Let’s make something clear. I LOVE Dragon Ball. So let me also preface this retro review with the following: this is the Reggie Reviews Dragon Ball Weekend so if you’re looking for a fair, balanced review here, get out of here… KAAAAAAAA… MEEEEEEEE… wait, we already used that joke, right?
With that out of the way let me also say this: this game is awesome.
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 represents a massive landmark in my Dragon Ball media consumption. Being familiar with pretty much every aspect of every series, movie and manga volume, I’d always craved a full-fat experience that felt both grounded within the Dragon Ball lore (let’s overlook Toriyama’s spotty memory for a minute) through a meaty story component and strong gameplay mechanics. I’d never been satisfied with any outside a handful of older titles (looking at you, DBZ: Hyper Dimension) but Budokai 3 hit just about every note for me, then proceeded to harmonise them with raging power.
Go, Go! Let’s do eeeet!
The highlight here, aside from the genki-dama sized roster, was the new Dragon Universe mode, Budokai 3’s take on story mode. To break it down somewhat you’re given the option of taking a handful of the roster (11 in total) through their own plotline, generally centred around their appearances within the Dragon Ball Z plot. In between (mostly voiced) dialogue and the actual fights you were able to freely fly across a world map of both Earth and Namek. Now in terms of interactivity there was little to do beyond fly from site to site searching out the event-trigger locations, capsules (mainly for equipment which unlocks moves and buffs), Dragon Balls (to grant wishes, obviously!) and extra fights for level grinding. The map isn’t visually impressive but just being able to freely traverse to look at iconic landmarks was a dream come true.
Budokai 2 had a simple top-down board game-like map interface, saving you the task of raking the land for balls and capsules but, to put it simply, kind of sucked. As a long-time Dragon Ball fan, Budokai’s 3 take on the map genuinely felt like being in your own version of the main plotline. The branching paths and criteria to trigger them gave the game tonnes of personality and replayability. Given how much I loved the core fighting gameplay, casual or not, the world map gave extra immersion and context. It’s not the most expansive and it’s not particularly accurate in many places but the unique way in which Budokai 3 inserts the movie characters and even elements of the god-awful-to-everyone-but-Americans GT lore (sorry dudes, but I just do not get it) keep you feeling like you’re guiding the Z fighters through a lifetime’s worth of adventure.
And This… is to go even Further Beyond
What Budokai 3 achieved with its inclusion of the GT cast was something I’ve not seen replicated since. It felt like parts of the GT universe were inserted into Dragon Ball Z, rather than the complete disconnect felt between their respective anime shows. This melding of the two was handled neatly in the story mode, but my favourite implementation was through gradually transforming Goku and Vegeta through their Super Saiyan forms. Budokai 3 also allowed you to transform to any stage of Super Saiyan from base form (or for example, from SSJ2 straight to SSJ4), providing you had the requisite capsules and charge. When seeing this method mixed with the excellent animation it felt organic and natural. The transformation nuances don’t stop there as you can transform characters like Frieza and Cooler through their forms but, crucially, can’t transform back mid-fight. Attention to detail like this helped to elevate the game as a definitive Dragon Ball experience.
A cheesy rock soundtrack with bouncing catchy tunes served as the perfect backdrop to story segments, traversal through the world maps and, most importantly, battle.
The roster is as packed as Yajarobe’s stomach. Fans were treated to a host of movie favourites in addition to series’ staple Z-fighters, enemies and previous the game’s extras. Cooler had his Meta-Cooler transformation, Bardock was in, Super Saiyan 4 Gogeta was unlockable, the list went on. Broly was a blast to play as and his story mode was as daft as you’d expect. It effectively boiled down to you flying around and shouting “KAKAROT” at people.
Tell me, Does a Machine like you Experience Fear?
Core gameplay involved 3D-fighter movement, auto-combos, teleportation dodges, screaming while powering up and easy to execute super attacks. But everything was here. All the moves are beautifully animated, the super attacks faithful, the spirit bomb’s epic. Everything felt right. DB characters always made fighting look easy, no matter how much they talked it up. This game doesn’t make it just look easy to fight; it is easy to fight.
Budokai 3 nailed everything graphically. It’s smooth, detailed cel-shading style coupled with the perfected versions of the character models and massive overhaul of the animations (see Goku’s Super Saiyan transformations for a quick comparison) made it feel like a personalised version of the show. I bought in whole-hog and every fight felt like it had a personal stake.
The newly recorded lines by the anime casts in both English and Japanese (the later release of the EU version added the Japanese dub and was the version I first owned) were a treat an every line was delivered with the same over-the-top conviction the fans love in both languages. Even during the ‘What-If?’ scenarios, everything felt naturally entwined with the Dragon Ball Z feel.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is technically superior, Tenkaichi 3 and Xenoverse have more content but seriously, I’d be lying if I said I’d put half the hours in any of those games that I did in Budokai 3. Nostalgia is relevant, but when I think back to how much fun I had, nothing else matters. I think my enthusiasm exploded and made a crater.
Overall Score: 4.5/5
Formats: PS2 (Reviewed), PS3/Xbox 360 (as part of Budokai HD Collection)
Release Date: 03/12/2004 (EU)