When the Great Demon King Piccolo was released upon the world, he broadcasted a message on television declaring May 9th as “Piccolo Day”…and promptly celebrated by announcing his ownership over the planet. Since then, May 9th has been officially recognised as “Goku Day” but, to make things simpler, I’m using this as a good excuse to celebrate all things Dragon Ball,
Released: 23 January 2014
Developer: Bandai Namco Games
Also Available For: PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita
Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball franchise, particularly Dragonball Z, has a long history with videogame adaptations; the first Dragonball Z videogame released for the Family Computer (Famicom) back in 1990 and, since then, a range of different titles based on the long-running manga and its popular anime counterpart have been released, generally in the form of tournament fighters or one-on-one beat-‘em-ups that retell the events of the anime over and over again. In 2009, Bandai Namco acquired the rights to the franchise and, since then, got into a bit of a routine of releasing new Dragon Ball titles on an annual basis. With Dragonball Z set to make a long-awaited return with the first feature-length production in seventeen years, Dragonball Z: Battle of Gods (Hosoda, 2013), the publishers produced a new Dragonball Z game to coincide with the film’s release, one that focused on team-based combat rather than one-on-one fights or role-playing mechanics. Dragonball Z: Battle of Z received mixed reviews upon release, however, with criticisms levelled at the game’s repetitive and unreliable combat mechanics and artificially augmented difficulty.
Through a series of battles, ranging from one to four characters at a time, Dragonball Z: Battle of Z retells famous events from the long history of the Dragonball Z franchise, from the arrival of the Saiyans, to the Z Fighters’ battles against Frieza, the Androids, Perfect Cell, and Majin Buu, and even select fights from the many non-canon movies and alternative timelines, culminating in battles against the franchise’s biggest names, enemies, and characters and a showdown with the God of Destruction himself, Beerus.
I’ve played a handful of Dragonball Z videogames in the past; I remember really enjoying Dragonball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 (Spike, 2007) and have been putting off picking up Dragon Ball FighterZ (Arc System Works, 2018) for ages as I’m waiting to see if it gets re-released with all the downloadable content (DLC) included. As a result, and being a big Dragonball Z fan, I was intrigued when I was gifted Dragonball Z: Battle of Z but instantly a bit perturbed when I discovered that the game was a team-based fighter. Call me a traditionalist but I really don’t enjoy team-based fighters; I find it just artificially drags out the gameplay and the fights because you’re forced to fight two or more fighters in every round, meaning more chances to lose and more frustrations. I just don’t get why games that utilise this feature can’t just have the option to disable it and let players fight one-on-one. Interestingly, you can do this in Battle of Z but it’s really not recommended as you’re generally fighting a slew of enemies at once so you’ll need all the backup you can get.
Controls and fighting in Battle of Z are surprisingly complicated for a fighting game; you can attack your enemy with Y, fire a ki blast with B, and use X and A to ascend and descend, respectively. You can target an enemy with RB (remember to do this or else you’ll have a hard time actually landing a hit on your opponent), cycle through available targets with the right analogue stick, and dash towards your intended target (and, usually, head-first into their attacks) by holding A or X. Holding LB will see your character put up their guard to minimise the effects of incoming attacks (though, annoyingly, there is no counter attack system in place), and you can press LT and RT simultaneously to unleash your character’s signature attacks when they have enough ki energy. You can also perform a side step and dodge with LB and the left analogue stick and hit your opponent with a “Strike Impact” blow that allows you to chase after them and bash them around the environment and build up a “Meteor Chain” combo with your teammates.
As you attack your opponents, you’ll build up the “Genki Gauge” as well as your ki energy. When your ki energy is full enough, you’ll be able to pull off more powerful ki attacks such as Son Goku’s Kamehameha, Vegeta’s Garlick Gun, or Majin Buu’s Chocolate Beam. However, wasting your ki on normal ki blasts and your character’s other special attacks can make it harder for you to pull off these more powerful attacks and, if the bar is completely drained, you’ll be left stunned and vulnerable as you wait for it to refill. If you manage to completely fill up the Genki Gauge, though (and if you’re playing as the right character), you’ll be able to pull off an Ultimate Move, such as Goku’s Spirit Bomb or Super Saiyan 2 Son Gohan’s Father-Son Kamehameha blast. In some battles, the only way to win is to pull off these Ultimate Moves and fights are specifically structured in these cases to allow you to perform them but you’ll still have to work to build up the gauge. Occasionally, you’ll be asked to rapidly tap B to “share your energy” from the Genki Gauge, which seems to restore the ki energy of you and your fighters but, honestly, I must have missed the actual point of this as it just seemed like a waste of time, especially when you’re forced to switch your team out in the next mission more often than not. Of course, a major feature of Battle of Z is its team-based mechanic; before each mission, you’re asked to assemble a team of four fighters (comprised of you and three computer-controlled players or you and fellow human players if you’re connected to the internet) but, unfortunately, you’re rarely ever given free reign to pick your team as the characters you can select are restricted to the Saga you’re playing. For example, in the Saiyan Saga, you won’t be able to play as characters from the Cell Saga and you won’t be able to play as the Androids when taking on the Buu Saga.
