The Dragon Ball Z games have been known for their approachable gameplay, and hidden depth in the combat, while simultaneously providing a nostalgic explosion to long time fans. However, the makers of the games decided to take a new approach. DragonBall Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi was released by Namco Bandai Games on October 15, 2011. One thing I want to get out of the way is that you do not need me to tell you that the game looks amazing. At first glance, you may believe it is the best DBZ game in terms of presentation, but can the graphics hold the game on its own?
Coming from Raging Blast 2, the addition of Galaxy Mode is a refreshing change of pace with DBZ games. In truth, we do not need a story mode in a DBZ game anymore, because everyone should have heard of it by now. However, it is always fun to see how the story mode in the games compare to other games and the anime itself. The story begins with Bardock's encounter with Frieza, showing what happened before Goku arrived on Earth. After that, the game details the events from the Saiyan Saga to the Buu Saga, some movie fights, and the confrontation between Omega Shenron and SSJ4 Gogeta. The newest addition to the story mode are giant boss battles, where your character faces off against giant bosses included with quick-time events. Free-roam returns, but the only incentive you get is collecting the dragon balls, and going to battle points. The good is that giant characters now have their own boss battles! Juggernauts like Great Ape Vegeta, Meta Cooler core (debut as a boss), and Janemba, Ultimate Tenkaichi decides to borrow a few elements from other games when it comes to boss battles. In the long run, it works. The battles themselves take place in an enclosed space where you have a full 180 degrees to weaken the bosses to trigger the QTE sequences. They are very fun and challenging, but they are a little formulaic, so when you figure out the pattern, the rest is easy. As for the missions themselves...some key battles are missing. Battles such as Gohan vs Buu after his resurrection goe completely unspoken. In addition, the story has tow bosses from the movies Wrath of the Dragon, and Fusion Reborn. These two are really exciting fights, the key characters involved are missing, ex. Tapion, Pikkon. Presentation of the story changes as well. Most of the cinematics are done in-game with some horrendous lip-syncing. While Ultimate Tenkaichi boasts some remastered cutscenes from the anime, the only narration you get is a slow-moving text screen, detailing the events prior and during the current mission. The last issue that comes to mind is that the GT saga is terrible! Only one fight, SSJ4 Gogeta vs Omega Shenron. Although it takes a few missteps, the story overall is solid and keeps up with the standard of previous DBZ games.
The gameplay in Ultimate Tenkaichi is centered around taking a new approach involving mind games. With this in mind, the game nailed it. However, as a successor to the Tenkaichi series, this is where the game has mixed. In short, the fighting is 70% cutscene, and 30% fighting. So most of your matches, you are watching, instead of playing. The problem isn't the cutscenes implemented with the gameplay; the main problem resides in the inclusion of rock-paper-scissors style quick-time events. When you enter a clash, you are presented with two options, assault chain (where you continuously attack the enemy to lower their ki) and knockback chain (where you deliver powerful blows in order to raise your spirit. The issue here is the limited options you have, meaning that you don't want to get hit, but at the same time, you want to beat your opponent. Also, ki is an important factor, because now it is used for the most important functions, such as guarding, deflecting, and intercepting supers. The only good part to the gameplay is that Supers and Ultimates have their own gauge,the spirit gauge. This little gauge here requires that you attack your opponents in order to perform special attacks meaning that if you want to perform special attacks, you have to actually attack your opponent. This is a perfect way to prevent abuse of specials, and should return in future DBZ games. Another addition is strike booster, what I call "Broly mode", where you are a walking tank and can deal additional damage and attacks where your opponent cannot escape. Different, but falls flat, in terms of freedom. The issue is not the combat itself, but the restriction on your freedom that the other games give you. I understand that it is the 21st century, and we can't have everything we want, it is still a little jarring to have to sit through this for long periods at a time. It is a solid fighting system where mind games will win you matches, but when the entire game is a series of QTEs, it ends up being a test of luck rather than true skill.
