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Jeremy Jastrzab
11 Nov, 2011

Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi Review

360 Review | Ultimately close, yet ultimately far.
Enough of these reviews based on anime franchise titles start with a preamble on how this genre often oozes with potential but often fails to inspire confidence outside of the fan base, with rushed or kid-orientated design templates. At least these titles manage to scrape in a few rungs above movie-based titles… In any case, here is the lowdown - Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi is on the cusp of living up to its subtitle. It shows the right moves, it makes the right noises, but falls apart as it tries too hard to keep things open while relentlessly dragging players along before they get to the good stuff.

The last episode of Dragon Ball GT aired in Japan in November 1997, nearly two years after Dragon Ball Z had finished. And it's been six years since the US airings finished. Over the 25 years or so that series was aired, fans had been blessed with a plethora of video games, ranging from good, to decent, to downright terrible. There hasn’t been anything ‘new’ since the series finished, and the games have just been rehashing the same story over and over again. More pertinently though, none have really managed to capture the true spirit of the series, as many would have hoped. Aside from the decent effort of the Tenkaichi Budokai titles, the content of Budokai 3 or the viscerality of Hyper Dimension, arguably the closest players ever got to the experience was a Quake III mod, Bid for Power.

Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkachi is probably as close as the anime and gaming experiences have come together, which is quite an achievement. Unfortunately, there are some very simple issues that could have been easily rectified in the final product – most pertinently the insistence of forcing players to grind their way to the good stuff. The best part of the game though, has been the rethinking of how battles ought to flow. While the Budokai series was a pseudo take on the traditional 2D fighter, the Budokai Tenkaichi series played more like a wrestler, and Raging Blast played like an oil tanker simulator, Ultimate Tenkaichi falls somewhere in between the first two, along with some appropriate tweaks.

Closer than ever before.

Closer than ever before.
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While the HUD initially looks like the dashboard of a car, distinguishing the spirit and ki gauges proves valuable and refreshing, as the former controls your super attacks, and the latter controls defensive manoeuvres. Rather than light and heavy attacks, you have rush and smash attacks. Dividing the action into Blast Range and Melee range takes out a lot of the ambiguity behind what you can and can’t do, while being pulled off seamlessly. The ‘clashes’ are the most accurate representation of how battles unfold in Dragon Ball Z, with the coin toss element allowing for things to swing both ways. Basically, you enter a clash, and have to pick the opposite action to your opponent to successfully attack or predict the opponent’s attack to defend or counter.

And the development team has at least taken all of these aspects into account quite intelligently to create a system that is quite well-balanced. If you play it right – by managing how your attacks affect you and your opponent’s gauges - you won’t be helpless in the face of your opponent’s super attacks, and be ready for the counter. It is somewhat dependant on luck, and some AI opponents can become predictable with their one-noted actions, but nothing to date has managed to recreate the wild swings in momentum and potential for timeless comebacks or emphatic results as embodied by these series like this game has. And this refreshed battle system is a highlight of the game… for a while.

The other highlight is the visual and audio presentation, which has without a doubt, finally nailed what it is to be Dragon Ball Z. The destruction and exaggeration is exactly what you’d hope for it to be, while visually at least, you’ll see the subtle differences between the character movements. Each of the characters themselves is the most faithful recreation yet, and while the damage isn’t always permanent, there is nothing quite as thrilling as seeing the landscapes being completely ripped apart. From the biggest explosion all the way down to the finest detail, and with the addition of remastered HD anime bites, everything melds together to create the best looking Dragon Ball Z experience to date. The music isn’t left behind either, with one of the most complete and pumping tracks (including Cha-la-Head-Cha-la) for the series to date. And of course, you have the full complement of Japanese voices.

The chase, is better than the catch.