You can, however, assemble a team of multiple duplicate fighters, which can be helpful for the game’s tougher missions. Each fighter has a different speciality and, thus, each behaves and controls a little differently: Melee Types excel in up-close melee attacks; Ki Blast Types deal greater damage with their ki attacks and can fire three blasts at a time instead of just one; Interfere Types specialise in distracting and disrupting enemy movements; and Support Types will prioritise healing, reviving, and restoring you and your teammates in battle. During a fight, you can issue basic commands to your team using the directional pad (D-Pad) to instruct them to fight at full power, join forces with you against an opponent, go on the defensive, or hang back and leave the fighting to you (not really recommended and I never found a time when this was preferable). If you co-ordinate with your teammates, you can chain together Meteor Strikes to bash a target all over the place and even perform a “Synchro Rush” combo where you and your allies will pummel a chosen target with a combo of strikes. You can also target your allies and restore their health, ki, or revive them if they’re fallen but I found it much easier to concentrate on the offensive and leave the reviving to my teammates. When you head into a battle, you share a limited number of retries with your team mates; when your health is drained, your allies have ten seconds to revive you before you lose a try and, if all tries are exhausted by you and your teammates falling too often, the battle ends. It’s essential, then, to keep an eye on how many tries you have left as, quite often, battles can abruptly end without warning simply because your allies have fallen once too often. You’re also constantly battling against a time limit (usually about ten minutes), which makes every fight a constant struggle and a chore to get through, especially when you’re faced with wave upon wave of seemingly endless enemies.
Like pretty much every single Dragonball Z videogame, Battle of Z takes you through an (extremely) truncated retelling of the entire Dragonball Z saga using a strict mission-based structure, with a few bonus missions tossed in that adapt some of the feature films or present hypothetical scenarios. If you’re not that familiar with Dragonball Z then you might get a little lost as the story is told in brief snippets and character interactions before each fight and split across different missions; if you simply play the main missions, you’ll only experience events from one perspective and will have to switch to playing as the villains to experience the full story. On the one hand, this is a pretty decent way of getting you accustomed to a variety of different fighters but, on the other, it makes the story mode very fragmented and has you constantly switching out your load outs and setups as you’re forced to assemble new teams each time. Personally, I found it much easier to stick to one fighter (usually Super Saiyan Goku, Super Vegeta, or Full Power Frieza) and have three computer-controlled allies who all specialised in healing (such as Android #18 or Jeice) to avoid being pummelled into oblivion within the first few seconds battle. Since you’re forced to make a team of four for every fight, Dragonball Z’s story is tweaked to accommodate characters who weren’t present at certain events. Other times, you’re forced to battle against waves of opponents or certain foes (such as Raditz) who are inexplicably joined by disposable grunts who relentlessly bombard you with ki blasts. Every time you win (or, at least, complete) a fight, you’re given a ranking, earn a number of Battle Points (BP), and acquire cards and items. Unlike most Dragonball Z fighting games, Battle of Z opts for a quasi-open world presentation which allows you to freely fly and dash around a large environment ripped right from the anime from a third-person perspective. Unfortunately, the camera, physics, and controls are often as detrimental to your success as the often overwhelming difficulty of your opponents and you’ll be struggling with the janky camera as much as trying to land blows on your chosen target. If you forget to lock on to a target, you’ll simply swipe at thin air and, often, you’ll be battered by ki blasts from all angles or attacked from behind and, in the time it takes you to switch targets, you’ll probably end up knocked out on the ground like a chump. Helpfully, you can view your character’s abilities, your mission objectives, and the difficulty level of each mission from the pause menu and can simply manually retry if you are close to failure, which you may have to do a few times as, while the game starts off pretty simple, it quickly ups the difficulty level. It doesn’t help that downed enemies don’t seem to lose health when you attack them and you can never assemble a team of your favourite characters as you often need to have specific characters of Support Types on your team in order to succeed.
