Review: It's like all those Superman movies, only more redundant.
Dragon Ball Z Budokai was an interesting series. It always managed to give fans what they wanted- a special effects driven fight fest with simple mechanics. The game managed to go through three separate incarnations before finally ending. There are now two separate spin-offs of the series, Dragon Ball Z Shin Budokai, and Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi. Tenkaichi is probably the most ambitious of all of the Dragon Ball Z titles, featuring the usual Tournament and story modes along with a new challenge mode. While Shin Budokai traces the plot of one of the films in it's Dragon Road mode, Tenkaichi instead attempts to trace the entire DBZ mythos beginning with the Saiyan Saga and covering each and every saga and film in the Z series in it's Dragon Gate mode, all while featuring some great destructible environments and one of the largest character sets yet. Ambitious idea, no?
If you have played Budokai before and think you have some idea of what the controls do, a friendly word of advice- stop. You don't have any idea how to play this game and will hurt yourself. Tenkaichi plays something like a watered down Zone of the Enders, and while that may sound fun, it's actually horribly difficult when not done correctly. First off, since the game takes place from a behind-the-back perspective, players can not perform attacks unless they lock on to an enemy- this is impossible to do if the enemy isn't within visible range of the character, though once locked on, players can move behind all manner of objects for cover and still not lose their focus. This is still very irritating when one needs to quickly lock off of an enemy to hide someplace safe and charge up, only to jump out and attempt to perform a super move, but be completely lost. Another problem with the lock on system is that when the player isn't focused on an enemy, it is impossible to change the camera angle, so often players will be flying straight into the screen. This is something that can often be a major hindrance in planning a decent tactical escape.
Controls only get more bogged down when you begin to include the new jump and dash maneuvers. Players can control the pitch of their jumps as well as the speed and direction. It might not sound like a bad thing, but consider something as simply jumping to the top of the arena. Players must hold L2, R2, and X and press R1 to initiate the jump. That is a lot of buttons. This goes for other ?simple? maneuvers such as dashing around an opponent (L2, X, and a direction button), or performing super moves (L2, Triangle, and a direction). It takes a good hour or two just to get used to the control scheme, and in a fighting game, that generally means there will be many losses before any wins are made.
Hand to hand combat is useless when it comes to dealing damage. The only reason it is there is to daze an enemy or push him away. Otherwise, players will find themselves getting themselves in over their heads if they go for punching and kicking maneuvers. The game definitely favors the use of fireballs and ki attacks.
Movesets are sparse to say the least. Each character gets three special attacks, and two ?favorites?. The specials are always either average fireballs or dashing moves. There are only about four favorites in the entire game, most of which only provide tactical help when needed such as the ?Full Power? maneuver that fills up the player's Ki Gauge. Dashing moves are practically unavoidable, and are great if you are the one delivering them. The only way to stop a dashing move is to fire a projectile super move back, otherwise players can't outrun them, block them, or fire ki blasts to stop them. This causes major problems later on in the game. If players have one favorite gauge full and power their ki as far as possible, it will put their character into a temporary super power state. The super power state is pretty much useless since all it really does is allow players to use their most powerful move- something that is required in many of the Dragon Gate missions. The only other benefit to being in this state is the ability to dash around without losing ki for as long as the state lasts.
There are many other technical details such as blocking, dodging, and dashing that would take pages upon pages to explain, and really it just isn't worth doing. It's very clear that this game has horribly complicated controls, and it will take the average player a long time to figure it all out. While all of the complexity makes since once you really get into the game, Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi is still a horribly technical fighter. It's funny to think of how rough the learning curve is compared to truly technical fighters like Tekken and Virtua Fighter. It really is amazing how simply moving the camera to a different position can drastically change things.
The meat of the game lies in the Dragon Gate mode, where Shenron, the fabled Dragon of Dragon Ball Z has lost his memory, and it is up to you to unlock the memories of the Z fighter's struggles. Unfortunately by nature the Dragon Gate mode is retread ground. The game does show some parts of the story that the other Budokai installments have neglected to show such as Chaotzu's sacrifice while fighting Nappa in the Saiyan Saga, or heart-diseased Goku's difficult battle with Android 19, but it often boils down to a few bits of dialogue thrown together before a fight. This hardly helps move the story along if you haven't seen the anime, or simply forgot what happened at a given point. Only fans of the series will know what is going on at any given time through Dragon Gate. One nice feature of Dragon Gate is that players can pick any of the four main arcs (Saiyan, Namek, Cell or Buu) at the start of the game, and once a new arc is unlocked, players can quit halfway through one and begin another. While the four main arcs usually consist of 20+ fights, the side arcs based on DBZ movies rarely have more than five battles.
