Dragon Ball Z – The show that arguably ignited the Japanese anime culture and brought it into the mainstream back in the mid-90s. It’s a show that, even today, brings out the childhood wonder for many of us that grew up with it. From its incredible cast of varied and memorable characters, epic earth-shattering fights, Super Saiyans, and weird enemy names; to its cringingly cheesy dialogue and exhaustively awkward long edits of every characters’ reaction shot (and of course, those unforgettable long pauses that had the characters simply have a stare down for practically the entire episode. So awesome). I don’t know of a single fan who has not, at least once, tried to pull off a “Kamehameha” (and after years of dedicated practice, I’ve actually managed to do it…Shut up, it’s true…Let me believe). So obviously when an action packed anime like this gets so popular, developers jump to make a video game for it. And so we started to get Dragon Ball Z video games. And boy did we get them. Almost every year for the past 20 we’ve been treated to a new DBZ game. Most notably, the Dragon Ball Z: Budokai series. These fighting games captured the essence of DBZ perfectly and came out to fairly positive reviews for the PS2 and Gamecube back in 2002. The final entry of this series, Budokai 3, is arguably the best of the trilogy and came out during the winter of 2004. Now, how is it that only a year later off of such a successful series, a new DBZ game comes out that promises to break new ground with innovative game mechanics that allows players to play through our beloved story in a totally immersive way, and COMPLETELY screws it up?
Well, you already know which game I’m talking about (I mean, the title does kinda give it away; I just wanted to ramble for a paragraph). Dragon Ball Z: Sagas…Oyy…Many of you probably just had a little bit of your life shaved away as soon as you read that. Sagas was the first DBZ game that was produced by a non-Japanese developer (of course), Avalanche Software. Moreover, it was the first game to be released on a non-Japanese console, the Xbox, along with the other two platforms at the same time. It released on March 22, 2005. And because everyone seemed to have forgotten this little games’ 10th anniversary, I decided to pull the weight and do a piece on it…a year after the games’ 10th anniversary…sounds legit.
Dragon Ball Z: Sagas received mediocre reviews at best, and god-awful ones at worst. Popular websites such as IGN and Gamespot gave the game a 4/10 and 3.8/10 respectively. Yeah, clearly not great. Now, DBZ games were never known for their critical acclaim, with the vast majority of releases hovering around the 6.5/10 to 7.5/10 mark. Budokai 3 and the newer Budokai Tenkaichi 3, and Burst Limit were the few titles that had received positive reviews both from critics and fans alike reaching into the 8/10’s and even 9/10’s by some publishers. Now, Sagas is not the worst game in DBZ’s history of video games. No sir, that title still holds strong by…lord I have to prepare myself to even write it…Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22…This is a game that not only do DBZ fans want to erase from their memory, but have it burn in the flaming abyss of hell. Out for the PS1 in 1995 this title received one of the only “abysmal” 1/10’s in Gamespots’ history of reviews. So, at least Sagas isn’t that bad. But honestly, that’s like saying Ubisoft isn’t as bad as E.A.
But anyway, let’s get on with the 10th (11th) anniversary discussion of Dragon Ball Z: Sagas…by ripping it to shreds. So, what in gods’ name did Avalanche Software do with this game?
Well first of all, this was the first 3D DBZ game that wasn’t a standard fighter. You were actually in a third person perspective, playing as Goku and others, just like any normal action adventure game. And the publishers touted how incredible the games’ mechanics and graphics would be, with fully destructible environments in a sandbox style way of approaching each stage, or “Saga” and the opportunity to play co-op. Which…was pretty much all boohaki. The game is essentially a linear 3D beat-em-up. And an atrocious one at that. You start off the game playing as Goku, and your objective is to pretty much beat up all these little Saibamen (I think that’s what they’re called) until you reach Raditz. For whatever reason, however, you can’t play as Piccolo, even though he’s clearly an essential character during this Saga. Only when you play co-op can player 2 play as him. But whatever, I’ll let that slide. And that’s pretty much it. Beat up little pieces of shit, until you reach the big piece of shit. There’ll be some dialogue and cut-scenes throughout the story; you’ll play as different characters during each Saga – though there really isn’t a point as each character literally plays exactly the same as each other – and maybe they throw in a time challenge or some other gameplay element to change things up (I wouldn’t know, I got sick to the stomach before getting that far).
Aside from the hideous menus, this game actually doesn’t look too bad. It’s colourful and the characters look like they should, mostly anyway. Though when the camera zooms in closer to their faces, things get a little scary. Each stage has an assortment of destructible rocks and boulders placed throughout, but they don’t really add anything special to the presentation. Nor are they that impeccably rendered to make for exciting explosions. The whole, “fully destructible environments” should really be more like, “we have 6 big boulders each level that blow up kinda, sorta realistically when you touch them.” Characters animations look stiff and also a bit “floaty” while Ki blasts and other signature moves all look like the ones we’re used to, but again, it’s nothing special.
This. This is the reason why Video Games fail. Gameplay can often times save a Video Game if their graphics/presentation are lacking. But presentation almost never makes up for bad gameplay. And this game doesn’t even have the presentation to cover up the utter filth that is its gameplay. Every character you play as plays exactly the same. And I mean exactly the same. Even their signature moves all feel the same and have the exact same affect on the enemy. But I think the absolute WORST thing about the gameplay, and which was the reason I stopped playing altogether; was how your character controlled. Each time you moved your character, it just felt extremely off. They felt very stiff, but also “floaty” at the same time. Sometimes I felt they were controlling themselves because of their desire to constantly “drift” a certain way. Even when attacking the animations of the punches and kicks were so awkward and felt like you weren’t really hitting anything. And flying was the most pointless thing in this game. It’s like the creators finished the game, then went and watched an episode of the series, and were like, “Oh f#@k, we forgot they fly in this show!” and literally just added it in last minute. Not only are the flying mechanics dog shit, but they provide no additional depth to the combat or overall gameplay, except to collect some Z coins that are, for whatever reason, in the air. The camera in this game is balls. You have no control over it and it’s either too close or too far away from your character, always. There really isn’t much at all enjoyable about the gameplay in this game. It’s shallow, ridiculously repetitive, and has an array of issues that honestly, I could go on forever about. But I’m not going to because I’m tired and actually want to enjoy my evening.
Overall Reception & Impact
Standing at a 49% on Metacritic by critics and a 56% by users, Dragon Ball Z: Sagas has clearly made it into the hall of DBZ infamy. Sure, there may be worse DBZ games to have come out, heck there were some horrible ones to come out even in recent memory; but for whatever reason, this is the game that we all remember. And I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that it was different. Or, at least it tried to be. Because in all honesty, an open world sandbox DBZ game is what I’ve been dreaming of ever since I became a fan. And this was the game that I was looking forward to for so long because I was sure it was going to fulfill that dream. But it didn’t. Not even close. Heck even Budokai 3, which was a standard DBZ fighter, had a story mode that had you playing as Goku and flying around ever so awesomely around a map to reach different fights throughout the story. I’d rather play that than this game. And I feel that this was the game that scared away every developer from ever touching the idea of another DBZ action adventure game. Which is such a shame, because if done right, I really believe it’d be incredible. So, happy anniversary Dragon Ball Z: Sagas. You truly are, horrible.