Graphics and Sound:
As is the case for pretty much every single Dragonball Z videogame, Battle of Z emulates the style and fast-paced, kinetic energy of the anime by employing a cel-shaded aesthetic. This is fitting but nothing you’ve not really seen before in other Dragonball Z games or similar fighters and results in character models looking pretty much spot on, if a little static and lifeless at times as they tend to just stand there or strike a dramatic pose while spouting abridged lines from the anime. Battle of Z expands on its roster by having each character’s different forms and transformations take up a character slot; as a result, you won’t be powering up or transforming mid-battle like the characters do in the anime and, instead, must select these forms from the character select screen. This means that we miss out on the iconic visual of the characters surrounded by crackling auras and powering up (outside of cutscenes, at least) but the game does a pretty good job of recreating the big, explosive special attacks from the anime…when you actually have enough ki to pull them off, that is. Still, it’s pretty cool to finally bust out attacks like Evil Buu’s Assault Rain, Super Vegito’s Spirit Sword, and Super Saiyan Broly’s Burst Eraser.
Environments are just as faithfully recreated, almost to a fault; you’ll battle out in the countryside, in the middle of cities, out in the desert, and on iconic planets such as Namek and the Supreme Kai’s world. Unfortunately, while much of the environments are destructible (if you manage to smash your opponents into them properly), they’re largely barren and lifeless and often only varied by such exciting elements as different times of day. They’re also quite large, which is helpful if you’re trying to take a break from being relentlessly attacked and means that the onscreen radar actually comes in useful at times, but also means that it’s very easy for you to be attacked from afar due to lack of cover and results in you flying head-first into attacks as you desperately try to dash across the open plains to reach your target.
As I mentioned, the game’s story takes a bit of a backseat; the in-game graphics are used to relay a condensed version of Dragonball Z’s sagas and movies through a few brief interactions between your team and their enemies. This can result in some different lines and interactions if you have different characters from the Saga present, and unique interactions between characters like Goku and Bardock, and all of the voice actors from the anime return to recreate and redub their lines from the anime. The game also recreates the music from the anime, including a remix of the iconic theme song, ‘Cha-La Head-Cha-La’, over an impressive anime opening sequence created specifically for the game that is, honestly, one of the more entertaining moments of Battle of Z.
Enemies and Bosses:
Since Battle of Z recreates the events of the anime and a handful of the feature-length movies, you’ll be tasked with tackling all of the series’ most iconic villains and characters as you play through the different missions with certain specific characters. Along the way, you’ll also have to contend with waves of disposable enemies who either come at you over and over again, support the more formidable characters, or respawn after being defeated. This means you’ll face numerous palette swapped variants of the Saibamen, Frieza’s grunts, Cell Jnr’s, and facing off against Z Fighters like Piccolo, Yamcha, and Tien Shinhan who often come in to tip the odds against you right when it seems like you’re on the cusp of victory.
In the Saiyan Saga, you’ll have to battle Raditz, Nappa, and Vegeta in a variety of different formations; the first time you face Raditz, you’ll first have to dispose of a wave of Saibamen, which can leave you quite drained and underprepared for the actual battle against Goku’s brother. After recreating Gohan’s training against Piccolo out in the wastelands, you’ll then have to take on Nappa, first accompanied by Saibamen and then joined by the main antagonist of this Saga, Vegeta. Vegeta’s ultimate threat comes when he transforms into his gigantic Great Ape form, which you can stun by targeting its limbs while trying to dodge his massive mouth laser and crushing grip. Honestly, though, the most annoying enemies in this Saga are Nappa (who constantly targeted me with relentless melee attacks) and Vegeta (who fires a non-stop barrage of ki blasts when you’re trying to fend off his cohorts). When playing as the villains, you’ll have to take on the Z Fighters as the perspective shifts to you mainly battling against Goku; you’ll also have to take on Gohan’s Great Ape form, which is far more rampant than Vegeta’s and likes to toss boulders right at your head.
