Back when I was a younger lad, I used to follow Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball Z series, based on the manga of the same name. The series was popular enough to warrant its own series of fighting games for the PlayStation 2. Now an HD remake of the first and third games is available for PS3 and Xbox 360. I put my fighting skills against the world’s finest to see whether this remake is any good. Ka-me-ha-me-haaaa!!
Dragon Ball Z is an incredibly popular franchise, up there in popularity with Naruto, One Piece, Death Note, and Gundam. If you have ever followed any anime series, you will at least be passingly familiar with Dragon Ball Z. If not, though, don’t worry, because the Budokai HD games provide the perfect introduction to the stories. Admittedly, the stories follow the Dragon Ball Z end of the spectrum, not the Dragon Ball end, so much of the start is taken for granted. Still, it’s not a big loss, and you catch up fairly quickly. How do the games themselves rate, though?
Both Dragon Ball Z Budokai and Dragon Ball Z Budokai 3 have been HD remastered, improving the graphics and sound, and adding trophy support. As with most of the remastered games I’ve played recently, the actual gameplay screen has been widened to the full 16:9 aspect ratio, despite the cutscene videos remaining in 4:3. Unlike some games, however, these games have a decorative scroll on the sides to hide the black bars. It’s a minor touch, but effective enough that you don’t mind the downscaled video. Both games feature English and Japanese vocal tracks, essentially putting an end to the “subtitle” vs “dub” argument. The first game features a roster of 23 fighters, while the third has more than 40 characters to choose from. That’s more than enough muscle for anyone to fight with!
I made the big mistake of playing DBZ Budokai 1 for a bit, then switching to DBZ Budokai 3 to understand the differences, and then going back to the first game to finish off. This is a Huge Mistake. If you decide you want to experience both games, start and finish the first one before even thinking of starting DBZ Budokai 3. The reason for this is that 3 is a vastly superior game, with better cel-shaded graphics, interface, and battle system. I think it’s fair to say that Budokai 1 has not aged well. At all. The story is roughly the same in both, so you lose nothing by going straight to 3, if you just want a solid fighting game.
Both games are exhaustively fun, and even better when you are up against human opponents. There is still a lot of value to be had in the single player campaigns, however, especially since the only way to unlock everyone and everything is via the campaign mode. The fighting is fair, and the difficulty curve isn’t that big. Moves and powers are introduced a little at a time in the campaign, giving you space to get used to the new stuff before heaping more on you. You’re still better off playing the 3rd one alone, however, and leaving the 1st well off.
I have few big criticisms of the games, the major ones being the way that Budokai 1 has aged (as I mentioned before, the answer to this is “about as well as soggy year-old cheese left out in the rain”), and the extremely strange, puzzling lack of Budokai 2. No, I have NO idea where it went, or why Namco Bandai saw fit to leave it out of this collection. The other criticism I have is that the games are screaming for online multiplayer. Given the sheer number of DBZ fans around the world, this would have been an instant selling point. However, it’s a straight HD remastering, so I guess that would have been too much work to add.
Strictly speaking, this game is really only going to appeal to two types of customer: anime fans, and fighting game fans. There are plenty enough of both to satisfy, though, and if you missed the games on the PS2, definitely pick this collection up for Budokai 3 alone. It’s great fun, it’s aged well, and get-togethers are always great when you have a victory to lord over your friends. The rest of you? Perhaps look at one of our other great reviews to find something that’s more your thing.
Final score: 6.5 dragon roll prawns out of 10
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platforms: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360
Age Rating: 12