November 2007 – myself and ten other first year university students are in my dorm room that was no larger than a jail cell staring at a 24” monitor that somehow contained numerous kamehamehas, big bang attacks, crushing blows of hyperbolic (time chamber) proportions, and screams of joy from both victors and Super Saiyans powering-up in Dragon Ball Z Budokai 3. Accompanying screams of frustration came from neighbours who were trying to study. The winner: sweet victory. The loser: pass the controller to the left. That event to this day is still one of my fondest memories of the Budokai series and video games in general. Budokai 3 became my favourite fighting game to date for the above reason and because I adore DBZ, so it was an exciting prospect when I heard back in July that both Budokai 1 & 3 were being re-mastered in HD for the current generation of consoles like so many PS2 games before it. A lot of nostalgia is infused to this series for me. The remake, however, does not fare as well in the retrospect due to a mediocre update and the original game’s aging fighting system.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Budokai series and unfortunately it has developed wrinkles that show its old age. While the updated graphics smooth the rough edges, the art style is basic and bland. The gameplay is stilted – especially compared to Budokai 3, let alone any modern day fighter. The fighting system is neither deep nor satisfying. Couple that with its limited move set and small character selection and you are stuck with a fighting game that will not satisfy a fighting game fan nor a Dragon Ball Z fan today. The one saving grace of Budokai 1 is its story mode. Akin to the latest Mortal Kombat, it goes through the series up to the Cell saga with cut scenes that handle the exposition with care and interesting missions that don’t always rely on the fighting system to serve as the story interactions. But with all that being said, this game is still marred by the fact that the basic mechanics are no longer fun or exciting to use. This game is an odd relic as the first successful DBZ game; but like most ancient relics, it falls apart when you get your hands on it.
Budokai 3, on the other hand, is surprisingly still as fun as it was in 2004. The updated visuals put it on par with the latest 2D Dragon Ball Z fighter, Dragon Ball Z Burst Limit. Let me be clear: this is no Street Fighter, but it does offers a level of depth that will allow causal fans to pull off ludicrous moves that makes them feel empowered while still containing a level of strategy that hardened fighting fans will enjoy such as reversals to nearly every move and a rock-paper-scissor meta-game. It is the closest iteration to really capture the essence of DBZ fights, and with over 40 characters from Dragon Ball all the way to GT, this iteration was and is the pinnacle of the series. Unlike the future iterations of the series that started with Tenkaichi, Budokai 3 focused on the important characters which made each cast member feel different and unique and was not diluted by third string characters like Chiaotzu. In addition, the game has a dearth of content and is especially fun if you have a friend to play it with or ten people in a dorm room. Overall, this is the best representation of the DBZ licensed game to date.
Budokai 1 aside, the biggest fault of this HD package is that it is a bare bones attempt to revitalize the Budokai series. Unlike the ICO/Shadow of the Colossus HD Collection that included extras in the form of retrospective interviews and wallpapers, this collection is a step backwards because it actually takes out the original music of both games and replaces them with generic rock tunes. It contains no online component and still contains the cut-scenes and menus in their original 4:3 aspect ratio. The actual fighting is presented in a widescreen format, but this package ostensibly feels like the developer did the bare minimum to rush this out into a boxed retail product once again – which makes the $40 retail price hurt more than Goku punching me in the face at Super Saiyan X4.
As both a huge Dragon Ball Z fan and Budokai fan, Dragon Ball Z Budokai HD Collection is a missed opportunity. While it is not as iconic as ICO or Shadow of the Colossus in the video game canon, it was the first time after many failed attempts (remember the abomination that was DBZ Ultimate Battle 22?) that a DBZ game was able to fully capture the series’ ethos while simultaneously being exhilarating to play; it is a shame that more care was not put into this re-packaging. Without a doubt, Budokai 3 is the quintessential DBZ game that any fan of the series should play. It is fast paced, has a fun fighting system, really captures the anime feel, looks great, and most importantly is a blast to play. It is unfortunate, then, that it is bundled with Budokai 1 and has a $40 price tag that feels more suited to each game being released separately as a $10 downloadable game on PSN or Xbox Live. Budokai 3 is still worth playing if you have any interest in the Dragon Ball Z lore, but I would suggest that you wait until this package drops in price before attempting to reach a power level of over 9000.
Final Score: 3 Krillins out of 5 Hercules
The Best Things: Budokai 3 makes this package worth a purchase when the price drops.
The Worst Things: Budokai 1 and how the package is put together makes this HD Collection almost as uninspired as Dragon Ball GT