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SummaryOn Today's Program: Reruns
The GoodThe DBZ franchise may have seen its fair share of games over the years but the vast majority of them have been action-based fighting games. Not counting the odd card battle or action adventure game for the GBA and DS, console-style role-playing games with the material have been a lot more sparse in American or Europe than in Japan.
Here now comes Attack of the Saiyans to fill the gap, a true CRPG with turn-based battle mechanics. Once again retelling the beginning of the Dragon Ball Z era when Saiyans first attacked the earth, the game leads the characters Goku, Krillin, Yamcha, Tien and later Gohan and Piccolo on a quest to defeat the all-powerful (or is he?) Vegeta.
Starting with the 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai during which Goku defeats the reborn demon king Piccolo, the game progresses in a linear fashion, nonetheless offering a world map on which several optional locations with side quests can be found. The world map can't be traversed on foot but instead directly leads to dungeons in which a team of up to three fighters at a time engages in random battle encounters.
As mentioned before, these encounters are strictly turn-based and present themselves as an interesting combination of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest features. The battle screen is divided into two screens, the upper DS screen showing fighters, enemies and animation and the lower screen providing a tidy battle option menu. The standard input options are basic attack, defense, item use and escape with two additional options for super moves and character swap. Super moves like strong battle combinations, energy attacks and support moves consume the characters' ki energy while an anger gauge similar to Final Fantasy's Limit Breaks fills as they deal or receive damage. Unlike in Final Fantasy VII, a full anger gauge doesn't allow individual characters to execute special attacks. Instead two or more characters can engage in so-called 'Sparking' combinations. They are executed when the fully angered fighters enter predetermined sequences of super moves, a system based on the double and triple techs from Chrono Trigger. A battle element borrowed from the Super Mario and Paper Mario RPGs is 'Active Guard'. Even when gearing up for their attack characters can reduce the damage received if an enemy's attack is intercepted by a button push just before it hits, adding a welcomed reaction element to the otherwise rather schematic fights.
Animation during battles is crisp and strongly reminds of the anime as even basic attacks result in a flurry of fast punches and kicks, often underlined by (Japanese) voice samples. Fans of the series may look forward to many cameos from the manga and animated show and even most of the standard enemies, in spite of being a far cry from the iconic Dragon Quest monsters, are surprisingly well designed and fit right into the DBZ universe. Although the playable characters are the series' stars with all of their signature moves, the game actually offers a range of customization options. Each level up results in the player being able to raise all the characters' stats at will and buy new techniques for them with accumulated skill points. Although fights are strictly unarmed melee a variety of wearable support items can be bought. In addition to that two capsule items, most with an active and inactive function, influence the battle situations.
The BadEven as an Akira Toriyama fan I must admit that Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z have been done to death. Especially the video games never seem to stray far from the canon plots of the manga and anime. Frankly, there are only so many times a person can wish to play through the same sagas with the same characters over and over. The only diversity those games offer lies in their basic game mechanics.
Overall exploration isn't a very strong or inviting option, considering that outside of battles the graphics are mediocre. The incentive to follow the main plot is much stronger than looking for additional content but since said main plot is mostly a (not always well told) rehash of old material even fans won't find it particularly exciting. People who have never bothered with Dragon Ball won't be able to make heads or feet of the story because it takes place in the middle of the Dragon Ball epic and doesn't establish any of the starting characters.
The game has long, sometimes long-winded cut scenes but what little content isn't already known from other games, TV shows and comics isn't very deep and only adds minimal flavour to the world. It's quite obvious the Saiyan saga setting was chosen to complement the newly released Dragon Ball Kai TV show, a series of re-edited and recut DBZ episodes which thankfully reduces the agonisingly long original to something more manageable. On that note it seems odd the game dwells comparably long on the show's filler material like the Mt. Fry Pan side story before Goku's marriage after rushing through the much more important 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai in the form of a cut scene and the last battle versus Piccolo jr.
So the characters and plot elements in Attack of the Saiyans are old, bordering on tired. It's still sort of refreshing to replay the action-packed saga in the form of an RPG. Unfortunately the solid mechanics lack the refinement elevating them over the endless ocean of turn-based JRPGs. All the stat boosting the player can do doesn't hide the fact that in terms of tactical function almost all characters play the same, their differences being purely gradual. All are warriors, there are no job classes, and only their signature moves and how fast and strong they perform them set them apart. There are no weapons or additional outfits, no tactical positioning of fighters, just variations of how powerfully everybody slugs it out. The moves may be nicely animated but they are just barely short enough to not grate on players' nerves after the umpteenth repetition.