Dragon Ball Z returns with the third installment of the fighting game series, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3. The DBZ: Budokai games are considered by most fans of the manga/anime as the best Dragon ball z games around and for these people it doesn't disappoint. However, a lot of fighting game fans have either ignored the game due to the DBZ license, or have tried it and not liked it. The first game of the series was a revelation to most DBZ lovers but, a lot of fighting game fans found it boring and tedious. Then the sequel came out, with vast improvements in some areas and drastic or unnecessary changes in some others; the game didn't seem to hold itself together. Now that the next installment is out, players (whether they are fans of the anime or not) will be pleasantly surprised.
The new game has over 40 characters ranging from the DBZ sagas, movies and from DBGT, and has 5 different play modes: Dragon Universe, Dueling, Practice, World Tournament and Dragon Arena. Adding an RPG element to the game is Dragon Universe, which is the new story mode where you earn more experience and level up to gain Z points as you fight. On the world map you can fly around as one of eleven different DBZ characters; collecting dragon balls, building your character up, searching for capsules and money or playing through the storyline. The gameplay here is very fun and addictive but, if you are new to DBZ you may get confused as the story is not explained much at all, so sometimes you find that you're in one place for some reason and you have to fly halfway across the map not having a clue as to what is going on (and I have watched all of the anime!). This mode tends to get tedious when you have to play through for the sixth or so time but it's the only way to get new characters to add to your roster.
Dueling is a standard versus mode where you can fight as the character you've gained in Dragon Universe; this can be against your friend, the computer or you can watch a COM vs. Com fight.
Practice is separated into two different modes; practice, which is a standard place to practice combos and various other moves and training, where you get a brief outline of the story and learn the basic controls of the game. This mode is great for people who are new to the DBZ universe or new to the Budokai series. World Tournament recreates the classic DBZ world tournaments from various sagas, pitting you in a tournament against a series of different characters to earn some money. You start off in novice mode, but as you progress through the game it is possible to earn higher entry levels. These are more difficult, but payout more money if you are able to win.
Dragon arena is an unlockable mode which can be acquired when you have collected most of the characters there are to offer. Here you can build up your characters against an AI character (even ones not featured in DU mode), unlock secret capsules and fight against a friend. This mode tends to get boring as the fights are either too hard or too easy. The most innovative idea with this, however, is that every time you level up you gain a password for your character, allowing you to post and retrieve passwords via the internet. You can then enter these in dragon arena and test your skills against this character.
The basic structure for fighting has not changed at all for Budokai 3; it's still square to punch, triangle to kick, circle for a small ki blast and x to guard. "Super" beam attacks are either forward/backward and circle, or a combination of kicks/punches and a ki attack. These controls are very simple and extremely easy to get used to, but can be exploited as well. For example, to do a side step you can press up/down and x, which is useful as this means to dodge a "super" beam and fire one of your own at the unsuspecting opponent. This gets annoying when you have a friend that constantly uses this to dodge every attack.
The major changes to the fighting engine are labeled as "Saiyan Overdrive system" on the back of the box, but this is just a fancy phrase for some new fighting implements. Unlike in the previous games, to perform a "death" or "ultimate" move, your character must be in hyper mode. This is achieved when you power your character up to a certain amount of ki and then press L1, this will make your character turn red and will make certain moves accessible. This includes Dragon rush, activated by pressing L1 again, which will send you into a sequenced battle where you have to guess the button your opponent has pressed in order to stop the assault (and vice versa). This very nice at first as the sequences look really cool, but after seeing it 10 or so times and seeing all the possible outcomes, it gets boring quickly. The next addition is the lightening quick dodge/teleport movements, which allow a player to dodge an attack by pressing the x button. Other button combinations will allow you to teleport behind the person, and you can pinball your enemy around the screen. These new moves are very cool, but can take up a lot of ki. One painfully annoying aspect of the game is the over use of Dragon rush by "clone" like characters that don't have many other moves to offer. Sure these moves can take a lot of health off, but the take up a lot of patience as well. To summarize: the fighting has become much quicker and a lot more fluid, but the flaws mentioned can get annoying and could put off gamers that are not DBZ fans. For those who are, the DBZ world just found its new king of games.
The game shows off in the graphics department as they have been vastly improved from the other Budokai games. Paying close attention to every little detail from the series, the character auras have been greatly improved, changing color after transformations and growing larger as you power up. My personal favorite is Dabura's black aura that has a red glow around the edges – it is very cool looking. There are some nice particle effects, particularly when the aura is growing, and grains of dust gather around you when you power up. The character models have been improved as well, and their colors are brighter and more defined than before. The ultimate moves are crisp, but still show the same sequences from the previous games. That said, the beams seem a lot sharper and more colorful, so there have been some improvements.
The sounds you hear in the game or not too different from the anime, and the voices are exactly the same as those from the English dub of the show. There are about 40 different characters, so there are lots of varying voices, from little bratty kids, to really deep sounding muscle men. The game's lack of variety hurts the game here as well, because there isn't really a wide range of different phrases for each character. The music is a cool collection of tracks from the anime and also some Japanese rock tracks from the previous games, but here are some new tunes made especially for Budokai 3 as well, including the game's beginning theme.
Overall the game has made many adjustments and improvements since Budokai 2. The graphics are a lot more colorful, the gameplay has gone up a step, and the story mode is deeper and more involved. It has quite a lot of replay value as many of the characters can only be gained when playing through Dragon Universe for a second or third time, plus dragon arena may keep some gamers going for quite awhile. The developers have shown that they have learned from past mistakes and have also shown great potential with this game, but it is a shame that with this license they are forced to churn out a game every year. With a little TLC and another year or two of development time, Budokai 3 could have been a classic. The game is very good in its own right, and for DBZ fans this is a must have title. For the mainstream casual gamer, you may want to rent this game before rushing out to buy it.