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Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z
Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: NAMCO BANDAI Games America
Developer: Artdink
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Themed/ Fighting/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z attempts to add something extra to a fighting game series that's tried pretty much everything. This new aspect is actually something this reviewer didn't quite realize was missing until after spending time with Battle of Z - the feeling of being on a combat field with several allies and foes at the same time, a detail fairly prominent in the anime.

Battle of Z, like most DBZ games, keeps the look of the characters and settings well in sights. The cel-shaded technique has always worked well for this license and with years of making these particular character models over and over again, it is no wonder that a game can come out that looks as close to the source material as this does. Even if if this developer hasn't made a DBZ title before, it seems like time and attention was put in to build on what others have done in the past.

Similarly, the game's various fighting arenas look like many settings from the show. Not a new feat, but one that still goes a long way to making an impressive DBZ game.

Audio is in the same boat since it sounds like the voice actors all reprise their various roles and created variants on the original dialogue to match the slightly different telling of the DBZ story.


Gameplay:
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z doesn't really offer anything new as far as how it tells the Dragon Ball story. There have been games that tackle this task in everything from strict adherence to the script to a board game style progression even to the point of telling alternate timelines of events. Battle of Z finds a middle ground by sticking fairly close to the actual events, but putting people in different places where it wants in order to tell a more entertaining story or just to add more bodies to a particular fight. That's because what Battle of Z adds to the license is the ability to fight 4v4 battles in huge arenas, and there are simply some fights from the storyline that would have felt like a step backwards in this game if it had to stick closely to the original text.

Battle of Z handles the series' story by breaking each saga up into a series of missions. Each mission progresses the story a little more, but some run parallel to others and some fit completely outside of the primary timelines (i.e. the movies or even scenes acted out as the manga portrayed it). While you don't need to clear everything in a saga in order to move on, each mission you do finish can unlock characters, doles out experience and can reward the player with cards.

These cards are Battle of Zís form of customization, a long standing feature of DBZ fighting games. Each character has slots next to 6 different categories, and cards fill up these slots to give different stat boosts. The cards, of course, come with various restrictions like level requirements so just because you were rewarded with a powerful card early in the game, it doesn't mean you can put it in play right away. You might have to wait until you have a character that actually qualifies to use it.

As for the four-on-four combat, the idea behind having your allies on the field with you is that you can call on them for help, they can attack other opponents while you are busy, and you can even pull off multi-person combos as you throw an enemy from one side of the field to the other in a messed up game of hot potato. That being said, I found myself handling most fights as if I was the only one on my side and felt a nice surprise whenever one of my allies happened to be in the area to lend me a hand. On the flip side, I found myself slightly annoyed when an ally would call for help and I had to break away in order to give him energy so he could continue doing whatever he was doing on his side of the arena. Granted, this might not have been the best strategy, or not necessarily how the designers intended the fights be played, but it's how they always seemed to be for me.

Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z offered a few more options than just it's single player Story Mode. For one, a player having trouble getting through a mission with bots for allies could bring in some friends and help progress the story that way. It's all online though - Battle of Z doesn't feature a split screen co-op option. Quite frankly, this is one of the few drawbacks that I found in Battle of Z. While having the entire screen to myself is great - it would have been nice to be able to have a friend sitting next to me to play instead of going online and looking for a friend that happened to have Battle of Z as well.

There are also several online non-story based modes like 4v4 Tournaments or even an 8 player Free for All Mode. Another game has the two teams scouring the field for dragon balls as points and another is essentially classic team Deathmatch - just as a fighting game rather than an FPS.


Difficulty:
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z seemed to do a good job of setting the difficulty at just the right spot for each battle. While no fight was a cakewalk, some were definitely more work than others, and each of those harder missions felt appropriate for someone familiar with the anime. One of the benefits to this game's use of parallel missions was the ability to go back and tackle missions that might have been skimmed over. If you find yourself not quite able to get past some major fight, then going back for uncompleted missions (or replaying completed ones) is always an option. Even if the other missions don't let you use a character you want to level up, some of the cards you get at the end of those extra missions can help give you the edge you were missing before.

The other option worth trying when faced with a foe you can't quite beat is to give your allies, provided you have some in the fight, some different commands. Maybe calling on them to help you will be more effective, or maybe sending them after the surrounding secondary threats is a better use of their time. While I didn't call out that many commands to my allies, when I found myself in a pickle, doing so seemed to help get me out of trouble since it changed the playing field just a bit.


Game Mechanics:
One of Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z's most interesting mechanics that comes with the ally system is a shared energy bar across the whole team. As any member lands attacks, a common bar fills and any member can do with that energy whatever they please. If one character decides to pull off an ultimate attack, he can and that energy is drained from the pool. If a friend goes down, an ally can go to him and use energy to revive him. It adds an interesting dynamic that isn't seen all that much if you are playing solo, but you might find some online players who like to hog the energy and others don't really contribute all that much to the pool. As you play with various friends, you might want to keep their team-player habits in mind before going into a match.

Dragon Ball Z games aren't coming out nearly as frequently as they used to. There was a time when having several released in a year was common. These days though, they are few and far between, so it's nice to see that when one does come out, it's not just a rehash of the same old stuff and it's a good, solid experience. Anyone looking for a new way to play their old favorite Z Fighters should definitely check out Battle of Z.


-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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