The chase, is better than the catch.
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Story progression is a rather standard and a dull affair. You’re not going to get a new story, or anything like that, but you will at least cover everything from the death of Goku’s father, Bardock, through the Saiyan saga and all the way till the end of Dragon Ball GT. Some of the better movie sagas (i.e. the cooler ones) have been added as well. You will also have the occasional boss battle (with quick time events) and chase battles, which give the story a bit more interactivity and integrity. To the credit of Ultimate Tenkaichi though, the story-based battles are the most accurate to date in terms of how they are completed. Unfortunately, outside of the battle, you’re driven by overly long text scrolls and a rather banal search for Dragon Balls, for which the only redeeming factor is some token unlockables.

Hero mode actually manages to make up for this in a few ways. Telling a story set in an alternate universe, you can actually (for the first time) create your own Saiyan warrior to protect Earth, using very basic customisation tools. From there, it plays like a basic RPG, where you level up against smaller foes before tackling the familiar story-advancing characters. To add to this, you can customise your fighting styles and moves, as you defeat enemies and collect their moves. You can further add to this collection by training with ‘Masters’. While it’s a nice distraction and a decent idea, it isn’t particularly well fleshed-out and reeks of being rushed. Outside of this, you have your usual staple of tournament and online modes for playing through, as well as a tonne of DBZ paraphernalia to collect and look through. There aren't that many characters as there have been, but the roster is solid and has scope for transformations and fusions. There is definitely no shortage of content, as seeing everything could easily take you past the 20 hour mark.

But therein lies the major problem with the game. To see everything, to see the good stuff, you are dragged through an unrelenting grind of poor interfaces, underdone ideas and abysmal pacing. The game literally lurches from battle to battle, with filler material and load screens often lasting longer than some battles. Seriously, some load screens will last longer than a standard Saibaman battle... The overworlds that the game attempts to employ are quaint, with recognisable landmarks, but completely banal and devoid of any life. They really come off as a rushed waste of space. The grind to get through everything is so banal, so pointless and such a waste of time that it’s likely that any players that aren’t massive fans, will likely forfeit their adventures long before getting to the better sections. Still, even these guys have been playing through the same story for a while...

The ultimate ultimate attack.

The ultimate ultimate attack.
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Hero mode suffers just as badly from this, or possibly worse. To unlock more moves and styles, you have to grind through a lot of pointless battles. You don’t have to grind, but you’ll be stuck with a pretty vanilla and unendearing character. However, the worst aspect of the grind is how blatantly it exposes the shortcomings of the battle system. In short, it ends up being way too simple and devolves into the same sequence of stock standard moves to win the battle. Now, if you didn’t have to go through so many battles (and so many load screens), this fallibility would not have been exposed as badly as it has been. Human battles turn the system into more of a ‘rock-paper-scissors’ system, as opposed to the ‘coin toss’ against AI, but overall, there simply isn’t enough outside of the visual panache to have made the game more endearing. You'll only likely crack it out for couple of bouts every now and then as opposed to sticking with it and trying to master it. Simply, there is nothing to master outside of timing of your evades.

Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi really was on the cusp of becoming the ultimate Dragon Ball Z gaming experience. While it finishes up being too simple for longevity, the battle system is the closest yet to recreating the monumental power struggles witnessed in the show. The visual and audio presentation though, really couldn’t have been too much closer, and in some cases is probably better than the show. And there is a treasure trove of DBZ extras to be found. Unfortunately, all the best stuff is buried under too much banal filler, pointless features, poor interfaces, and incessant load screens, while being unable to shake the feeling that we’re all still playing the same game that we have for the past few years. It doesn’t need to be new, it just needs to packaged in the right way, and Ultimate Tenkachi is half way there.
The Score
The battle presentation is spot on, and the system is half way there, but Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi is still only half way to being the Ultimate Dragon Ball Z experience.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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2 Comments
2 years ago
Very decent review and a score in the range I would give it. I would MAYBE give an extra .5 to the score.


Maybe it's because I have played all the PS2 and PS3 DBZ games bar Raging Blast 2 but everyone else seems to love it while I think it's quite a disappointing and fairly boring DBZ game.

I do know that the people I have spoke to that love this game have only played maybe 3 at the most DBZ games before.
2 years ago
that was a pretty good read jeremy icon_biggrin.gif
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  27/10/2011 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  Namco Bandai
Year Made:
  2011

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