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Dragon Ball Z: Budokai
PS2 Staff Review by Mike Weatherup

When reviewing a fighting game based on the Dragon Ball Z franchise, one has to look it from the DBZ faithful and the hardcore fighting game players. While the DBZ fans will definitely get more from the title, fighting fans may be surprised to find a half decent game within the walls of the DBZ world. Budokai is designed in such a way that those unfamiliar with the quirky Japanese turned American show can learn the origins of the characters and how the story works. It can become quite overwhelming as I was a fan years ago when the show was in its infancy in Japan, the refresher presented in Budokai is a stark reminder how strange the DBZ world can be.

In fighting games, the visual component of the package comes second to the game play mechanics. While not vital, the visual experience presented by the games developer Dimps, is a mixed bag. The character design remains faithful to the original concept art and animation found in the DBZ series. Twenty-three of your favourite DBZ characters are presented in stunning 3D. This includes fine details such as Akira Toriyamas cool tailed design. Not only do the characters look great but they also move fluidly thanks to a consistent frame rate. The visuals are shy of greatness due stale and completely uninspired backgrounds. They appear static at times and resemble those that are usually seen in early beta versions. I am not sure why this happened, unless the developer wanted to keep all of your focus on the characters. Regardless, after spending some considerable time with the game, you are left feeling that the backgrounds could have used a lot more work. This becomes especially apparent in some levels where you have the ability to destroy environments and open new ones. It comes nowhere close to the spectacular shifts that DOA 2 set a couple of years ago. Rounding out the presentation is solid voice acting thanks to the fact that Atari/Infogrames went the extra mile to enlist all of the television shows voice actors. Yes, they can be awful annoying to those unfamiliar with the show, but they remain true to the oddball DBZ concept. The sound effects and soundtrack are also equally impressive as you feel like you are in an episode of DBZ.

As any gamer should know, game play and mechanics make a fighting game succeed or fail. The system employed in Budokai lies somewhere in the middle. While not a total loss, there are areas that should have been improved in order to draw in the hardcore fighting fans. I suspect this was not the intention in bringing the game to the marketplace. The focus would be on the DBZ fans. Oddly enough, there is adequate substance for the fighting fans as well. The battle system is deep. The mechanics are admittly simplistic but the combo system will keep you busy for some time to come thanks to the 60 combo moves per character including Special Beam Cannon and Kamehameha. The fights themselves are well paced to keep you on the edge of your seat. There are opportunities to take battles to the air but this only happens when a foe sends you flying into the air, and it does nothing to alter the dynamics of the fight. Upon completion of the fight, you are awarded skill points based on your performance. These points are used to increase your arsenal of moves. These skills can even be edited to allow you to customize characters.

DBZ: Budokai offers great replay value thanks to its modes of play, which include: Story, Duel, World Tournament and Practice. The Story mode allows you to become a participant as the DBZ story unfolds, from the arrival of Raditz on Earth through the infamous and brutal Cell Games. As the story progresses, you must win battles to unlock new chapters, skills and characters. In Duel, you and a friend can go head-to-head on any battlefield. There is the option to fight against the computer if you desire. Select World Tournament to enter a 3-, 4- or 5-round competition against the finest collection of DBZ warriors. Winning a World Tournament or coming in second place, will earn you Zenie (money), which you can use to buy skill capsules. Lastly, Practice mode allows you to fine tune your battle skills in a variety of scenarios.

For DBZ fans, this is a must-own. It remains highly faithful to the series and offers a fair amount of replay value. For the fighting hardcore, despite the wacky characters, there is a good challenge here. The Story Mode alone warrants a close look at this title. Budokai is an overall competent fighting game that utilizes the DBZ franchise properly. While the mechanics could have been deeper, Budokai offers enough to validate a purchase.

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