For the first time in DBZ history, you can create your own character! You can pick from three character sizes, and edit your hair, clothes, name, and colors for the different parts of their body. The hero mode is supposed to be a mini RPG, but it's kind of a mixed bag. The story is set in an alternate DBZ universe where the world has been thrown into chaos without knowing who is responsible. Your character's goal is to find out who threw the world into turmoil and fix everything. The narrative sets off an interesting tale, and you get to see some interesting things in this alternate universe. Traveling across the world map, you collect items, How the hero mode works is where the flaws are. You can choose masters from among the roster, and by completing training sessions, you can unlock movesets, supers and ultimate attacks, items, and auras for your created character. The problem is that your opponent starts off weak, and you get stronger by fighting. After you win, you are presented with a screen where all of your attributes increase by a small amount, until late-game where the rewards get larger. This sense of RPG progression is something reminescent of the story mode in DBZ: Budokai Tenkaichi 2 where your items level up, and so do you. This mode has its setbacks, but Namco Bandai is onto something. It's unique, and is the first time character creation is included in the game, so give them time to improve the experience for the next DBZ game.
Frustrating enough, all that's left is World Tournament, Versus, Online, Customize, and Capsule House. The World Tournament is pretty much the same as you've seen before: you can choose between the World Tournament and Cell Games, which does alter commentary as you alternate between a tournament announcer to a reporter alongside the champ himself, Hercule! His commentary is just...well, let's just say that he better hope he does not return in another DBZ game. Versus has remained the same, although there are a little less options than before. As for the online, it has remained the same, which isn't entirely a bad thing. Online net code is excellent for the most part, and when you rage quit, it never goes away, so please play fair and don't complain when you lose. Customize is where you can change your supers, ultimates, and item sets. In this game, you are given 10 item sets to equip a max of three items, an aura, and in Hero Mode, your fighting style. This is byfar the most intuitive, although restrictive customization in any DBZ game to date. While there is no limit on what items you can equip to keep things fair, it is still too limited to have any true fun with it. Finally, Capsule House is a hub where you can access the Dragon Balls, view story cinematics, read character bios, and listen to music. Although it is a sufficient selection in the long run, it is still too limited compared to what we're used to. Mode variety is lackluster, and does not give gamers that much incentive to replay it, but the gameplay is what matters, and if you enjoy the fighting, you won't be as bothered as much.
Possibly the game's most successful point, the presentation in Ultimate Tenkaichi is the best among all the other DBZ games. Every ultimate attack now has a cutscene, including Krillin's Destruction Disc (Yessssss!!!), planet destruction returns with substantial improvements, and the scale of the moves have scaled to epic proportions. Everything from the auras to the attacks, everything about it is triple A quality, and this needs to continue. It may not be the same as Burst Limit, but improvements have been made since, and with that, we might have had the best looking DBZ game to this date.
The most disappointing aspect of the game. With only 44 characters (not counting fusions and transformations), you are left with the "potentially" worst roster of any DBZ game. Characters like Adult gohan, Guldo, Pikkon, and Adult Gohan are missing, but most of the supers and ultimates of the missing characters are unlockable in hero mode. Annoying much? If that isn't worse, Teen Gohan is missing his base form? Who the heck came up with that idea? The roster in truth contains the major characters of the series, but awkward choices leave the roster with a sour taste.
I may be a hardcore DBZ fan, but I will not let my fanboyism cloud my judgement on this game. Ultimate Tenkaichi seems to fix some problems, but creates two more in each one's place. For Example, the new in-game cutscenes add to the presentation, but at the risk of taking most of your freedom away. Also, by focusing mostly on the graphics, the roster has not received the same treatment, resulting in the most disappointing roster in recent memory. After buying it Day 1 over a year ago, I can say that I have mixed feelings for the game. After so much hype and good footage in early 2011, I was ready to play this day one. I can tell you that while it is a good game, the issues may or may not take away from the core experience, depending on who you are.
As conflicted as I was with my hype killed mercilessly, much like Jin Kazama killed Miguel's sister in Tekken 6, I cannot deny how much fun I had, and how big my rape face was every time I picked up the controller. As simplistic, yet intense the gameplay was, I still had a blast swapping super attacks on my custom hero Aero, and playing with friends online. With that being said, there is still fun to be had, you have to know what to look for. If you are new to DBZ, I recommend trying it first to see if you like it, then if you do, buy it. However, if you're a hardcore fan like me, then it would not kill you to sit this game out. Give the developers time to correct their mistakes and see how the next game turns out. I won't tell you to avoid this game, but be wary where your money is going.