It’s hard to believe that they’ve been making Dragon Ball Z video games for over 25 years. In that time there have been dozens of home game console releases for the 30 year old manga series. Though the frequency of games has slowed a bit recently, Namco Bandai felt the need to change things up a bit by tasking the experienced but little known developer Artdink to tackle one of their oldest franchises. The result is an interesting injection of other genres to a classic fighting series. While the effort is certainly a unique take, not all of the changes are entirely successful.
What players are likely to notice first about Battle of Z, is that it’s not quite a fighting game anymore, at least not like other 2D and 3D fighters. The game really almost feels like a beat’em up game dressed up like a 3D fighting game. The single player game is setup with a fairly broad narrative that allows for the new customizable RPG elements, though it is worth noting that the fairly long single player game is pretty linear, following the established cannon. Once the campaign is completed, almost any of the 70 unlockable characters can then be run through any mission.
The biggest addition Battle of Z offers is the new four player co-op. While this addition makes the game feel more like the anime series, the shortcuts that were made to achieve this result is likely to turn off many longtime fans. To accommodate these bigger battles, the fighting arenas are pretty large. Of course a large area can really kill a fighting game. To address this issue, players can lock on to enemies with a trigger press and fly as well as travel by foot. Unfortunately, once you lock onto or catch your enemy there are only two basic attacks you can mete out and there are no combos.
Button combos may be missing from the newest Dragon Ball Z game, but the game does feature a new card system in addition to the special attacks each character has. As you brawl your way through the single player game, you are awarded cards that allow you to customize the appearance of your favorite characters or give them special bonuses. Unfortunately, none of these additions will allow you to transform during the battles. The more powerful forms are treated as separate characters, which can cause balance problems once you move over to multiplayer.
It is important to note that there is no local multiplayer in Battle of Z. This is sure to turn off many longtime fans. The new four player co-op can be played online or locally, but using AI controlled companions is problematic unless you have really built up the characters and have pretty low expectations. The online option can be better depending on the luck of your matchmaking and network conditions. The eight player versus is available as a Battle Royale mode. Of course the biggest issue, is that the most powerful characters almost always win and easily.
The overall presentation in Battle of Z is pretty solid and the Japanese as well as English voices are available. The size of the arenas can sometimes feel a bit sparse and generic though. Cross play or Cross Save with the Playstation Vita version is available, though you’ll have to buy both copies. Battle of Z does offer some interesting wrinkles to what has been a pretty standard formula. Unfortunately, there are some serious balancing flaws and many of regular features players will be looking forward have been either removed or significantly changed. Some may appreciate this changeup, but most Dragon Ball Z fans will probably expect more from the long-running franchise.