When one considers Dragon Ball Z, thoughts of excessive grunting, seizure-inducing special effects, and poor animation bogged down by countless filler episodes come to mind. In the gaming realm, this translates to numerous fighting games over a broad range of platforms with very little to show for itself.
Very rarely is the manga/anime adapted correctly to appease fans of the series and gamers alike, and even then the select few are merely above average and never truly remarkable.
To coincide with the recent Japanese revamping of the series that started a phenomenon (known as Dragon Ball Kai), Monolith Soft and Bandai have released Dragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans, an RPG retelling of the Saiyan saga, beginning with the end of the original Dragon Ball and running through till the start of the Namek timeline.
Can the high flying action transgress genres and keep its appeal through a turn-based, role playing scope?
If you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade and are not quite familiar with the world of Dragon Ball, Attack of the Saiyans is a great place to become immersed in the strange, but interesting lore. If you have absolutely no prior knowledge of who Goku is, what a “Kamehameha” is, or think the dragon balls are a giant, flying lizard’s testicles, then following the story may be prove slightly difficult, especially with some of the horridly slow moving dialogue.
For those who do understand what a “Masenko” is however, the game opens right at the end of the original Dragon Ball, focusing on the completion of the tournament and Raditz’s arrival, and ends shortly after Vegeta’s departure from Earth. It touches on all the major events and leaves most of the anime filler by the curbside, with the exception of a few interesting adventures that envelope well into the RPG playbook.
Although the story is brought across well, DBZ has never really been about storytelling. Fighting has always been the focus of the series, and Attack of the Saiyans is no different. Breaking from its 3D fighter past, the game successfully captures the spirit of DBZ combat, in a JRPG style that is far from revolutionary, but quite enjoyable nonetheless. You’ll have have your fair share of random encounters, but battles are swift and never feel dull or unnecessary. Boss fights are good and plenty as well, even moreso as you get past the half way mark.
Like most other games in the genre, the battle system is input-command driven, with normal, special, and ultimate attacks, items, and defending at your disposal. Emphasis is placed heavily on the use of your special attacks that range from all out combinations to a rage-induced barrage of energy blasts.
Special attacks, as well as the uber powerful ultimate attacks, can be combined with other character’s techniques to deal even more devastating damage. These skills can only be utilized once the Rage Gauge (see: limitbreak) has filled; by receiving or dishing out the hurt. It’s not particularly innovative, but it sure is a blast to decimate the Saiyans with a trifecta of Kamehameha waves. Like any other RPG, these attacks come at a cost to your MP, or in this case, the Ki meter.
The one unique aspect of Attack of the Saiyans’ combat system comes in the form of the Active Guard. Right before an enemy is set to attack, a small manga-style symbol will blip above the character who will be attacked. With quick reflexes, you’ll have to tap either Y, X, or B as the blip appears above the top, middle, or bottom character of your Z-Team, respectively.
Though it doesn’t completely negate damage, a successful Active Guard will diminish the amount of damage received by about a quarter, which proves vital against the frequent hard-hitting bosses you’ll encounter. Its no groundbreaking addition, but it’s a welcomed enhancement to the turn based RPG that will keep you alert throughout all fights, rather than just major bosses. Nothing kills a JRPG faster than mundane, monotonous combat.
If you’re a fan of the series, you may be wondering how Monolith Soft managed to adapt the ultra fast-paced action that is Dragon Ball Z, into a slow, turn base role playing system. I too thought the same, but I was pleasantly surprised as dove back into the series. Foregoing the “traditional” cell shaded style, the game adopts 2D sprite based artwork that closely resembles Akira Toriyama’s famed work in Chrono Trigger.
Every attack appears much like its manga/anime counterpart, complete with over-the-top light shows, excessive shouting and high-pitched Japanese voice work. It’s definitely not the prettiest game of the franchise, as the more graphically inclined 3D iterations of the DBZ series are far superior, yet it holds a certain nostalgic touch that works quite well.
A Dragon Ball Z game wouldn’t be complete without the ability to call upon the eternal dragon to grant the Z Fighters wishes. The dragonballs, as well as Shenron, the eternal dragon, are an integral part of the overarching story, but also grant access to a wealth of side content. The seven dragonballs must first be collected across seven different areas on the world map.
Once the balls are gathered, Shenron can be called to grant wishes that will bestow a large amount of EXP, AP or Zeni on the player, as well as powerful equipment. You can also use the wish to battle the game’s secret, most fearsome foe; a force that fans of the series will instantly recognize. The main story will last anywhere between 20 and 25 hours, but if you plan on taking on the secret boss, you’ll have a major grind-fest ahead of you, pushing your playtime up a dozen hours or so.
Though it doesn’t do much to innovate the genre, Dragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans is a very solid JRPG expereince. Supported by unique artwork, a more concise story, and the original Japanese voice actors, Attack of the Saiyans is quite possibly the greatest DBZ game ever developed, in terms of overall quality. It may not feature the intense fighting that fans have grown accustomed to, but it certainly is a successful transition for the series: a transition I hope to see built upon in future releases of the franchise.
While the sprite-based visuals may be a little dated, they hold a nostalgic feel that faithfully adapts the manga/anime; and since most of the anime filler gone, the story has never been better.
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Classic RPG fighting combined with DBZ action may not sound appealing, but it actually works pretty well. Also, the Active Guard system is a nice refreshing change of pace.
Though most NDS games bost poor sound quality, Attack of the Saiyans is a horse of a different color. Each attack booms out of the tiny speakers, accompanied by some very fine voice work by the original Japanese cast.
The game boasts a decently long story, clocking in around 20 hours or so. But in order to challenge the secret boss, many, many hours of grinding will be necessary, which yields useless rewards.
Straying from the mold, Dragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans is a solid adaptation of the high flying, explosive action for the RPG genre. While it's not a perfect game by any means, it's quite possibly the best Dragon Ball Z game to date.