The original Dragon Ball Z: Budokai for the PlayStation 2 hooked fans of the long-running anime franchise with its addictive combination story, graphics, and gameplay. After years of games that struggled to find a way to bring the Dragon Ball license to the video game medium, developer Dimps' straightforward approach proved to be just what the doctor ordered for beleaguered fans. For the game's sequel, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2, Dimps has actually tweaked its successful formula by adding new moves, new playable characters, and a new gameplay mode. We had the chance to try out a near-final version of the game to see how this year's installment of the franchise has turned out.
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2 offers a slightly new experience from its predecessor, although many of the same modes are on hand, albeit with some modifications. You'll find four main gameplay modes to choose from. They are dragon world, dueling, world tournament, and training. Additionally, there's as an edit skills option. Dragon world replaces last year's story mode, and, while it still features narrative elements, it offers a decidedly different experience. The mode is broken up into three distinct components, a 2D-style board game, story sequences, and 3D fighting. As in last year's PlayStation 2 game and this year's recently released GameCube game, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2's narrative mines the various story arcs from the cartoon for its material. However, this time out the game doesn't use real-time cinemas based on the cartoon. The game's story is told via conversations between characters during the new 2D board sequences. The 3D fighting segments follow the same basic structure as the original game's, although there have been some refinements made to the fighting system.
The rest of the gameplay modes are straightforward and should be familiar to anyone who played last year's game. Dueling is basically a versus mode that lets you to take on a friend or an AI opponent. If you're looking to improve your fighting skills, you can also pit two AI opponents against one another and watch how they fight. The world tournament mode consists of a series of fights you can engage in to earn money so you can buy capsules to use in the game. The amount of cash your victories earn you is based on the level of difficulty at which you compete. The mode will initially offer only novice fights, but you'll be able to unlock greater levels of difficulty as you play through the game and buy corresponding capsules. Finally, the training mode lets you hone your fighting skills to perfection. This time out, the mode offers two ways to improve your battle techniques. Practice is a standard battle against an AI opponent that you can customize to suit your needs. Training, on the other hand, casts you in the role of Goten through six chapters that unlock sequentially. In these chapters, different characters will teach you the mechanics of the fighting engine. The edit skills option lets you go through and customize the fighters in your game with the various skill capsules you'll collect in the game. You'll be able to use your hard-earned cash in the skill shop to buy more or trade with a friend. You'll also be able to view an explanation of exactly how the skill system works, if you're unclear on its mechanics.
The tweaks to Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2's modes are complemented by some refinements and additions to its gameplay, which are, for the most part, welcome. The solid 3D fighting engine still features the same button layout and combo system. However, there have been some very cool additions that help give combat a more cinematic feel. The first addition is more of a refinement to the first game's over-the-top cinematics that could be triggered by knocking opponents out of the fighting arena and through obstacles, like mountains. Budokai 2 one-ups last year's game and offers some slick new camera angles for the cinematics. Additionally, it actually changes the layout of the arenas based on what happens. For example, it's now possible to trigger an avalanche when battling in one of the snowy locales. The other major additions to the fighting system are the ability to deflect incoming projectiles, like Raditz's soul bomb, in sequences that require you to rotate the analog sticks quickly and require you to move an onscreen meter as far right as you can within a certain amount of time. You'll be able to dodge incoming aerial attacks by pressing buttons in sequences that give you a few seconds to make a choice. If you manage to press the correct button, you'll slide out of the way, narrowly avoiding a painful squashing. The most significant addition to the fighting game, however, is the inclusion of the fusions that let different pairs of characters combine into brand-new fighters who are significantly more powerful than the individual fighters that make them up. The new moves are a perfect way to showcase the expanded fighting roster, which features alternate versions of characters, like Trunks, and presents new faces, like Supreme Kai, Goten, and Android #20.
An all-new addition to Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2 is the 2D board game used in dragon world. The 2D game is a turn-based journey over a board that is peppered with enemies, items to pick up, teleport pads, and health restoring pit stops. At the start of every game, you'll be given your objectives, which usually first involve reaching a dragon ball placed somewhere on the board but can also include defeating a specific enemy. While your main character in this mode will be Goku, you'll usually have the option to pick at least one supporting character to help you in your quest. The roster of helpers can include Goku's usual stable of buddies, like Tien and Gohan, as well as more dubious helpers, like Vegeta. Once you've selected the allowed number of helpers, the game starts. Your characters will begin in preset locations and will feature a segmented bar next to them. The amount of highlighted blocks on the bar determines how many times they can lose in battle. You'll highlight any of your characters on the map, and press X to select them. The spaces around you that are reachable in your turn are highlighted to help you get a sense of where you can go. As you move through the board, you can collect and equip an item called the dragon radar, which points you in the appropriate direction on the board you need to go. You'll also be able to collect cash and temporary stat power-ups, and you can even recharge the number of times your character can lose in battle. As you continue to make your way through the board, you'll eventually land on the same space as friends and enemies. When landing on the same space as a friend, you'll occasionally be rewarded by a status change of some kind. While this is usually good, there are a few character combinations that result in one of the involved characters having a stat or stats lowered. When you land on a space occupied by an enemy, the game will shift to a dialogue window, as the characters interact. This then segues into 3D fighting. As you clear a board, by completing its particular objectives, new ones will open up that feature different layouts and new themed arenas for battling your foes.
The 3D combat uses the same button layout as last year's game. You'll have dedicated buttons for punching, kicking, blocking, and executing ki blasts. Each character will have his or her own unique moves that are pretty easy to pull off, thanks to the solid control scheme. The new fusions and dodges add some nice variety to the fights and keep them fresh. The only hitch to the battles is the somewhat lengthy loads leading up to them from the board game.
The graphics have been re-worked from last year. The most significant change can be seen in the 3D models of all the characters, which now feature a more traditional cel-shaded look due to the inclusion of black outlines and cross-hatching on the polygon models. The graphical tweak helps the characters look more like their anime counterparts. The environments have also seen an upgrade that increases the level of detail in them and also allows for some dramatic deformation during heated battles that send you or your opponent barreling into destructible objects.
The audio is on par with last year's version and offers a satisfying collection of voices, tunes, and sound effects. As with last year's game, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2 makes liberal use of the cartoon's voice cast, which lends the game a welcome dose of authenticity. The game's soundtrack is a collection of tunes that draw on the cartoon and last year's game for material, which is fine. The sound effects feature some tweaks and additions over last year's game but still offer up a satisfying audio palette that captures the action perfectly.
From what we've played so far, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2 is shaping up to be a solid sequel to its predecessor. The improved graphics, refined gameplay, and extra playable characters are all welcome additions to last year's game. We'll admit that we're not entirely sold on the dragon world mode, the turn-based mechanics of the board game sequences, or the load times that segue to the 3D fighting segments (and make for some uneven pacing). However, the 3D fighting has lost none of its appeal and should hook fans, especially with the expanded roster of fighters and the inclusion of fusions. Fans of the Dragon Ball Z cartoons, or anyone who enjoyed last year's game, will want to keep an eye out for the game when it ships this December for the PlayStation 2. For more on the game, check out an exclusive interview with developer Dimps here.