Ask anybody outside of Japan today what the first three anime they watched or heard of were, and you’ll most likely find Dragon Ball Z listed as one of them. Akira Toriyama’s masterfully created story and universe has become a behemoth in the media world and has for a long time already featured in the gaming world.
DIMPS adapted what the manga and the anime did best – over-the-top and elaborate fighting into what has become one of the best fighting game series of its generation. The Budokai series was the first Dragon Ball game series to feature on the PlayStation 2 and must not be confused with the Budokai Tenkaichi series that followed it (also on the PS2) as I did. My personal favorite DBZ game of all time is Budokai Tenkaichi 3 as it’s still one of the best fully 3D fighting games around, but alas that beauty of a game was not included in this high definition collection.
DBZ: Budokai is the first in the Budokai series and really took a big leap forward from its predecessors by being the first game to make use of full 3D renders of the iconic characters. The graphics in the HD Collection have been beautifully re-mastered and definitely don’t leave the game feeling aged at all. Interestingly though, the collection only has the original Budokai (B1) & Budokai 3, while it skipping Budokai 2 (most likely because it was very similar to Budokai 1). The two included games complement each other nicely, showing the progression of the series from Budokai to Budokai 3 very well.
The 3D models in Dragon Ball Z: Budokai are very smooth and have a rounded effect to them, like a plush doll, while the models in Budokai 3 adopt the now common cell-shading technique present in all of the latest DBZ games, making it look very similar to the anime series.
The big attraction of the series is obviously the story mode where you get to play through the iconic DBZ storyline (Goku uses a spirit bomb and saves the day, the end), reliving some of the greatest moments in anime history. Both games tell the same story as you would expect with Budokai 3 going the full distance ending at the end of Buu Saga, while the original Budokai only goes up until the end of the Android/Cell Saga (which is where the show should have ended… but that is a discussion for another day). The developers have changed things up a bit, though, with Budokai having the original Japanese audio with sub-titles, and Budokai going with the popular FUNimation dubbed audio.
What I found most interesting though is that despite Budokai 3 being the better looking of the two games, it has no cut-scenes whatsoever, opting instead for boring and quite annoying storyboards. The original Budokai, on the other hand, is fully cinematic with dialogue directly from the series. The cut-scenes are very well done, too, with the Gohan versus Cell fight (best anime fight ever!), for example, getting my adrenaline pumping just like the original episodes did.
But let’s not kid ourselves here: Besides the identical story and game modes, these two games are as different as night and day. The gameplay in Budokai consists purely of button smashing – you can punch, kick and shoot, and everything else is just a (long) combination of those making it very frustrating when you’re trying to land an ultimate attack in the heat of battle. The controls aren’t exactly that responsive either as you’ll find yourself missing your moves as your character only does two punches, despite you hitting the button three or four times.
Budokai 3 is far more polished compared to the first Budokai, to the point that it’s not even fair to compare the two. It uses the same control system but the combos are better refined and more responsive allowing them to flow together much more easily, culminating in some truly epic finishing moves.
The roster of Budokai 3 is about triple that of Budokai with each character having their own unique move set and transformations. Fans of the series who like to play as their favourite side characters won’t be disappointed, either, because Budokai 3 has everybody from Raditz to Uub ready to challenge you in Duel mode or the World Tournament. Unlocking them all is quite a mission… or provides hours of replayability depending on how you view your glass of water. Some of the more special/rare characters will require you to play the story mode through a couple of times, too. That said, though, the game is very achievement friendly and rewards you at regular intervals.
All of the Dragon Ball Z games are easily the most visually appealing fighting games around, going for flamboyance over real skill, and the Budokai series is no different. Both games are key players in the history of the DBZ games and for fans of the franchise it’s a great addition to your collection (probably even a better addition than some of the current-gen DBZ games), but fighting game purists won’t find it quite as engrossing.