When a game franchise has reached it’s third or fourth iteration, players typically have good idea of what the next entry in the series will involve. When players drop in a disk labeled “Call of Duty”, they know to expect fast-paced, frenetic action with over-the-top, Michael Bay-esque cinematic explosions.With a franchise like Dragon Ball Z, which has seen more than fifty games over the last twenty-five years, players have little doubt what type of game they are purchasing. Players expect an outrageous, anime inspired, bare knuckle brawler. Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi boldly carries on the traditions of this infamous fighter franchise.
While I was a bit too old to enjoy the Dragon Ball animated series when it hit these shores, I will admit to having sneaked a peak from time to time. Although I am certainly not well versed in this universe, I do know a few of the major characters such as Goku, Kid Gohan, Piccolo and Vegeta. I have also seen enough to comprehend the art and vocal styles, and type of action that a typical episode contains. Even with this limited knowledge base, I can emphatically state that DBZ: UT is not merely a generic fighting game with a cheap Dragon Ball skin laid on top. The game looks, sounds, and, for the most part, feels exactly as if you are playing an extended episode of the series. The entire ensemble of character models are extremely accurate to those found in other graphic forms of the franchise. Even those game characters who are not series staples, easily recognized by name, leave no doubt that they are from the Dragon Ball universe. Similarly, the voice acting and dialog, especially that experienced in cut scenes, convey the often wacky and slapstick humor found throughout the franchise. To this end, Namco Bandai clearly illustrate their intimate knowledge of the Dragon Ball universe.
"Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi is an unbalanced synthesis of a painstakingly recreated vision of the Dragon Ball universe and a rudimentary fighting game."
DBZ: UT provides players with a large array of content on its disk. Besides the basic Story Mode, the game also offers players a comprehensive Training Mode, as well as Battle, Hero, World Tournament and Online Battle Modes. The main story centers around a convoluted and loosely connected narrative whose sole purpose is to string together a series of fights against enemies of ever increasing difficulty. Whether or not this story actually ties into the overall Dragon Ball mythos, however, is a discussion better left for those with greater knowledge of the subject. Although there is an occasional boss battle interspersed throughout, it consists predominantly of searching the world map for locations in which to engage in head-to-head fights.
Before delving into any of the other modes, it is highly recommended that players invest the time in going through the entire set of tutorials in the training mode. These lessons teach not only the basics of the game, they also explain how to pull off the few fighting combination that are necessary to defeat higher level opponents. The training is structured so that players must successfully complete one move before they can learn the next. While this may seem rational, it also means that players having trouble with any particular move cannot temporarily skip over it in order to learn something else and then return to the difficult maneuver later. This can easily lead to frustration and sacrificing invaluable training that can make or break the game.
Battle and World Tournament modes are both variations of one-vs-one fighting arenas in which players compete against AI opponents. In Battle mode, players select an unlocked character to play as, then select their AI opponent. This variation consists of short, single fights that allow players to experience a wide array of character combat combinations. World Tournament, on the other hand, allows players to select their combatant and then places them into a bracketed tourney of up to 16 fighters. This allows players to fight up to four different opponents in the course of one tournament series. Online Battle mode, as the name implies, let’s players compete in head-to-head fights against other players online.
Unlike the other modes of the game, Hero mode is a big departure from the series’ conventions. For the first time in a Dragon Ball game, players have the opportunity to create their own custom characters. They can not only select the basic fighter model and modify the colors of their clothing and equipment, but they can also customize the fighter’s finishing moves. Once their character is created, players enter into a different version of the Dragon Ball universe and play through a separate set of story driven missions. These missions are far less involved that those found in the main story campaign.
The heart of any quality fighting game lies in its fighting mechanics and a vast array of combos and finishing moves. Top level players can often pull off moves and string together combinations at lightening speed. This, unfortunately, is where DBZ: UT falls flat. In reality, there are no real combos to be learned, and every fight against an AI opponent feels sluggish and almost scripted. Battles basically consist of both players circling around looking for an opportunity to move in and string together a series of either light or strong melee or ranged attacks until a “clash” is triggered. If players lose the clash, they are thrown into a scripted animation in which they sustain heavy damage. If they win the clash, all semblances of a true fighting game are abandoned as the game commits the mortal sin of devolving into QTEs. If players correctly hit the prompted button combinations, the scripted animation delivers significant damage to their opponent. If they miss a sequence, the combo stream ceases and the sparring resumes. QTEs are also used at predetermined points to allow players to pull off counter moves or to break out of the scripted animations triggered by losing a clash. After only a small number of fights, players will quickly become bored with the repetitive nature of every fight. This even carries over into boss battles. After dodging attacks and landing enough direct blows to a boss, the remaining fight becomes a heavily choreographed sequence of cut scenes and QTEs. This completely violates the primary goal and appeal of fighting games, it takes control and strategy out of the players’ hands.
Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi is an unbalanced synthesis of a painstakingly recreated vision of the Dragon Ball universe and a rudimentary fighting game. Anyone who has seen more than a few episodes of the animated series or has read any printed literature can appreciate the great attention to detail that went into creating both the world and the characters. Unfortunately, the utter lack of quality fighting game mechanics and the heavy reliance on QTEs makes this a game that will likely only appeal to the most die-hard Dragon Ball fanatics.
Release date : 2011-10-25
Publisher : BANDAI
Developer : Spike
Gameplay : Fighting & Wrestling
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