Back in 2004, when I was still going through High School, I remember going to my friend’s house after the day ended and seeing his brother playing Dragon Ball Z Budokai 3. While I was only into the Dragon Ball Z series during the Saiyan and Namek Sagas when I was younger, I had lost interest shortly after. Watching my friend and his brother facing off in DBZ Budokai 3, I was immediately intrigued by how intense the combat system looked and how it set itself apart from other fighters on the market. From that moment, I ended up getting DBZ Budokai 3 for my PS2 back then and played the hell out of it, regardless that I had lost interest in the series when I was younger. A few months ago, Namco Bandai Games announced that they were prepping an HD collection for the Budokai series that would contain the fan-favorite first and third installments. So how exactly does the HD treatment fare for these two titles?
When it comes to the Dragon Ball Z Budokai series, you’ve got to hand it to Dimps Corporation. They definitely studied the source material and provided fans with gameplay that replicates the intensity of battles like those from the show. You’re not only fighting on the ground or solely punching and kicking your way to victory. This is Dragon Ball Z. You’ll be Kamehameha-ing your way through fights and going Super Saiyan 3 to be all badass. Now Budokai 1 and 3’s gameplay mechanics may appear similar at first, but both games certainly have differences.
In Dragon Ball Z Budokai, players will venture through the Saiyan, Namek and Android Sagas, playing as various characters that were involved in those stories. Aside from this, you’ll also have your Duel, World Tournament and the unlockable “Legend of Hercule” modes to keep you busy. Duel is basically where you’ll go to compete against the computer or a friend of yours. In this HD version, they’ve added the feature for the second player to customize their skills, making fights much more balanced if you want to do custom skills for characters. World Tournament is precisely as you’d expect it, competing in a tournament bracket to be the best fighter. You’ll take on the CPU in various difficulties but should you lose, you’re out of the tournament. The “Legend of Hercule” mode will provide some humor for fans of the series, as the story will consist of Hercule trying to take on Cell himself but the Z-Fighters try to stop him from getting killed. From here, you’ll be pitted in 11 fights and should you lose any match, it’s back to the beginning.
In Dragon Ball Z Budokai 3, players will notice that the game’s story mode has now been replaced as a Fighting/RPG hybrid mode called “Dragon Universe”. In this mode, you’ll choose your character that you want to progress with and witness their whole storyline. You’ll have to ability to fly around the environment and search for capsules, zenies (money) and fights to initiate. As you progress, you’ll earn experience points based on how well you fought a battle. The more sophisticated you are, the more experience points you’ll be awarded. When you level up, you’ll be able to upgrade your Health, Ki, Attack, Ability, etc. It gives the game a very addictive element of trying to make your character as powerful as possible. Aside from Dragon Universe, you’ll have your Dueling and World Tournament modes just like Budokai 1.
Stages are interactive, in which you can knock opponents through mountains, or simply Spirit Bomb the hell out of half the planet and completely alter the environment. Fans will pick up on familiar locations such as the Hyperbolic Time Chamber, Supreme Kai’s World, Inside Buu, Planet Namek, and other key locations from the various sagas. The roster list is no small feat either. Budokai 1 contains 23 characters from the Saiyan, Namek and Android Sagas while Budokai 3 contains over 40 characters from not only DBZ, but the original Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball GT. Again, Dimps did their homework and tried to really gives these games the attention of detail and fan service that the series deserves.
In terms of the combat between both games, Budokai 1 definitely feels a little bit more stiff compared to the fluidity of Budokai 3’s. Budokai 1 is more straightforward, but still allows for complexity thanks to the Capsule Skills you can acquire. Equipping these will give your character new abilities and perks to utilize during a fight and switching these up always keeps the fights interesting. Powering up your character’s Ki gauge is integral if you want to utilize your abilities as much as possible during a fight. By simply holding the block button and double-tapping (and holding) back on the D-Pad/Analog Stick, you’ll begin to charge your Ki gauge. However, knowing when to do it is key as it leaves you vulnerable to attack from your opponent. You can then knock your opponents into the air and continue the fight off the ground, just like the show. Budokai 3 builds upon the same formula but also introduces mini-game/quick-time events during fights. These really ramp up the intensity of a battle, whether with the CPU or even better, a friend. They’ve also added teleport moves so that when you knock someone in the air, you can teleport behind them and attack several times. Pulling this off is simple but immensely gratifying, especially when countering a move this way. Should both of you shoot a Kamehameha at each other at the same time, a sequence will initiate where you’ll both have the rotate the analog sticks like a mad man (or woman) to push your blast through to your opponent. Some specials might involve the attacker to press a random button while the defender hopes to guess the same button to deflect a hefty attack. It’s these moments where the fighting mechanics felt unique back in their original releases and still hold up really well now.