In the Frieza Saga, you’ll mostly be confined to the planet Namek in various stages of disarray; Frieza’s soldiers are a constant headache all throughout this Saga and make battling the Ginyu Force much more annoying than it needs to be. The Ginyu’s are also far more versatile and frustrating than their Saiyan counterparts as Guido will freeze you in place with his telekinetic powers, Recoome will constantly fly at you with melee attacks much like Nappa, and things only get more annoying when the entire Ginyu Force comes at you in waves. Thankfully, Captain Ginyu doesn’t bust out his annoying change form mechanic (or, at least, he didn’t in my playthrough) so you don’t have to worry about him taking over your body or being forced to play as him but it’s quite a shock to find the Ginyu Force being so formidable when they’re generally depicted as being incompetent nincompoops. Once you get past the Ginyu Force, you’ll have to battle against Frieza’s various forms as Namek disintegrates around you. While his first form is a walk in the park, his second form allows him to shield himself with a protective aura and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, you’ll be forced to take on his third form in the same mission, making it more of a gauntlet. Another mission has Frieza zap your team to half health and asks you to either defeat him or survive for three minutes before he reaches his full power form, which you’re given just five minutes to defeat him. This makes this fight needlessly frustrating as Frieza is an absolute bitch and teleports all over the place while blasting at you with devastating ki attacks but it does work to your advantage in the villain story where you get to play as Frieza and battle against Super Saiyan Goku. Another alternative mission in the Frieza Saga has you battling all of Frieza’s forms at once which, honestly, I found easier than battling the damn Ginyu Force!
In the Android Saga, you’ll first have to spar against the other Z Fighters before tackling Future Trunks and then confront Android #19 and Doctor Gero; unlike in some Dragonball Z videogames, and the anime, the androids are susceptible to your ki attacks rather than absorbing them and you’re also given a bit of a break as you don’t have to defeat Dr. Gero when he decides to run from the battle. Android #18 and #19 are more formidable, primarily because of how good #18’s healing abilities are, but they’re easy to target individually since they’re not supported by endless swarms of goons. Once the Cell Saga starts, you can actually have Cell attack the Androids on your behalf as the mission briefing is to destroy Cell’s different forms and the only real benefit to taking out all your enemies is the acquisition of additional BP. Cell isn’t much of a threat in his Imperfect form but he loves to spam Solar Flare to evade your attacks and his threat dramatically increases when you’re forced to battle Android #16 and #17, then them and Semi-Perfect Cell, and then fight Perfect Cell all in the same mission! This, however, is nothing compared to the sudden brick wall of Mission 26, which sees you annihilated by aggressive and frustrating Cell Jnr’s before being wrecked by Perfect Cell once more. The only way I could clear this mission was to have my three teammates be Teen Gohan so that I could be consistently and reliably healed and revived during the fight, which was particularly annoying to me as I wanted to use a team of Super Saiyans. Things only get more challenging in the villain and alternative missions, which have you battling against Perfect Cell as the Androids or fighting as Perfect Cell against Super Saiyan 2 Gohan (alongside Super Saiyan Vegeta, Super Saiyan Trunks, and Android #16, of course).
Things get a little less frustrating in the Buu saga, which sees you battling the likes of Dabura (who can turn you to stone with his spit) and, of course, Majin Buu’s various different forms as well as Majin Vegeta (who loves to block your attacks and is, fittingly, super aggressive). In these missions, Buu will also attack your enemies so it can be useful to hang back and let him weaken them on your behalf while conserving your ki energy but you’ll also have to battle Evil Buu right after defeating regular Buu, which can be quite the chore. The shit really hits the fan when you face off against Kid Buu, a maniacal and hyper aggressive enemy who is super fast and super tough, dashing and teleporting all over the place, blocking your attacks, and attacking with his stretchy limbs, furious ki combos, and even gaining invincibility frames and taking refuge behind the environment to really drag out the battle. When playing on the villain’s story, you’ll also be tasked with defeating or surviving for three minutes against Super Saiyan 3 Goku and a particularly gruelling gauntlet that sees you battling Son Goten and Kid Trunks individually, fused as Gotenks, their Super Saiyan 3 form, and Piccolo all in the same mission within the Hyperbolic Time Chamber.
