Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z is a strange but beautiful beast. It may look like a run-of-the-mill fighter that focuses purely on button mashing and spectacle, but there’s more to it. Behind the simplistic front lies a layer of strategy and planning not often associated with Dragon Ball Z videogames, but one that works nevertheless.
Battle of Z offers a singleplayer campaign spanning across a number of familiar sagas, starring an impressive range of characters. The early missions act mainly as a means to familiarize the player with the controls and pace of the game and can be easily dusted off with little-to-no effort. Things begin to get harder and much more unforgiving when boss battles are introduced. At times, it feels like some bosses are almost unbeatable thanks to single attacks that can wipe out a team, taking most of the allocated number of knock-outs assigned in each mission. The sheer brutality of some bosses will no doubt leave the player both confused and frustrated. But for the most part, the singleplayer is an enjoyable–if not overly extended by the closing acts–romp through the Dragon Ball Z universe.
As inherently fun as the campaign is, however, there’s not a whole lot of replay value offered as most characters are unlocked by defeating them in their featured missions. Trying to obtain top rank in each mission will appeal to some, but those people are likely to be purists. There is the option to grind missions to level characters, but given the repetitive nature of the combat, this is an extremely dull activity.
Battle of Z takes the basic fighting backbone of most DBZ titles and places it into a new team-based combat environment. It ditches the notion of combos and complex move-sets in favor of a far simpler method of mashing the same few buttons in combination with other characters. There’s method in the madness, however, because each character has their own stats and roles that allow them to provide certain services in any given battle.
The character roles are similar to that of any given RPG (tank, damage, healer, ranged damage), albeit with a Dragon Ball Z twist: melee characters generally have large amounts of health points and are most effective when going toe-to-toe with their enemies; Ki Blast warriors are possibly the most uninteresting of the game’s roles as their basic function is to stand at a distance and fire projectiles at the enemy; support types heal and boost the player’s energy (which is used for special attacks), though they are rarely seen in combat as they mostly just hover around the battle rather than get directly involved; and the Interfere type is a curious mixture of both support and Ki Blast warriors–they are pests and aim to halt enemy combos being strung together.
The bulk of Battle of Z‘s gameplay is about creating an effective synergy between the characters selected for each mission. The combat itself is extremely simple and restrained; with no combos and very few special moves to choose from, there’s a sense of repetition in each battle. Thankfully, experimenting with team set-ups and different characters does keep the combat moving along smoothly, even with that nagging feeling of ‘been there, done that’ being present throughout.
While the combat may be lacking, there is more depth in how character progression works. After each battle, the player is rewarded with experience points. Naturally, these experience points result in level-ups for the player and the characters within the team. Character stats increase with each level, making them more effective at their roles. It may be a basic progression system but sometimes stripping away unnecessary features can improve the overall product.
Also, victory in battle provides players with cards which can then be equipped to a character, improving specific stats or to affect a character’s health or energy regeneration. On top of that, there is also an item system that gives players the option to purchase items (with the currency being earned by donating energy at the end of the battle) that offer various boosts and effects for one battle at a time.
The cards, items, and leveling system give Battle of Z an RPG-like quality that is highly welcomed. The card system, in particular, adds a sense of depth to the pre-battle strategy and planning process by allowing the player to bend their team’s stats to suit the desired need. The problem is that it feels like the card system could offer a little more than it does. Numerous cards feel like they are there to make up the numbers and not much else. Add to this a number of cards not doing much different other than increasing a few stats by a point or so and it becomes a problem of quantity over quality.
When heading online, Battle of Z offers both co-op and competitive options. Co-op allows players to battle through singleplayer missions together, albeit with the issue being that it all feels rather weak and disjointed as very few players wish to play as anything but aggressive roles. Battle Mode is the competitive offering and is simply chaotic. The bulk of the multiplayer is about who can get a lock on their combo skill the quickest, destroying any sense of skill or satisfaction when victory is achieved. The issue of lag also seems quite prevalent, though this could be down to an overseas connection.
One thing Battle of Z does excel at, however, is its production values. The visuals are fantastic and make full use of the Vita’s gorgeous display. The iconic look and style of Dragon Ball Z is brought to life in such a fantastic way that it’s almost like watching the show rather than playing the game. Character models look crisp and detailed, their animations are smooth, and they look exactly how any Dragon Ball Z fan would want them to look. Environments are also exquisite and set the mood for each battle. In all, it all results in a very effective and familiar Dragon Ball Z tone that allows Battle of Z to spring into life.
When all is said and done, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z is a solid videogame experience. Its presentation is fantastic and a great example of how games can make full use of the hardware offered by the Vita. Everything you could ask for in Dragon Ball Z title, from aesthetic design to audio and tone, is present in Battle of Z…but there’s a catch. The combat feels far too limited due to its repetitive nature. The role-based combat does make for a nice change and allows the game to offer a level of depth, but it’s not as substantive to keep the masses interested. Dragon Ball Z fans will thoroughly enjoy Battle of Z due to the sheer amount of fan service on offer, but it’s hard to recommend the game to anyone else–especially at full price. Battle of Z nails the design, but lacks in the execution.