Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 «

Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 marks the end of Atari’s Budokai Tenkaichi franchise, a swan song culminating developer Spike’s thoughtful interpretation of Goku and his motley crew. It’s a world filled with explosive cinematic flare, an impressive amount of fan service, and battles as fast and intense as the fights found in the anime.

The Budokai Tenkaichi series features a rather unusual setup for a fighting game. Instead of battling on a 2D (Street Fighter II) or 3D (Virtua Fighter) plane, Budokai Tenkaichi is set from a third-person perspective with the camera set behind the back, much like the camera found in Sega’s arcade mech game Virtual On. But whereas the gameplay in Virtual On rarely ventured beyond its methodical pace, Budokai Tenkaichi 3 represents much of what fans love about DBZ: the speed of combat. Flying through the sprawling environments, across bodies of water and undulating hills, past dilapidated buildings, while dodging a barrage of energy blasts from an opponent is an exhilarating experience, especially when the opponent changes tactics, forcing you to reorganize your strategy quickly under intense pressure. That split-second window to counter or dodge an opponent’s energy blast keeps players on the edge, pushing them to stay focused and aggressive throughout the fight. And just like the manga and anime, where battles span not just one or two episodes but across dozens of episodes, battles in Tenkaichi are long and extensive, supported by multiple health bars for the contestants. Some may criticize that the battles meander, but they fit the motif of the series appropriately, in which histrionic skirmishes are the norm.

[Click the image above to check out all Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 screens.]


For the beginner, though, the combat system may prove frustrating. You’re given a bewildering array of tactics — from Z-countering to Heavy Finishes to the narrow timing of deflecting Ki blasts — which may cause players to feel at a loss, helpless against the improved A.I., who seemingly know every counter for any given situation. This is not a pick-up-and-play experience, so be prepared to invest a lot of time in the in-game tutorials, going over the key moves, practicing combos and strategies for your character.

While the core combat remains largely unchanged from that of Tenkaichi 2, there are several substantial tweaks that may throw off veterans of the series. The commands for dashing and throwing have been needlessly changed, as have several key moves and special attacks. Rolling Hammer, a launching move essential for the continuation of a combo, is no longer a manual command, but a move that can only be used when performed after a series of inputs. This directly affects the way some characters behave, as the Rolling Hammer was a primary strategy, and thus will reshape the character tiers. Other big changes include a restructured combo system and the fixed camera. Now it’s easier to string together lengthy and flashy combos, and the camera autolocks onto your opponent’s position.

Story mode has been drastically reduced. Tenkaichi 2 boasted over 60 hours of missions cataloguing almost every story arc, filler, and movie from the series. Tenkaichi 3, on the other hand, has consolidated things quite a bit, boiling down the story mode into an easily digestible slice of eight hours, using only the most interesting and important sagas — Cell, Majin Buu, Frieza, for instance. At first glance, this may seem like an act of laziness from Spike. After all, you’re getting less content in the newest iteration, right? Although the number of missions has shrunk, the battle scenarios have been redesigned — bigger in scope, more inclusive in the experience. Characters talk throughout the match, replicating the progression of the anime, and as you gradually work your way through the battle, context-sensitive situations in the form of the R3 button appear onscreen. Completely optional, these situations affect the outcome of the match: press the R3 button, and you’ll continue the match as it occurred in the original story; ignore the situation and the match concludes with an alternate ending.



Amid the small refinements, there’s an area developer Spike neglected: the presentation. The cel-shaded rendering of the characters lacks vitality and growth; the environments are visually unimpressive, appearing as if the themes were recycled from past games. And the PS2 version doesn’t have online-enabled battles, unlike the Wii version.

Dragon Ball fans, however, will see beyond the faults and find Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 a compelling experience. Spike, through their years of crafting this intricate milieu, has given the fans what they wanted: a fun, exciting portrayal mirroring the spirit and ferociousness of Dragon Ball Z.


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