As mentioned, you’ll also recreate some of the most recognisable fights from the feature films; this means battling the Androids as Future Trunks, taking on Bardock (who has his own Great Ape and Super Saiyan forms), and fighting against the likes of Cooler (a battle that I found impossible to clear because of how tough and annoying his goons were), Hirudegarn, Meta-Cooler (which are essentially the same as battling the Great Apes but made far more frustrating), and Broly. As you might expect, Broly represents one of the game’s most challenging battles as he’s not only accompanied by constantly-respawning Saibamen but he also powers up to his Super Saiyan and Legendary Super Saiyan forms. Additionally, there are a number of alternative battles on offer that see you fighting against all of Vegeta and Goku’s family, all of the Saiyans in waves where they power up to their strongest forms, the entire Ginyu Force followed by all of Frieza’s forms and Cooler, and, eventually, a battle against Beerus (and against Super Saiyan Vegito as Beerus) in an adaptation of the Battle of Gods feature film. Unfortunately, to reach this (and unlock all of the game’s fights), you must complete and clear every single mission in the game, which is an incredibly tall order and one unfortunately, beyond my ability as I tapped out some time after losing to Super Saiyan 3 Gotenks.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
When you select characters, you can customise their palette and power them up with cards and items. These are often earned, or unlocked, by clearing missions but are primarily purchased in the in-game shop using your BP. Cards can be used to increase your character’s melee attack power, defence, ki blast attack power, and have their natural abilities increase or cause their attacks to have detrimental effects on their targets. You can also earn Premium Points (PP) by meeting certain conditions or earning SS ranks in missions. PP can be spent in the Premium Shop and allow you to acquire more powerful items (most of which can only be used once before you have to buy another one and cards). These will buff your character and team’s stats, increasing them under certain conditions or draining health or ki from your enemies, speeding up your ability to level up and earning you more BP, or restoring you to full health upon defeat using Senzu Beans. Since you’ll be switching your teams out quite often, it’s best to make use of the auto customise options, which allow you to assign the most powerful cards to your characters (or which remain after equipping cards) at the push of a button.
There are forty-nine Achievements on offer in Battle of Z; a lot of these are awarded simply for clearing each of the available story routes, though this becomes increasingly challenging as you tackle the alternate story missions. Others are tied to performing Ultimate Moves, clearing every mission, earning certain cards, playing as every character, or meeting certain conditions in the game’s online mode. You can team up with other players online to take on the game’s missions in co-op mode, battle against each other in a standard four-on-four fight, fight to attain the highest score, or race to acquire the seven Dragon Balls scattered throughout the environment.
Sadly, the game doesn’t include couch co-op or offline multiplayer, so I never got to experience any of these modes as the servers don’t appear to still be active (or, if they are, players are few and far between these days). There’s a decent amount of replayability on offer through the many different story mode missions on offer; clearing missions unlocks parallel, adjacent, and subsequent missions that see you playing as different characters or taking on characters from the feature films. However, as these are some of the more frustrating and difficult missions in the game, it can be very tedious and challenging to clear every mission and unlock all the game’s playable characters (many of which can only be attained by clearing certain missions with the highest rank). You can also purchase some additional DLC in the form of extra fighters and forms, such as a Naruto (1999 to 2014) inspired outfit for Goku, Super Saiyan Bardock, and Super Saiyan Vegito.
Dragonball Z: Battle of Z certainly looks and sounds pretty good; its cel-shaded aesthetic closely mirrors the look of the anime and it’s great to hear the voice cast come back and re-record their lines for some new interactions in certain situations. It provides a slightly different spin on the usual formula through its use of team-based fighting mechanics, meaning that it’s a little different from most videogame adaptations of the anime but, essentially, if you’ve played any Dragonball Z videogame, there’s not really anything new here narratively speaking and it’s the same retreading of the Sagas we’ve seen numerous times before. What lets Battle of Z down, though, is the steep difficulty curve and the reliance on these team-based mechanics. Your teammates are often not really good for much more than distracting your enemies and will drain your retries if you don’t heal them up; it’s equally annoying that you can’t form your own, personalised team right off the bat and have to compromise or cheese the more challenging missions by loading up on Support Type characters. The game’s focus on a heavily condensed version of the story also hurts it as you simply jump from fight to fight and mission to mission with very little context and have to hop between the different story routes to get the full story, which is a bit annoying. In the end, it was fun at times but infuriating for the most part as missions were a chore to clear, the requirements to unlock everything were ridiculously unfair at times, and I can’t say that I’d recommend this one over other more traditional, 2.5D/tournament-based Dragonball Z videogames.
Could Be Better
Have you ever played Dragonball Z: Battle of Z? If so, were you a fan and how would you rate it compared to other Dragonball Z videogames? Are you a fan of team-based fighters? Who was your go-to team in this game? What did you think to Battle of Z’s recreation of the anime and the slight twists it took with the different missions? What is your favourite Dragon Ball videogame and how are you celebrating Dragon Ball day today? Whatever your thoughts on Battle of Z, or Dragon Ball in general, leave a comment below.