When it comes to HD collections, there are some where the games just further show their age as opposed to truly enhancing them. Thankfully, that’s not so much the case here. Budokai 1 and 3 both had different art directions. The first game had a more “3D” look to it but was a bit bland, while the third game had a much more “cel-shaded anime” style and infused more life into the visuals. Basing the game on the PS2 versions and putting it side-by-side with the HD version, the difference is night and day. The HD version upscales the visuals immensely and while the first game looks a bit dated, Budokai 3 made me forget that I was playing what was originally a PS2 game. The only thing that will remind you of the game being a last-gen title are the ground textures during some of the stages. They’re not bad, but seem a bit more washed out compared to the upscaling the environmental backgrounds and characters received. Also, menus and cutscenes still retain a 4:3 ratio as opposed to 16:9 widescreen support.
I have to hand it to the developers that the game sounds just like you’re watching the TV show. The DBZ theme song that plays when booting up Budokai 1 certainly brought back memories of my childhood and the fighting audio effects sound like they were ripped directly from the show. While some of the audio effects sound compressed or muffled, it’s literally how they sounded when watching the show. It didn’t bother me at all as it made the game feel more authentic and true to the show. All the original voice actors remain intact for both games on the collection. In addition, they’ve included the Japanese voiceovers for Budokai 3 (sorry, not available in Budokai 1), which was never in the original version of the game. However, there is one thing they did change, the soundtracks. If you had any fond memories of certain music tracks from Budokai 1 and 3, you won’t find them again here unfortunately. However, the reason why you won’t find them here is because the original composer, Keiji Yamamoto, was accused of stealing music and claiming them as his own compositions. Instead, they pulled some songs from the Budokai Tenkaichi series, while also providing some new songs. What’s here still definitely captures that DBZ feel and fits the game while playing it.
Replay Value: 4/5
There’s no question that DBZ Budokai HD Collection contains a ton of content to get through between both games. While Budokai 1 will hold your attention for a solid amount of time, with it’s Story and World Tournament modes, it’s Budokai 3 that will certainly keep you busy. Budokai 3’s “Dragon Universe” mode will keep you occupied in trying to complete all the characters’ campaigns and there are plenty of unlockables to go for. As with all fighting games, getting your friends gathered around a couch and taking turns will provide several hours of competitive fun. If you plan on switching between Budokai 1 and 3 while in-game, you’ll have to quit out to the XMB/Dashboard and go back in to choose your game of choice. It would’ve been nice to be able to swap between the games while in-game. Also, the one thing that’s a shame is that they didn’t add in an online multiplayer component for this HD Collection. Had they gone back and added this feature in, there’s no doubt that DBZ fans, especially those of the Budokai series, would have spent months online with it. Still, for $39.99, you’re getting a great bang for your buck and countless hours of entertainment.
Overall Score: 16/20 = 8.0 out of 10
Dragon Ball Z is a series that many have come to love over the years. Namco Bandai has released their share of DBZ games for the PS3/360 but there are Budokai fans who were dying to see this particular franchise return and for good reason. Dragon Ball Z Budokai HD Collection contains two fan-favorite installments with impressive attention to HD upscaling, as well as some tweaking around to make these the ultimate versions. HD Collections can occasionally fare worse than their original versions if not carefully developed but DBZ Budokai HD Collection avoids that entirely. DBZ fans who’ve never experienced these really owe it to themselves to grab this collection, if not for Budokai 3 alone due to how expansive the game is. From its lush HD upscaling, to its intense combat system that still measures up incredibly well today, Dragon Ball Z Budokai HD Collection is a must-own for not only DBZ fans, but fighting fans as well.
+ Ton of content between both games
+ Tight gameplay that still holds up very well
+ Very clean HD visual upscale
+ Replacement soundtracks do a solid job
+ Budokai 3 is still as awesome as it was 8 years ago
- No online play
- Original soundtracks are missing in action
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A special thank you to Namco Bandai Games for providing us an advance review copy of Dragon Ball Z Budokai HD Collection!