Release(s): November 16, 2004 (North America), November 26, 2004 (Australia), December 3, 2004 (Europe), February 10, 2005 (Japan)
Platform(s): PlayStation 2
Publisher(s): Bandai (Japan/Europe), Atari(North America/Australia)
In 1984, a Japanese man named Akira Toriyama published the first chapter of a manga series (“Dragon Ball”) on the Weekly Shonen Jump magazine. For what started off as a light-hearted story based loosely on the Chinese folklore ‘Journey to the West', Dragon Ball gradually shifted gears towards an action-orientated story about the old-fashioned interval between Good and Evil.
This move paid off with Dragon Ball being one of the most popular and influential anime/manga franchises of all time, and like any highly successful franchise, there's bound to be a video game license but boy did Dragon Ball have them in spades. Nearly every year there's a game or two out for the series.
Unfortunately, like so many other video game licenses, Dragon Ball games for the longest time have generally ranged from mediocre to pure shit (*cough*Final Bout*cough*). That all changed when Dragon Ball Z: Budokai was first released on Q4 2002.
Budokai was no Soul Calibur, but it had a foundation that worked. Its sequel Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2 does improve several things (particularly the graphics) but its more or less the same experience. In August 2004, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 was announced and it promises to address all the suggestions and complaints people had of the first two games in hopes of developing a more fleshed-out fighter.
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 returns the formula of its predecessors and while it may seem like more of the same thing, Budokai 3 improves the combat system to the point where it doesn’t just make for a good DBZ game but a good fighting game in general.
While it’s still not as deep or complex as the big boys of the fighting game genre, the new “Saiyan Overdrive" fighting system makes a lot of changes to gameplay. For starters, there’s more movement and defensive options so matches don’t quickly devolve into a contest of who can land the first hit. You still can't jump or crouch but you can now dash backwards which is performed in a similar matter to the forward dash (you can also use it to fly into or from the air by pressing up or down). You can also perform quick dodges by tapping the G button when timed with an opponent’s physical attack while at point-blank range with a slight cost of ki gauge. Last, but not least, you now have a combo breaker function in the of a teleport counter where you appear behind the opponent by pressing the G button and forward at the same time just before their attack connects (use wisely as it consumes a lot of ki). The overall speed increase also helps matters.
The basic attacks that each character has now much more diversity. Sure, a lot of the generic combo moves are still here but the added variety at least gives characters that much needed personality like Piccolo using his mystic attack to keep opponents at a distance or Trunks hackin’ n slashin’ with his sword. There’s also much more unique death moves including Goku’s Dragon Fist, Vegeta’s Final Impact, and Super Buu’s III Ball Attack. Now almost every character has 2 death moves and at least one of them is unique.
The ki system has been completely revamped from the last two games. Each character has their own ki baseline and the meter will naturally increase or decrease to said baseline when not in use. The way transformations work has also been changed so it’s not a hassle to maintain. Instead of draining ki, transforming can increase your baseline and you will only revert back to base form if you get hit while at less than 1 ki gauge or become fatigue. Speaking of fatigue, there is a new fatigue meter which accumulates with the damage you take and when it becomes red, you will become fatigued when knocked back at less than 1 ki gauge. This new system adds a new layer of stategy that is quite unlike any other fighting game.
The two most notable new features for Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 are Hyper Mode and Dragon Rush. Hyper Mode has you glowing red and not as easy to knock down, but it burns ki with no way of replenishing it. It’s also required in order to perform Ultimate attacks which now can be done by simply pressing all the face buttons at the same time so you can launch the opponent into it. Dragon Rush also requires you to be in Hyper Mode to perform it. The way it is executed is by attempting a pursuit (pressing the E button when knocking the opponent away). It’s pretty much the same for every character (although some have ultimates tied to the end of it), but it’s a three-part sequence where you play a button-guessing game for each one.
For hardcore players, it’s a nuisance but for casuals, it’s a great way of dealing damage without involving a lot of skill or strategy especially with characters that don’t have ultimates.