The fact that side stories are short actually doesn't work against Dragon Gate as much as it sounds, because as it turns out, these missions are very redundant. There are essentially only two types of missions in Dragon Gate mode. All missions are either ?Survive so-and-so for x seconds? or ?Kill so-and-so with this attack before time runs out?. Sometimes you'll get an infinite time limit to kill an enemy, other times you'll be timed but don't have to use a specific move to kill an enemy, but ultimately that's the extent of DBZ Tenkaichi.
The missions where you have to perform special killing moves aren't too bad, but it is very frustrating when you get your opponent down to critical health, attempt to power up for a finisher, and they suddenly stick to you like glue. I found many times where I had to resign even though I was high in the lead because the enemy only had one hit left to die, but I couldn't get him away far enough to power up. A mission not won correctly is a mission failed, and in this case, it really sucks because it makes relatively simple missions much more needlessly complex than they need to be. It is also very frustrating when fighting enemies like Brolly or Bojack who are able to withstand melee attacks. The game expects you to fight these juggernauts off, then power up a full powered attack and score a direct hit. It's very difficult to do when the enemy constantly rushes you and pounds you into oblivion with you being relatively defenseless.
The worst missions, however, are the survival missions. They aren't noticeably bad until you get to the Frieza battles, just before Super Saiyan Goku comes on the scene. This is where the game becomes uber cheap. Survival missions pit heavily handicapped players against almost impervious enemies that can do tons of damage. This obviously leads to some serious frustration in the game. The Survival missions are just bad- going against everything a fighting game is supposed to be about. Instead of making players engage their enemy, Survival missions award players from running away which is the last thing you should be doing in a fighter. It gets really frustrating at the end when at four fights in a row are survival missions with ever-growing time limits.
One other thing that is easy to miss through out Dragon Gate mode is the titular Dragon Balls. Each stage has one hidden somewhere within it's destructible environment. When all 7 Dragon Balls are gathered, players call upon Shenron and are given the option to pick up special items such as hidden characters or new stages. Unfortunately even if you do manage to break just the right object and find the small orange ball, you will still be busy fighting off the enemy making the collection very difficult.
Players determined enough to finish Dragon Gate will unlock a slew of playable characters. I am still counting how many are available. Almost every main fighter of the Dragon Ball Z series is available in this game. Granted, each form of a character counts as a different player. So regular Vegeta is actually a different character than regular Vegeta with a scouter. It is a little ridiculous. It's also a little lame that players can't transform during battle, but this was something I immediately forgot about once I started playing. Considering how tricky the controls were, it's probably good that they didn't add transformations into the mix.
Tenkaichi features a tournament mode much like the other Budokai games. The mechanics stay the same as in any other mode in Tenkaichi, only players can lose due to ring outs. This works differently than in other Budokai games, though. In older Budokais, players would instantly get a ring out if they or their opponent was knocked out of the boundary of the ring, whether they were airborne or not. In Tenkaichi, players are free to fly anywhere in the tournament stage, but as soon as they touch ground outside of the ring, they become disqualified. Tournament mode is much more like the show now, which definitely works to the game's advantage. It really makes fights in the tournament much more fair.
The final gameplay mode is Ultimate Battle mode where the player chooses a fighter that can be customized. This fighter is then sent through a gauntlet of 100 consecutive fights, earning points along the way. If a player loses a match, he or she loses points. When the player has 0 points left, he or she must restart the mode from the first fight. The fights get more and more difficult as they go, but so long as you have beaten the Dragon Gate mode, you should have more than enough items to power up your character any way you like.
The item shop has been done away with. In its place is the Evolution Z mode. In this mode, players can equip items won throughout the game to any playable character. Also, using special items called Z Fusions, players can combine two items to form more powerful items, unlock new characters, or find new status affecting items. This obviously adds some RPG-like elements to the game which are a decent addition. Personally, I prefer the old Zenny and capsule system of the original Budokais, but that's just my preference. I had no problem with the Evolution Z system.
The final option on the main menu is a character profile mode. As characters are unlocked, their profile will show up. Whoever compiled this data deserves a pat on the back, as almost every little detail about every character is included. Some of the profiles are written a little poorly, but overall the profiles are a surprisingly interesting read.
Visually Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi stands up to the legacy of the Budokai series. In fact the visuals oftentimes overshadow the other Budokai games. Characters are all well cel shaded. Environments while still a little sparse by today's standards, feature a decent number of objects, perfect for smashing. The opening CG movie looks really good, too, using a sort of cel-shading that I haven't ever seen before. It's too hard to explain how it looks, but it looks nice. The only problem as far as visuals go is that Spike has decided not to add Progressive Scan or Widescreen support- something that has shown up in the other games.
Audio in the Dragon Ball Z games is always the same. Hard rock for background music- American and Japanese vocal cast reading all of the lines and menus. There is nothing unexpected here.