Long gone are the days of using springs, mods, and boot-up discs to load those imported Dragon Ball games on your home consoles. If only middle school Ron were able to be around today. He would absolutely flip out at the chance to play a Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butōden fighter on a portable platform.
These days though, we live in an age when Dragon Ball Z games get regularly localized and tend to be more of a non-event. Nintendo also has a pretty firm lock on the whole “portable fighting game” market with Super Smash Bros. serving the needs of its audience.
Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butōden might be doomed to not register on a few scouters, but those who pick it up will find a competent and responsive little fighter that won’t have the legs to become a long time fixture of your gaming repertoire.
Shorter legs than Chiaotzu
Fan-favorite developer Arc System Works, of Guilty Gear and Blaz Blue fame, returns to the Dragon Ball Z franchise for the first time in ten years, and the results are a much more respectable game that actually looks and feels like an Arc System Works fighter. Sprites are animated nicely, especially Nappa who never gets preferential treatment, and making combos from one into the next always feels great.
On the surface, as a fighting game, Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butōden is solid at its core and should provide some excellent bursts of quick action. It’s not deep, has simple commands that all the characters share, and anyone can enjoy it with minimal practice.
The additional features and actual flesh of the game is where Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butōden starts to take a few hits.
For one thing, the roster of fighters leaves a lot to be desired. How many yellow haired dopes do you really need to choose from? Like a lot of the modern games, Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butōden throws the series’ older (better) days to the wind, preferring to give center stage almost exclusively to the Saiyans. This means several versions of Vegeta, several versions of Gohan and Goku, the eternally annoying Gotenks, and yet, not a single spot is granted to the colorful cast who emerged back when Akira Toriyama was still creative, back before he leaned too much on the crutch of the “Super Saiyan” to carry his comic.
Piccolo is luckily spared and gets a spot, and Krillin, who always has been and always will be my “go to” guy, makes the cut, but others like Yamcha and Tien Shinhan have been relegated to the role of support characters. I think I could do without four versions of Gohan and at least give them a shot at hanging with the big boys.
However, to counterbalance the overabundance of blonde, the main allure of Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butōden has always been these support characters. Arc System Works digs deep into the history of Dragon Ball, pulling out both iconic faces and the most obscure weirdos most fans won’t recognize if they’ve never delved back into the early days, back when Dragon Ball was more about poop jokes then fighting. It even taps into the non-canonical movies and snags a few popular villains!
It’s a nice nostalgia trip to summon these fighters into battle for an attack or combo boost, but good luck actually unlocking any of them! After completing the game’s story mode, which takes a half-an-hour at most, the main attraction becomes the Adventure Mode, which tells an original story in which time has no meaning. Any and all characters who have ever been part of the series contributes a cutscene or two, and Goku travels around a map training and fighting the forces of evil.
The problem is that these support characters can only be unlocked with an S-rank at the end of every fight. And after beating the adventure mode, I walked away with a grand total of zero S-ranks. You can get a “perfect” in a fight, use every technique and special ability in your fighter’s arsenal, and totally dominate in every way, and still walk away with an A-rank, meaning you’ll only get a cash reward.
Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butōden doesn’t explain this ranking system at all, and I was never sure what was required of me to actually make any progress in unlocking these support characters. Even after completing the assigned objectives in each mission… A. Even after scoring over 450 points, whatever that means… A.
Sorry loser, even though you handily won the fight and did what we asked of you, you don’t get a bonus character. I did a little research, found that Japanese gaming mag Famitsu also complained about the difficulty of getting an S-rank. Apparently, you need exploits to break the system, techniques and support characters to spam, all of which spells out bad design to me.
S-rank is not a product of practice, it’s a product of cheating almost, and it just wasn’t worth the effort.
Enough with the flippin’ Super Saiyans!
As I said, I give Arc System Works all the credit in the world for making a solid fighting game. Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butōden looks and feels like all the best titles the company has ever put out.
It’s the long haul which is the key deciding point here. The single player modes come up on the shallow side, and because there is no online mode yet, you’ll only be able to play in the presence of friends. Story mode doesn’t tell good stories. Adventure mode is frustrating because it doesn’t set goals or adhere to its own objectives. Grand Tournament Mode is just a more challenging boss rush.
I wouldn’t bother playing Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butōden for the purpose of an original story either. Each cutscene laughably reads like a child’s picture book version of the Dragon Ball Z story arcs, and the character specific stories aren’t much better. It’s a very elementary localization that carries over into the voice acting, which wasn’t changed at all!
Hope you like the Japanese voices because that’s what you’ll be getting. I didn’t mind so much, but this game would benefit a bit from the iconic growl of Sean Schemmel.
And enough with the Super Saiyans! Please! Dragon Ball has plenty of other characters besides them. We don’t need four Gohans!
Unless you’re cool with a solid and very barebones fighter at $39.99, I would say wait for a price drop. At the very earliest, at least wait until Bandai Namco gets around to updating it with online fighting.
Disclaimer: We were provided a review copy of Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butōden by Bandai Namco, and played through all the single player modes before writing this review.