ball Z flavor, and this same flavor is the source of many of its shortcomings. The only non-Dragon Ball Z fans who might enjoy this game are those who are looking for a unique take on the fighting genre. In the end, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 is a slightly above-average fighting game which does a brilliant job of capturing the feel of the animated series.
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