Dragon Ball Z: Sagas First Look

We get a first look at Atari's epic new Dragon Ball game.

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Hot on the heels of last year's slick Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 for the PlayStation 2, Atari is aiming to serve up a fresh new dose of DBZ-inspired gaming. Rather than crank out another fighter, Atari has teamed up with Avalanche Software to create a new spin on the popular franchise, Dragon Ball Z: Sagas. The game is a third-person action game that takes you through Saiyan and Cell Game Sagas, essentially the first chunk of the massive DBZ storyline that has spanned decades. We had the opportunity to get a first look and demo of the game from Atari reps earlier today that had a work-in-progress version of the PlayStation 2 game.

Play as Goku and a handful of other characters as you explore the Dragon Ball Z universe in the upcoming third-person adventure Dragon Ball Z: Sagas.
Play as Goku and a handful of other characters as you explore the Dragon Ball Z universe in the upcoming third-person adventure Dragon Ball Z: Sagas.

Dragon Ball Z: Sagas will let you play as five characters over the course of its 19 levels: Goku, Gohan, Piccolo, Vegeta, and Trunks. Who you play as will depend on where you are in the story. For example, you'll start the game as Goku and then transition to Gohan, and so on, as the story unfolds. Best of all, the game will offer two-play co-op support for you to get your adventure on with a friend. Progressing through the levels based on the storylines will pit you against grunt enemies such as saibamen, assorted robots, and familiar faces from the series. The game will also include some new enemies that have been inspired by the show. For example, Trunks, the robots you'll fight as, are based on 'bots seen in Dr. Gero's lab. The big moments will come as you face off against the well-known villains from the series who pop up as bosses and minibosses.

The basic structure of Dragon Ball Z: Sagas will be linear as you'll move from one level to the next, changing characters as dictated by the story. Each level will be introduced by an animated segment taken straight from the 'toon or created specifically for the game, which will set up the action. When you start a level, you'll see a list of objectives and then you'll be sent on your way. At the end of each level you'll be treated to a stat screen that will tally what went on, such as your attacks and items collected. During the course of the level you'll find upgrade shops in which you can bulk up your character.

The gameplay mechanics will stay simple. You'll have access to a modest number of abilities, which will grow as you progress, and you'll use Z coins that you collect on your adventures to purchase upgrades. The upgrades will fall into one of three categories: ki, melee, and combos. In addition, you can collect red and yellow capsules to permanently increase your health and ki meters--finding 10 of each color will yield an upgrade to health (red) or ki (yellow). Your characters will have all the abilities you'd expect besides their attacks, such as flying. You'll also be able to shift into Super Saiyan form once you've gained that ability. You'll simply charge a meter by performing melee attacks against your foes until it's full, at which point you can trigger the change. When in Saiyan form your butt-kicking powers will be considerably beefed up. All your normal attacks will be powered up, your special attacks will do splash damage to nearby foes, and you will, of course, have really big hair.

As in the recent Budokai 3, Sagas' characters bring their cel-animated counterparts to life in 3D.
As in the recent Budokai 3, Sagas' characters bring their cel-animated counterparts to life in 3D.

The graphics in the PlayStation 2 game we saw looked very promising despite their unfinished state. Avalanche's expertise with the PlayStation 2 hardware, honed on titles such as THQ's Tak games, is on fine display in Sagas. The game moves along at a fairly solid pace despite the large environments and over-the-top action. We had a chance to see three environments: Earth, Namek, and a futuristic city. The large, open spaces were well done, and there was a solid amount of environmental detail that we were pleased to see was good and destructible. We were especially excited to see that it was possible to knock your foes off into distant objects, such as buildings and small mountains, since it just wouldn't be a Dragon Ball game if you couldn't.

The character models looked good and re-created their animated counterparts well. The level of detail wasn't as sharp as what we've seen in the Budokai games but, given the third-person perspective, it's not much of an issue. The effects used for the attacks against your posse were well done and the playable character's special attacks were cool. These special attacks are screen-warping pieces of eye candy that sell the high drama of cutting loose with massive balls of energy and teleporting.

The audio was in a state of flux, as final elements were mixed in with placeholder audio, which gave us a good idea of what to expect. The current plan is for all the characters in the game to be voiced by the franchise's talented voice cast. The sound effects are right from the anime. The game soundtrack will stay true to the DBZ franchise with the included storylines, so you should expect an 80s rock extravaganza that fits the insanity perfectly.

Sagas isn't very far away--look for it on shelves in March.
Sagas isn't very far away--look for it on shelves in March.

All told, Dragon Ball Z: Sagas is showing a lot of promise and could very well shape up to a solid start to a new branch of DBZ games. The gameplay sticks to the fundamentals and hits all the right notes you'd expect it to. The story should be pretty much bulletproof, thanks to its adherence to the franchise canon. Avalanche and Atari are also aiming to add in some replay value to the experience with the inclusion of extra unlockable characters, such as Brolie, that you can access once you've finished the game for the first time.

Fans of DBZ, old and new, will want to keep an eye out for the game when it hits this March for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox. If you're not one of the initiated, it's doubtful you'll find a better opportunity to get onboard the eccentric, but cool, franchise. Look for more on Dragon Ball Z: Sagas in the coming weeks. For now, check out a spate of new gameplay movies on the game's media page.

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