Just like the last game, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 introduces a whole new single-player campaign with RPG elements only Budokai 3 does away with the tedious board game setting and has you take control of a specific character as you fly around on an open-world map. Your main objective is to go from one point to another in order to engage in combat but just like Budokai 2’s Dragon World, you can do other things like finding skills or zeni, discovering hidden unlockables, engage in side battles to grind for extra experience points and level up your character (this time, it is permanent), reenacting events from the anime series to reveal additional story elements, and collect all seven dragon balls to grand a wish for an extra rare skill for your character at the end of their story. It's also loaded with bells n' whistles that would any hardcore fan burst. Dragon Universe also covers the entirely of the Dragon Ball Z storyline and while an improvement in terms of storytelling from Dragon World, it still doesn’t measure up the first Budokai’s Story Mode although the sheer amount of things you can do in Dragon Universe makes up for it. There are some alternating paths within each character’s story (after their initial playthrough) that may cover some of GT and the DBZ movies.
Once again Dueling, World Tournament, and Practice have returned and are largely the same with a few changes and additions. World Tournament has a whole new class called the Cell Games which is like the Advanced class only it takes place on the Cell ring and there is no limit to how you can customize your character. Practice now allows you to have another player take control of the training dummy and the Training section is much more expansive than in the last game. It still doesn’t go as nearly in depth as it could’ve, but it does an adequate enough job at teaching you how to play the game.
The Skill System features one major change being that they replaced the redundant physical capsules with the yellow item capsules which are like the green equipment capsules in terms of boosting stats and enhancing abilities, but they can be used intermediately during battle by tapping down twice while holding the G button and can turn the tides in so many different ways. However, you can only use one item capsule.
Just like the previous two games, Budokai 3 has an additional game mode which can be unlocked by completing Dragon Universe with all the characters available for it (except Broly) and you can fight against various leveled up opponents to level up your character including those aren’t even playable in Dragon Universe. If you play with another player, you can both your leveled-up characters compete against each other. There are some unlockables within Dragon Arena which I honesty can do without.
Overall, the mode is loads of fun and is probably where you'll send most of your single-player experience once you're done with Dragon Universe.
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 returns the cel-shaded graphical style of the last game but further refines it not only with the character models but with the shading and particle effects. The aura for each character look like they were taken directly from the anime and the way dust picks up as your character charges their ki while near the ground is a nice touch. The same can be said about ki blasts, beams, lighting, and other effects.
The stages are all vibrant and have interesting little details to them like the fish that Goku feasted on at the beginning of the Dragon Ball can be seen hanging in the background of Grandpa Gohan’s House alongside a roaring fire and there is kanji carved into one of the mountains in the Rocky Mountains stage.
The fighting animation for characters are a lot more unique this time around. Almost every character has their own idle animation which reflect their personalities like Cell’s arrogant stance while at Super Perfect Form or Kid Buu’s menacing slouch. There are even a couple character-specific attack animations albeit most of them are still shared between characters
Once again, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 reused most of the voice clips from the last game while creating new ones for additional character intros and outros, cutscenes, new characters, and new moves. FUNimation in particular does a good as usual and they blend well with the old clips. Also, for the first time, you switch between the English and Japanese audio but only if you manage to get your hands on a Greatest Hits copy of the game (or Collector's Edition for Europeans).
Likewise, a lot of the music is reused for this game only Budokai 3 does away with most of the tracks from the first Budokai and adds a bunch of new ones. They are combination of the techno, rock, and alternative themes from the first game and the jazzy themes from the second game with some funk tunes which give the score in Budokai 3 quite a bit of diversity and they are all pretty nice too.
The menus still aren’t quite as ambitious as the first Budokai but every menu now has anime-style cutouts and the characters will talk to you explaining each option. They are even accompanied with some animation. Budokai 3 also has an original anime-style opening with a brand new theme for it and it’s arguably better than the last.
However, load times are slower here.
What else can really be said about Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3? It took what was a flawed yet fun exercise of the Dragon Ball license and it made it into a genuinely worthwhile title that can be enjoyed even by those otherwise disinterested in the franchise.
I still can’t say I would put this on the same level as other popular (and more established) fighting game series’ like Street Fighter or Tekken but as far as Dragon Ball games are concerned, Budokai 3 set a benchmark that many have tried to capture but only a few are able to match.