Posted Thu 12th Apr 2012 7:10pm by Ruser Saldana
Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi Review
Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi’s story has too many characters, plot holes, and absurd elements for me to make any sense of it. There’s a lot of chatter about power levels and fusions, as well as casual references to people turning into apes. Early on, someone dies in battle and then trains to become a better fighter. I guess if you’re determined to be the best, you can’t let a silly thing like death stop you.
I am aware that there are better ways to spend my time and energy than trying to make sense of a fighting game based on an old, poorly-translated anime series. But, Tenkaichi’s problem isn’t the source material; it’s how developer Spike chose to deliver the story. Short cutscenes fill out the details before and after battles, and the visuals, voice acting, and action capture the spirit of the show nicely. However, the bigger context for these battles and cutscenes is relegated to a disembodied voice reading text between fights. Why must I listen to a story in a visual medium? Couldn’t they come up with something more creative than narration and text?
I wouldn’t be so disappointed had this method actually been effective. But Tenkaichi takes the Dragon Ball Z world for granted: it assumes players will either grasp the details based on prior familiarity with the anime or simply won’t care enough to complain. The narration tries to cover too much ground, often communicating years’ worth of events in a short amount of time. It fails to communicate the story in an intelligible and interesting manner as a result.
It’s an issue too important to ignore and here’s why: the game mechanics are designed in such a way that suggests their purpose is to create an interactive retelling of Dragon Ball Z. You can play Tenkaichi against friends, participate in tournaments, and even fight through an alternate Dragon Ball Z universe with your own character. Yet, the fighting mechanics do not give players a unique, challenging experience, rendering these modes as dull, insignificant contributions to the game. On the other hand, the mechanics allow players to efficiently and effectively fight as various characters as Tenkaichi progresses through Dragon Ball Z's story.
Alright, I’ve said Tenkaichi is a fighting game, but it isn’t a fighting game in the same vein as Street Fighter (you know, the series that basically defined the genre). It’s more like Streets of Rage, only without the side scrolling and garbage cans full of perfectly good turkeys. Like Streets of Rage, there is one primary attack button that you can press repeatedly to execute short combos. Additionally, special attacks are controlled by a single button (or in this case, an analog stick). Like Street Fighter, Tenkaichi has a large roster of combatants and the field of play is (mostly) restricted to a defined space. However, unlike Street Fighter, the game does not require button combinations to perform special moves, or have any skill or timing-based combos. Tenkaichi is dressed up like a fighting game but it doesn’t play like one at all.
In and of itself, this isn’t too big of a problem. Well, if you’re expecting a standard fighter then sure, you will likely walk away from Tenkaichi unsatisfied. Battles play out all too similarly, but the game still finds ways to make things interesting. For example, at the end of each combo, a minigame ensues and either leads to a QTE-like combo extension if the attacker wins or a counterattack if the defender wins. And super attacks are – easily – the most devastating and sensational thing I have ever seen in a fighting game (it’s a shame, though, that environmental damage disappears once play continues). While the gameplay is repetitive, it offers enough twists and theatrics to stay entertaining over an extended period of time.
Now with that said, the game’s mechanics sacrifice a lot. There is no depth or complexity to the fighting system, combat is more impulsive than strategic, and character selection is trivial at best. But these sacrifices allow players to get through Dragon Ball Z’s story with little trouble. You change characters often in this mode, sometimes within the same battle. Having to learn separate moves, combos, strengths, weaknesses, etc. for each character would have been a pain and probably counterproductive. Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe tried this, and while it was a good way to introduce new characters, it was an even better way to frustrate me into spamming upper cuts and leg sweeps.
However, if the game is going to make that type of sacrifice for the sake of the story, then the story better be good – or at the very least, comprehensible. By trying so hard to make sense of the story, I’m really trying to understand and ultimately enjoy what appears to be the core of the game. But if I can’t do that, there’s very little purpose to me participating in the same fights over and over.
Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe the mechanics’ purpose isn’t to support an interactive retelling of Dragon Ball Z. But if that’s the case, then Tenkaichi’s fighting system is a failure, and Spike will have to rethink their vision for the series.
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