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To fully explain the story of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z would take years. Either you have watched the show and understand it or you don't. Budokai makes this feeling very clear and throws you into the middle of the story right away. The story mode in Budokai spans from the Saiyan Saga through Cell Games, but the tale is told in a couple of hours rather than over the course of several years like the show. All of the important plot points are covered and some of the most famous scenes are recreated perfectly. You have to play the story a couple of times to see everything and you get to play as several different characters each time so you get to see the story from many points of view. In an interesting touch, there are even what if? scenarios for things like what would have happened if Vegeta turned Super Saiyan before Goku, among others.
In addition to the story mode, Budokai features several other worthwhile modes. You can play through the World Martial Arts Tournament, just like on the show, where you can win money to use to buy new skills. You use those skills in the Skill Edit mode where you can assign special moves and abilities to create custom fighters. There is also a survival mode called Legend of Hercule that follows lovable loser Hercule. Budokai also features the now standard versus and practice modes that no fighting game can live without these days. Most of the characters in the game are unlocked in the story mode, along with some of the skills, but a majority of the skills are earned by completing the World Martial Arts Tournament.
The main problem with DBZ Budokai lies in the fighting engine itself. It stinks. Each fighter only has a handful of moves , like less than ten , and the controls for every single character are exactly the same. The game uses only one button for kick, one for punch, one for guard, and one for an energy attack. All of the moves in the game are performed by tapping different combinations of punch and kick followed by the energy button. If you have any experience with fighting games at all you will learn everything this game has to offer if less than an hour. You'll be using Galic Guns and firing off Kamehameha waves in mere minutes. All of the characters move and act and fight exactly the same way with the only difference between them being the way their special moves look. One aspect of Budokai that is nice is the burst system. Just like on the TV show, under certain conditions the fighters will both start throwing a frenzied assault of punches and kicks that move so fast you can barely see what is going on. This is cool, and a nice way to be true to the show, but it isn't enough to make up for the lame fighting engine.
Despite the fact that the game isn't really all that great, it does pack enough DBZ goodness to be worth checking out for fans of the show. The menus are all highly stylized and feature characters and sights and sounds taken from the series. The story mode is excellent and does a great job of shrinking the long-winded saga of these fighters down. The fighting, even though it pales in comparison to a Soul Calibur or Virtua Fighter, is rather true to the series and lets fans fly and turn Super Saiyan and send huge energy blasts at their opponents as much as they want. The only thing Budokai doesn't have is characters screaming for five minutes or endless discussions about power levels. If it had those things it would be an absolutely perfect adaptation of the show. The characters that are included are all of the major players in the Saiyan, Namekian, and Android sagas such as Goku, Vegeta, Gohan, Piccolo, Frieza, the androids, and Cell. Each of the 23 characters has multiple costumes as well as different forms and power levels that you can change into during fights. DBZ Budokai has everything a fan of the series would want. That being said, it doesn't offer anything that will change the minds of non-fans, and they will probably see the weak fighting engine and pass on the game entirely. That's ok, though. This game isn't for them; it's for us fans.
Graphically, Budokai looks very true to the show. Every character looks exactly like they should and special moves and powers look just like you remember them. The environments are bland and boring, but that is exactly like on the show. One neat part of the environments is that when you are in certain positions, you can send your opponents crashing through mountains and out the other side, which happens with every other hit on the show. This was a labor of love to make sure everything looked just right, and fans of the show should be able to appreciate it.
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