I go back and forth a lot on where I am in gaming, pop culture or the media in general. I never know if I love to hate the media, if pop culture is deteriorating faster than the times or if gaming was so much better “back in the day.” Subsets of all categories are all inclusive to the same feeling, and something like Dragon Ball Z continues to rear its beautifully deformed head again and again. Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit is yet another in a long line of surrogate calves birthed from this undead cash cow, and once again, I step back and realize how contextual an encore can be.
Last year I reviewed a similar fighting game called Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 for the Nintendo Wii. Aside from the few negatives — like the extraneously long title — I had a rather positive outlook of the game at the time. I was a fan of its seemingly endless counter system, mixed in with a ridiculously innumerable character roster, stylized graphics and fun multiplayer. Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit shares some of its predecessors perks while mixing up the fighting engine to try to be “more toned down” so that people who fail to possess incredible reflexes can keep up with the action. I’m under the impression that gravitating toward a more grounded, tame approach to a Dragon Ball Z game is in exact contradiction to what the series inevitably ended up as, but I give them credit for at least trying to mix it up.
The story mode is the same as per norm: Goku wants to fight a lot of people, and he can never really die. He wouldn’t care if he could, because he’s that kind of guy. I guess when you have access to a magical wish dragon, your troubles seem secondary to beating the hell out of some aliens who have no idea what a fun day at the beach could entail. You get to try your hand at play with most of the Z fighters, and in special scenarios, some villains.
Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit has a more focused approach to the fighting, which involves a grading and ranking system to see where you stand. The single-player mode will tease you with replay value in the guise of several difficulty levels and the aforementioned ranking system. Your standing will be in direct correlation with how many tasks you set about during the match: speed, first strike, super attacks — all prime focus for improving your game. The system is a great way to try to encourage players to hit their stride and get through the fight with a Z rank so that they will be better prepared for harder battles as well as to hone their multiplayer skills. You will end up going through three different sagas, ending with the final blow to Cell in the Cell Games.
Also new this time around is the drama piece system. Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit tries to embody the show more than any game before it to the point of cinematics being properly choreographed to how the event played out in the show. The nice attention to detail is good overall, but the drama pieces themselves are where the game starts to break up the pace. The drama pieces act as battle boosters so that after a set event happens in any match, not just single player, a small cutscene will activate — with some helpful effects afterwards. The problem with the drama pieces lies within their high rate of appearance.
Each character can have up to three in a regular battle, and even more can be unlocked in the single-player mode given the circumstances. This breaks down the speed of the battle entirely, because every round, each individual drama piece can be reactivated for further use. In most cases, this means that out of a 90 second match, you will spend more real time (not in game seconds) on watching a character power up, bat an insult or have one of their friends get a cheap shot in. I suppose that in the show some characters can take up to three episodes to charge, but the translation is terrible, and it reminds me of why the show can be so painful to watch. In their journey to recreate the show, they have succeeded, but at the cost of quality.
The Xbox Live battling provides further replay value by taking the fight online. The power level rankings in place were a really neat touch, but the online battles have almost no customization, and the matches themselves tend to have a second lag. It’s not enough to be unplayable, but it’s enough to annoy you so that when a game relies on going back and forth between two parties trying to counter each other, the frustration sets in before the want to look for a new opponent does.
The visuals are great: The game looks exactly like the show. They have all the returning voice actors, and the sounds are spot on. Most games on the Xbox 360 do a great job of representing the brand well, and Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit is no exception. I was surprised there weren’t more battlefields offered, but I guess six different kinds of unrealistic open space are pretty much all the variety you get from the show, even if some of the locales aren’t represented.
Overall, the game’s fighting engine is solid, even if it’s not exactly what I expect from a Dragon Ball Z game. The character roster is incredibly slimmed down — to about 20 characters — presumably for a stronger presence from the few that appear in the game. The online is a bit dodgy, and the single-player mode is pretty satisfying, if not a rinse and repeat from previous games. The obvious flaws in coming out with a DBZ game every year become more apparent, if not to anybody else but repeat fans.
On the one hand, as an on and off fan of the show, I get tired of experiencing the same storyline over and over, so the single-player content gets stale. ON the other hand, the fighting is always fun, even if games like Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit have some weird perks, like the drama system, that end up hindering the game mechanics rather than enhancing them. Madden games are ridiculed for oversaturation and lack of creativity, and it’s not unique to that franchise. Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit is different, and whether it’s the nature of the game or just repetition catching up the games, Dragon Ball Z games are getting moldy fast. The game is fun, yes, but the market of fighters out there who go up and beyond in delivering a better engine, newer characters and more time in development, are many. Dragon Ball Z has its work cut out for it. As a fan who didn’t truly enjoy every moment with this game, I’m wondering if even the diehard enthusiasts will see this disc in their 360 past the two week mark.