In late 2005, Super Dragon Ball Z was released into arcades across Japan (and eventually Europe), and later ported globally to the Playstation 2 in 2006. Noritaka Funamizu's company Craft & Meister developed the game, Funamizau himself famous for his work on Street Fighter II. Despite this, Super Dragon Ball Z remains one of the most obscure Dragon Ball Z video games since the fandom boom in 2002. The Budokai and Sparking! series both received a number of sequels and spin offs, yet this fighting game was seemingly left behind, despite praise by critics.
When I first bought this game, I didn't like it. I played it for a week or so, but something about it didn't click with me. So I shelved it. For years. About a month ago, I decided to dust it off and play it again. Once I started playing it, I knew I had to review it for the Dragon Blog. So without further adieu, Super Dragon Ball Z...
Super Dragon Ball Z
Rating: Good (2 out of 3)
Story and Modes
Super Dragon Ball Z is an arcade game at heart, and its PS2 port does little to hide this. There's really only four playable modes in the game - Original, Z Survivor, Versus, and Training. In Original, you play the "Arcade Mode", going from map to map fighting best 2-out-of-3 matches against the various playable characters in the game, ending with Cell at the Cell Games. Z Survivor is a fairly straight forward survival mode, where you see if you can fight eight rounds without your health recovering between matches. Versus is also straight forward, but there's no Player 1 vs Com setting, so you can only fight against a real life opponent. Training is the standard training mode we're all used to in fighting games. You can customize characters as well, and you unlock customization options by collecting the Dragon Balls in either Original or Z Survivor.
Original and Z Survivor are both a lot of fun, even if Z Survivor feels like a bit of an after thought. Versus is a serious let down, however. Not being able to play against the computer is ridiculous. Training mode is thorough however, and a great learning tool. Overall, what's in Super DBZ is a lot of fun... but there's so little of it. You can do everything this game has to offer in one night, or over a weekend. I understand that it's an Arcade port, but the lack of a Tournament mode or a real Story Mode hurt this game on the console. Also, the Arcade mode ends the same way no matter which character you play as, which is pretty lazy even for an Arcade game.
Controls and Options
To someone well versed in playing Dragon Ball Z: Budokai or Dragon Ball Z: Sparking!, the controls of this game will seem odd at first. But fans of Street Fighter will feel at home immediately. Combos and Specials are executed with a lot of emphasis on the joystick. The controls feel slow to me compared to some of the other PS2 DBZ fighters, but once I got into it I barely noticed. Fairly solid controls all in all, my only complaint is the menu which teaches you your combos. The graphics used are carried over from the Arcade version, where the buttons are laid out differently than on a PS2 controller. This makes learning your combos unnecessarily irritating at first.
Options are pretty standard in this game, with a few neat unlockables. My biggest grief with the options is the lack of a Japanese voice setting. You're forced to listen to the FUNimation cast, which is a major disappointed for us fans of the original voice cast.
Graphics and Audio
I love this game's graphics. The Menus are very sleek, and the characters look great. The backgrounds look dated by today's generation's standards, but get the job done, with plenty of breakable environments and neat cameos (like Suppaman on one stage, Upa on another, stuff like that...). Whereas most DB games opt to take their design from the Anime, Super DBZ looks like it walked out of Akira Toriyama's colored pages of the original manga. It's a fantastic look, and possibly this game's greatest strength.
The audio is incredibly weak. The voices sound like they were recorded in a bathroom, and the music sounds like elevator muzak. For a series which has such great music and acting (well... the original cast has great acting...), you'd think there would be more stress placed on it in a video game. And it usually is. But not Super Dragon Ball Z.
Characters and Stages
The characters in this game are incredibly fun. 18 in all, and each of them play fairly differently from each other. Despite having such a small number of characters, Super DBZ has some surprises. Namely, Chichi (from the end of Dragon Ball), Piccolo Daimao, and a slightly redesigned by Toriyama Mecha Freeza. That said, this game could certainly have more characters. 18 characters in a fighting game is a pretty low number these days, even outside of Dragon Ball Z games where having less than 30 characters is a crime. This game doesn't need 30 characters, but a handful more couldn't hurt. Arale Norimaka, Tao Pai Pai, Tenshinhan, Yamcha, and Super Buu would be my suggestions, as they each have unique styles of fighting which could benefit from this game's Street Fighter style.
The Stages in this game are great. I love the destructible environments, which this game does better than most every DBZ fighter I've ever played. There could be more Stages, but the number now is fine too. Also, when you get to Round 3 on the Namek Stage, it starts crumbling, which is an awesome touch.
To sum things up: Super Dragon Ball Z is a fun game, but its fun runs out quickly. There simply isn't a lot to do once you get into it. This amount of content is fine in the Arcade, and on the Consoles 15 years ago, but for a Playstation 2 port that was released at full price, it's a massive rip off. Of course, you can pick this baby up now for a cool 3 bucks used, and I'd suggest you do if you're bored and want to play a fun and unique DBZ game over a weekend. But it ultimately falls flat thanks to a lack of features, and will be going back onto my shelf for an undetermined amount of time.
TL;DR Great arcade game, lazy console port.