The two deepest single-player game modes in Dragon Ball Z Ultimate Tenkaichi both have their own story. It looks like Story mode follows the events of the TV series closely, but to be honest it’s not entirely easy to follow. At one stage we’re told Piccolo has kidnapped Goku’s son Gohan, and plans to turn him into a warrior but Gohan transformed into a giant ape and Piccolo had to blow up the moon to calm him. In another chapter we’re told that Goku died… and then started training. These passages probably make perfect sense to fans of the series but I was lost quickly and stopped trying to make sense of it.
The story in Hero mode makes a bit more sense. It starts out with you creating your own character in a parallel Dragon Ball Z universe where natural disasters have plunged the world into chaos and an evil faction is taking advantage of the chaos to cause even more trouble. Your task is to recover the seven Dragon Balls because it is rumoured that whoever holds all seven of them is granted a wish. Your character plans to end the chaos with a wish to return the world to normality.
In either range characters have light and heavy attacks, both of which can be blocked, and a stronger attack that can break through blocks. Light attacks are the only ones that can be strung together for a combo, and anytime you land three hits in a row you end up in an ‘attack clash’ where both combatants push either the square or triangle button. If you press different buttons then the attacker does major damage and gets the chance to land even bigger combos when prompted, but if you press the same button the defender gets the chance to counter-attack. You can dash around the fight area and try to get behind your opponent – successfully attacking an opponent from behind takes away their chance to counter-attack. In Blast range you can move or fly around freely, using R1 to ascend and L1 to descend.
Ki is also used to defend special attacks in one of three ways. Firstly you can guard an attack which reduces the damage taken and requires the smallest amount of Ki. Secondly you can try to evade an attack via an evade minigame where you have to press a button in with good timing to pass. If you are successful you’ll take no damage, but if you fail you’ll take extra damage. Evading requires more Ki than guarding. The last option is to intercept a special attack but this requires an almost full Ki meter. If you attempt to intercept an attack you get five seconds to hit the triangle button more than your opponent – doing so means you deal damage to them but failing means you take extra damage.
Special attacks can’t be launched any time as they require spirit to use. Spirit is earned through your actions on the battlefield. You’ll earn some naturally in the course of a fight, but you earn bonus spirit for winning an attack clash with the triangle button, which makes this a strategic option because enemies know you want extra spirit, and will usually try to counter your attack clashes with triangle.
Along with Story and Hero modes there is also Online Battle, Team Battle, World Tournament and Training modes to participate in. The tutorial in training mode is a must for newcomers and is quite thorough. Once you’ve finished the tutorial you can participate in practice battles against opponents who don’t put up much of a fight. Team battles have as many as five fighters per team, though only one fighter per team is fighting at a given time. You can switch fighters out when their health drops low with a couple of button presses. When a fighter is on standby their health recovers, but only up to a certain point based on how much damage they have taken.
When you go online you can participate in ranked or unranked matches as well as enter a World Tournament competition. You can create an event or do a quick search to join one already set up. The World Tournament is a knockout tournament for up to eight combatants (offline tournaments can have sixteen fighters). These tournaments have commentary during fights, and while it’s not great by any means it does add to the tournament atmosphere. In my time playing the game online play ran smoothly and there was little difference between online and local play.
There isn’t a great rhythm or flow to fights either. Attacks don’t flow together seamlessly like other fighting games, rather each attack here has its own animation shown from a new camera angle. This means a three-hit combo goes to three different viewpoints with the same animation shown every single time that attack is thrown in the game. Combos after an attack clash as well as special and ultimate attacks have lengthy animations to watch and menus pop up on-screen for you to select your defensive option. Basically fights become long, drawn out affairs that you’re likely to lose interest in before they’re over.
The music is probably an acquired taste – if you like the Dragon Ball Z series you’ll probably like the music, but for me it got boring fast. There’s a lot of electric guitar in there and all sounded very 80s, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The voice acting in the game sounds very similar to that of the TV show, i.e. it’s delivered well in a corny sort of way. You can listen to them in Japanese if you prefer, and like most anime I think the Japanese voices with subtitles is the way to go. The intro song (which is also in Japanese) is pretty cool and gets you hyped for the game. The sound effects are ok with lots of grunts and ‘hee-ya’ type noises, while punches and blasts sound as you’d expect.
Dragon Ball Z Ultimate Tenkaichi is a well-presented game that matches the spirit and look of the TV show closely. Unfortunately the fighting is limited, repetitive and unrewarding. There is a lot to do here, with a deep story mode, a character creation mode and a few online modes, but the reality is you won’t want to play them through to the end. Dragon Ball Z fans may find more enjoyment here than everyone else, but even for them this is a game that’s hard to recommend, making this one to hire or avoid altogether.
Review By: Mike Allison