The Dragonball Z franchise and it’s relationship with video game adaptions has been somewhat abusive. We’ve been plagued with mediocre-to-terrible games for the last several years and Battle of Z appeared to be the shining star floating unattainable in the distance. This star has finally graced the earth with it’s presence, but is this the DBZ game we’ve all been waiting for?
When I first watched this trailer nearly seven months ago I became overwhelmed with excitement. This was going to be the first Dragonball Z game ever to feature large-scale, class-based, co-op and competitive multiplayer gameplay and it seemed almost too good to be true. Goku and his friends have always been larger than life and capturing these heroes on a video game plane has clearly been challenging for developers. The last two original DBZ games to release were met with generally negative reception. Dragonball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi currently sits at a 55 average on Metacritic and Dragonball Z Kinect didn’t even clear 50. Battle of Z is not only a huge improvement over the last couple games, it’s one of the best in the series.
Dragonball Z: Battle of Z enters the ring with a completely different mindset and ditches the more traditional 1-on-1 combat the franchise seems to consistently revisit. The controls are drastically simplified and the game focuses on the individual strengths and weaknesses of each character. All of your favorite heroes and villains have been assigned a class based on their style of play. Beefy tanks like Super Trunks and Broly are classified as “Melee” fighters and smaller, weaker characters like Kid Gohan and Jeice typical take “Support” or “Interrupt” roles. Incorporating this new class dynamic opens up an insane amount of possibilities when it comes to forming teams.
Don’t plan on storming into combat alone and emerging victorious. Battle of Z is all about working together as a team. Players must carefully coordinate combos and special moves to maximum damage to their opponents. When multiple teammates engage the same enemy, there is a chance for a Synchro Rush, where all players attacking the opponent will begin a synchronized chain combo. Players can also work together to organize a series of chained smashes that send your opponent flying across the screen. A QTE will cue for each player and if everyone succeeds, you will be rewarded with a Max Chain, which gives all players a large amount of energy. Teammates can also be “downed” and there is a small window of opportunity for a friend to fly over and slap you back into battle. You literally punch your partners to revive them. Learning to utilize these team-focused mechanics is the key to victory in Battle of Z.[youtube http://youtu.be/W2BYOhqPbsk]
There are two primary game modes in Battle of Z; Story Mode, which can be played single player with AI partners or online with up to four players in co-op, and Battle Mode, which pits two teams of four against each other in epic online battles.
The Story Mode is fairly standard for a DBZ game. You play through various sagas from the series and battle classic enemies. You’ll fight Raditz, Freiza, Cell, Buu, Broly and a handful of other memorable adversaries, but you’re also given the option to play through these sagas from the perspective of the villains. So if you felt like Freiza should have crushed Goku on planet Namek, you’ll be able to make your dream come true. Battle of Z also introduces a series of wild fantasy scenarios that have never existed in the DBZ universe. A prime example would be a stage where my team of four Krillins destroyed Gohan, Goku, Bardock, Vegeta, and Goten at the family farm.
For the most part, progressing through the campaign was incredibly easy. The first 20 missions or so are almost mind-numbing. You’ll spend most your time smashing your opponents into pulp while they helplessly stand there and watch their own destruction, but about halfway through the Cell Saga the game starts taking itself seriously and in a very drastic way. The difficulty spikes out of nowhere and I found it difficult to even progress through certain areas in the campaign. The AI teammates are basically useless and spend most of their time aimlessly flying around the map. If you’re downed, you can basically count on the AI to leave you for dead, but you’ll spend half the fight scrambling to keep your terrible partners from wasting all your retries (your lives). Fighting solo is a faster way to progress through the story, but playing with friends makes the experience much more enjoyable, especially when every single mission can played in co-op.
Battle Mode is completely outrageous. Battle of Z is the first game in DBZ history to offer eight-player online multiplayer. There are four different game modes that you and up to seven other players can enjoy; Normal Battle, Score Battle, Battle Royal and Dragon Ball Grab. Normal Battle is a standard 4-on-4 battle. Score Battle is a 4-on-4 battle to reach the highest score possible in a given amount of time. Battle Royal is a hilarious eight player free-for-all mode and Dragon Ball Grab pits two teams of four against each other in a mad dash to collect the seven Dragon Balls dispersed throughout the map.
Battle Mode is more hilarious than anything else. It wasn’t something that I found myself coming back to frequently, but it was a great way to expand the game after completing the lengthy campaign. A few friends and I would assemble the goofiest possible team we could and try our hand in battle. You’d be surprised by how dangerous a team of four Krillins can really be.[youtube http://youtu.be/Koa7v-038bE]
Some might consider the combat in Battle of Z “boring” or “repetitive,” but I think it’s exactly what a Dragonball Z game needs. It becomes less about learning ridiculous button combinations and more about enjoying the spectacle of Super Saiyan action. You mash “Y” to unleash a barrage of melee attacks and “B” to fire a traditional Ki blast. “X” and “A” are both assigned for flight controls and all the special abilities and actions are cued by pressing “LB.” You don’t have to invest hours to understand the mechanics of the game or learn how to change forms. You can select a mission, select Super Saiyan 3 Goku, and fire Kamehameha’s to your heart’s content. For those looking for a little bit more from the combat, there are surprising subtleties in the game’s code that allow you to chain basic melee combos into special moves and then finish with an ultimate. Pulling this off takes a great deal of practice and skill, and it just feels pretty damn awesome.
What happens when you blend RPG elements and card collecting into a Dragonball Z game? I get nothing productive done for weeks. All 67 playable characters in Battle of Z have varying base stats and playing through the game’s story mode will unlock cards which can be equipped to upgrade their power levels. Some cards simply increase stats like speed, melee damage, special, and Ki damage, but other specialty cards will add bonuses like experience boost with mission completion or life steal with basic attacks. Characters will have varying numbers of available card slots based on their class and power level. If you’re favorite hero is a “Melee” fighter, chances are he will have more available melee card slots and higher melee damage. Getting better cards basically boils down to luck. The further you progress in the game, the higher chance you have of finding rarer cards. This means a lot of glorious grinding if you want to be the strongest Saiyan in all the land.
Dragonball Z: Battle of Z isn’t a perfect game. The simple mechanics and grind-heavy nature of the story mode might be a turn-off for some players, but if you’ve ever loved DBZ, you’ll have a great time. Battle of Z beautifully captures the look and feel of this iconic anime universe and few games lately have sunk their hooks in me like this Saiyan-fueled brawler. I’ve put over 15 hours into the story mode alone and I definitely see that number climbing drastically. If you’re a fan of Dragonball Z and co-op, this should absolutely be in your collection.