I want to love Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden, and if you’re a fan of the series, you probably will too, but it’s definitely a trial.
Extreme Butoden is the newest instalment of a smaller subseries of Dragon Ball games, the Butoden series, which had its start during the Super Nintendo System’s lifetime, one of the most revered eras of gaming. The series has had other disappointments before, none more so than Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout (1997). Extreme was released in Japan on the 3DS some months ago, however only now is the west seeing a release, and I’m regretting it a little bit.
The game is lacking in many areas; the last Dragon Ball, Xenoverse is widely considered one of the best DBZ games ever made, so it’s understandable this game would falter slightly in the eyes of the fans. However, the game goes beyond not being a good successor, seen mostly in that it’s not a good 2D fighter.
The art style is hard to look at, with pixel art characters that tend to deviate from the designs of the originals in strange ways. Some characters have strangely elongated faces, and the main character, Goku’s face looks as though it were pinched together, even in the visual novel segments (of which the cutscenes are comprised of). The backgrounds lack the pixel art that other similarly styled games have benefited so much from, such as the Metal Slug series, or Crypt of the Necrodancer which all kept a consistent look. Butoden instead slaps their pixel abominations above low-resolution textures (and when I say low resolution, that’s taking into account the poor performance of the 3DS screen). The 3D is handled well, though, simply using the depth to further establish the fore, mid and backgrounds and allowing you to get drawn into the fights that little bit more.
The fights, unfortunately, are disappointing. The matches are short unless you fill your roster with four of the playable characters, of which there are only a little over 20. The 100 characters that were advertised are mostly “Z assists”, meaning you can call them into a fight for a single attack every few seconds, but not actually control them. This is by no means a con, it allows the inclusion of never before playable characters and fan favourites such as Bulma and Launch, however with the lacking roster, it left me wanting more.
The limited roster also impacted the “story” section of the game. I use the term begrudgingly, really the first portion is just playing all of Goku and Gohan’s key fights throughout the series which leaves out some of the, more interesting fights in the series, such as the majority of the second saga (season) due to Goku’s absence. Beating the story unlocks “what if?” stories, which consist of playing Goku’s story with another character, and then having the story reset with the poorly translated dialogue between gameplay as the writers reinsert Goku and have him win off screen.
The Goku love is beyond believable in this game as well. As a fan of Vegeta, the first main villain of DBZ and Goku’s rival, it’s a little sickening to have him given two extra slots that have unique animations while Vegeta gets a blonde reskin with all the same attacks.
My god the attacks, they’re all the same, every single one of them. Every character uses the same combo list, with slight animation variations, but all the attacks boil down to mashing the next button in the sequence. This is unlike Street Fighter and Skullgirls, two very popular 2D fighting games where you need to rely on something called “animation cancelling” so that moves can be combined into each other. Instead, you’ll find yourself either mashing out 16 hit combos that can nearly halve your opponent’s health, or accidentally winning the match before you could try out the character’s ultimate attack. This is against the CPU set on hard, the best the computer has to offer, which in almost any other game means they’re using techniques near impossible for humans to pull off.
The ultimate attacks are irksome in and of themselves. They all consist of a short charging animation from your character (which is often shared with other), who then fires a slow moving beam or ball, which the camera follows through two screen transitions before fixing on your motionless opponent who can then counter, using their own ultimate and doubling the wait time, or simply take the hit.
Allow me to compare this against two of the most popular games. Tenkaichi Budokai 3 is often praised for its ultimate attacks, which would freeze the fight similarly to Butoden, however the character fills the screen with their unique charging animation, and then the action resumes, allowing the opponent to attempt a dodge, counter or simply stare in horror as they realise there is no escape. Xenoverse needed a system that would work well for the one-on-one fighting sections online, and the more beat em’ up style of the story mode; so instead, only the player is frozen during the charging, but invulnerable, meanwhile their opponent is given a chance to better position themselves to dodge or continue to fight other opponents depending on the game mode chosen. Both of these techniques add to the player experience, immersing them in the established universe of Dragon Ball without dragging the game down.
Butoden is, all in all, a disappointment. I am however a very big Dragon Ball fan, and I think it will be at least palatable for other fans, despite the strange character designs and the amalgamation of the two newest movies canon, with Dragon Ball GT’s canon as they directly contradict each other. – Christopher Pirina
Top photo from Nintendo of Europe’s Twitter account.