Dragon Ball games have become an annual, if not bi-annual release over the last console generation, and the latest of these, developed by Artdink, is Battle of Z. It includes a single player story mode that takes players through various, seemingly unconnected one-off missions, giving you opportunity to hone your skills and unlock dozens of consumable items, new playable characters, and collectibles. Most missions include AI-controlled help and each mission has a star-rating to note how difficult it is. Objectives are clear, and each mission also has a time limit. The battle arenas themselves seem very large at first, but do have hard boundaries that keep the action contained, although I never felt cramped while playing.
Within the single player mode, lots of additional content and things get unlocked as you rank up and clear missions. Online co-op mode isn’t even available until you complete the first one or two missions in single player, and then other gameplay elements, such as the collectible cards and premium goods, as well as the concept of the online-shared energy pool, are introduced. The cards, of which their are many dozens of, give players boosts like increased Ki Blast damage or better defense attributes. The cards can be assigned to any character before the mission starts, and as someone who struggles to enjoy Dragon Ball, I liked the option to have these cards automatically provisioned. Heck, there is even a special card that will auto block for you, although I have yet to obtain it. Clearing missions and spending Dragon Points or Premium Points is another way to get these cards, and each week, there are a new batch of cards available for purchase.
Single player mode is a great way to get your feet wet and get acquainted with the controls. As you’d expect, the action is chaotic, so you can imagine how insane it can get with up to eight players battling it out in 4v4 mode at once, or say four co-op buddies taking on gigantic boss characters. Anyway, the control scheme, which is customizable, takes only a little getting used to. X and Square are dedicated to ascending and descending (all characters can fly) while Triangle and Circle are for melee and ki blast, respectively. Each character has unique attacks that can be executed with L2 and R2, and special moves by pressing Triangle and Circle simultaneously. A few modified actions are performed by ‘shifting by holding L1.
The control map itself is fine, but I did have some trouble with the camera angles and the targeting function (press R1, use RS to switch targets). I also had trouble landing after having flown around, too. These snags sort of add to the chaos that is generally going on in battle because, again as you’d come to expect from an anime, there are lots of explosive, over-the-top acts and huge effects. I found the control and camera issues cumbersome, but not quite disruptive enough to in itself be a game-breaker.
Online play is segmented into four player co-op support, from which you can play through the story missions (with competent players, this is a lot more enjoyable than playing with the AI), or get up to eight people together for a 4v4 brawl. It’s hard to really tell how the balance is between the numerous characters, but suffice it to say that playing in a big versus match, things get nuts quickly. I found it confusing and overwhelming in the sense that I’m not part of the niche audience these games are intended for and I struggled to find the experience compelling enough to really get into.
As for the presentation, the cel-shaded, 60fps graphics fit the atmosphere of DBZ nicely. The sounds include what I believe are the same voiceovers, both in English and Japanese, used on the anime, and when combined with the music and effects, makes for an appreciable effort to please fans of the series. I was however confused by the way the menus of all things work given its unusual design and lack of visual cues.
With that, let’s get to the summary…