By now, I’m sure almost all of our readers are familiar with the “Over 9000!” meme. Whether you understand its association with the Dragon Ball franchise or not, the meme has permeated many aspects of gaming culture, from achievement titles to in-game dialogue. But what you may not know is that the meme is, basically, incorrect.
Well, I guess a meme can’t be wrong, but it is based on inaccurate information, as Vegeta actually says “Over 8000!”. It’s a relatively minor translation error, but it serves as just one example of the myriad of ways the franchise was poorly handled in localisation: from heavy censorship (good-bye Hell and Mr. Satan; hello Home For Infinite Losers and Hercule), to ditching the original background music (a martial-arts-inspired mix of orchestral work and 80’s J-rock was replaced with grungy metal and off-putting techno synths), to ignoring the original Dragon Ball anime and the first 16 volumes of its manga until years later. Needless to say, I’m not a fan of the English treatment of Dragon Ball, but I am grateful for the resurgence of interest in the franchise that has followed suit, even in Japan.
In any case, Dragon Ball games are dime a dozen these days; just like annual Call of Duty or FIFA titles, they’ve become as routine as clock-work. And while it has porting issues of its own, the release of the Dragon Ball Z Budokai HD Collection is worth paying attention to for the inclusion of 3D brawler Budokai 3, a fighting game that managed to be a favourite of both fans and critics alike during its initial release eight years ago.
The original Budokai is also featured, likely for it’s story mode; a short re-telling of the first two-thirds of Dragon Ball Z, complete with exaggerated cut-scenes, full-voice-overs and slightly-censored subtitles (“YOU AUNT SALLIES!”). Despite missing significant chunks of exposition that will leave non-fans in the dark, it’s probably the best story-mode in a Dragon Ball fighting game, with the possible exception of 2008’s Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit. Otherwise, Budokai is notable for laying the foundations of the battle system used for several sequels. Primarily, you’ll be dealing out short combos of punches, kicks, energy blasts and dash attacks, and like 3D fighters such as Tekken, side-stepping the opponents is vital to reducing damage. You can also charge up your Ki (energy), which is often needed to trigger transformations and perform larger attacks.
One unique twist comes in the form of the Exciting Skill System, or E.S.S., which lets you customise fighters with collectable Capsule Corp. capsules to focus on item buffs or maintaining a larger move-pool. Some capsules can be acquired through the story mode, but the majority must be purchased with zeni, earned by winning in the World Tournament mode, a re-creation of the Tenkaichi Budokai from the manga. In general, Budokai succeeds at being accessible, but unfortunately remains simplistic, and many battles become frustrating due to in-consistant timing as well as dodgy opponent A.I. on higher difficulties.
With the sequel absent, the jump from the first Budokai to Budokai 3 is quite frankly insane, taking what was a fairly-shallow fighting system and absolutely stuffing it full of new mechanics and over-the-top techniques. From the Dragon Rush attack, which has you attempting to out-QTE your opponents for increasingly large damage bonuses, to a massive over-haul of the E.S.S (it’s now possible to stack attack capsules to power-up specific moves), there’s a lot of depth here if you chose to explore it. It’s still wildly unbalanced (appropriately so!), but damn if it isn’t a lot of fun.
Replacing the story-mode from previous games is the multi-character “Dragon Universe”, which allows you to fly your chosen protagonist across the world, following story events, collecting ability capsules, banking zeni and earning EXP to level up for battles. It’s simple, but much like the rest of Budokai 3, loaded with content, offering a way for the developers to explore non-canon fan-favourites such as Broli or Cooler. Additionally, a nifty password-feature allows you to share your Dragon Universe characters with others for local multiplayer, though no true online modes are present. All told, unless you prefer something more traditional like Street Fighter (try: Hyper Dimension or perhaps Super DBZ), or enjoy the free-form battles of the Budokai Tenkaichi series, it’s probably the best Dragon Ball fighter out there.
This being an HD collection, most of the in-game visuals have been given the requisite 720P treatment, with fights running at a silky-smooth 60FPS in a new 16:9 frame. But both games also have a fairly high volume of 2D art, forcing menus and almost everything outside of battle to run with old-school 4:3 borders. Given the choice between stretching these art assets or maintaining a proper aspect-ratio, I’m glad developer Pyramid made the choice that they did, though a scaling toggle would have been nice. Cutscenes in the first Budokai also suffer the same bordered fate, and the game bizarrely opts for the character models of the original PS2 release (rather than the cel-shaded look of the updated GameCube port), making it look sort of prehistoric given its age. Budokai 3, though, looks fantastic; although the low-polygon character models aren’t as detailed as the more recent Burst Limit, the hyper-stylised cel-shading looks absolutely gorgeous at times, especially when combined with animation that is frequently a dead-ringer for the show’s best.
Sadly, a lot of this good work is undermined by the audio porting. In a situation that’s just far too complicated to explain in a review, Kenji Yamamoto, a secondary composer for the shows and primary composer for the games, has left the franchise due to legal troubles. Subsequently 90% of the music across the two games in this collection has been replaced by a mish-mash of tracks taken verbatim from the American releases of the Budokai Tenkaichi games. While one or two tracks do suit the action, the rest feel quite generic out of context, with the loss of the up-beat title-theme for Budokai 3 especially noticeable If Dimps had truly wanted to cater to the hardcore fans of the franchise, they could have included Shunsuke Kikuchi’s legendary background music from the Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z anime series, which ironically turned up in the Japanese release of Budokai Tenkaichi. Thankfully, both games in this HD collection feature a Japanese voice-track, with Budokai 3 also offering an English dub (which it defaults to) if you prefer that.