Dragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans Review

It's a great time to be a Dragonball fan. I've said it before, to be sure; but with everything that's going on with the property this month, I'm not sure it's ever been quite like this. October kicked things off in the “Fall of Dragonball” with the fun, yet short and easy Dragonball: The Revenge of King Piccolo on the Wii. If you're running a little behind, you can read my review for it HERE. November, on the other hand, brings no less than FOUR new Dragonball products – Attack of the Saiyans on the Nintendo DS, Dragonball: Raging Blast on the 360 and PS3, the second season of the original Dragonball on DVD and the highly anticipated Dragon Box DVD release. Keep checking this site for reviews on all of them over the next week or two. For now, let's get down to the brass tacks on Attack of the Saiyans (AotS), the first American Dragonball RPG and quite possibly the most important anime game to see release on our shores in some time.

AotS more or less picks up the story where the Wii's Revenge of King Piccolo left off. The Red Ribbon Army and the Demon King Piccolo have been defeated, and three years have passed. The whole gang reunites at the 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai (Strongest Under the Heavens) tournament, where a new enemy emerges. The game follows the story all the way up to the Goku and Vegeta battle that caps off the first Dragonball Z saga. That's right; AotS covers parts of both Dragonball AND Dragonball Z, bridging the gap between the two separate shows. After so many games that cover either/or, this step away from the norm is more than welcome.

The game doesn't strictly adhere to the source material, though; there are a lot of new bits and pieces squashed in. But the new segments (Kuririn's visit to his old temple, a Yamcha/Monster Carrot rematch, more stuff with Shu, Mai and Emperor Pilaf, etc.) never feel tacked on or useless like a lot of “filler” material tends to. And without them, the game would be rather short indeed. The only real fault with the game's story is that certain segments can only be understood by those who are intimately familiar with the proceedings… before starting to play. For example, the Shin/Kami/Piccolo fight is a fairly complex situation in the original manga, but it is limited to a few static action shots and a speech bubble or two in the game. Other parts can get overly verbose, but I'll get to that soon. I'm happy to report that this uneven pacing only happens in a few spots, and the game can still be enjoyed by players with all ranges of knowledge concerning the Dragonball story.

Taking into consideration the fact that these stories have been around since the '80s, AotS wouldn't be worth anyone's time if it wasn't fun to play. And to a degree, it is fun. Some of the antiquated RPG mechanisms used do get in the way of said fun, but no flaw – no matter how irritating – manages to break the overall experience. As I said before, AotS is an RPG through and through. You level up your characters, the fighting is menu-based and you'll deal with equipment, shops, a world map, etc.; all the stuff you'd expect from a SNES-era game of this type. If you've played an RPG before, you'll have no problem picking this one up. Unfortunately, AotS also includes gaming's public enemy No. 1 – the random battle. As you explore the game's areas, you'll be forced into battle by unseen enemies over and over and over. The system breaks up exploration by tearing you away from the environments every few steps, and it makes getting around something of a pain. I've said it before and I'll say it again; this is without a doubt the most annoying and past-due-for-extinction mechanism in the world of video games, and continuing to implement it becomes more and more problematic as the days and years pass. We've seen all kinds of new, more active RPG battles recently, from The World Ends With You and it's touch screen-based action to Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story and its timed button presses, and both those games allow the player to see enemies on the screen before engaging them. Not this one. It's 2009 people – random battles in video games are no longer old-school or cute. Now it is just a sign of developer laziness, plain and simple.

As similar as AotS is to other semi-classic RPGs, it has a few little add-ons that both extend the game and serve to set it apart from the pack. The two that immediately jump to mind are the Active Guard battle system and the enemy collection side-quest. The Active Guard system adds a bit of action to the menu-based fights by giving the player the ability to lessen the damage from enemy attacks with a quick button press at just the right time. When you have three heroes in your party, each with a different button mapped to their guard ability, the normally mundane turn-based battle system quickly becomes frantic and exciting. The necessity of the Active Guard is especially evident in the game's Tenkaichi Budokai battles, where healing and restorative items are off limits – it's just you and the other guy, swinging and blocking until someone goes down. For as sick as I've become with the menu monotony of RPGs, this one has that extra little kick to keep things engaging.