Friday, September 28, 2012

Dragon Ball Video Games: A Retrospective Part 2

Super Famicom/SNES Games Part 1

On the Super Famicom (which is, of course, the Japanese Super Nintendo/SNES), we saw some decent Dragon Ball titles. We also saw a few not-so-decent ones as well. Let's have a look at them individually.

The Legend of the Super Saiyan
Another game that has poor graphics even by the hardware standards but not an absolutely awful game. It's not exactly a good game either. If you are a fan, this game can be a guilty pleasure. If you are not a fan, this doesn't provide anything special in the gameplay department so you may as well steer clear.
Legend of the Super Saiyan is a full Card Battle (ugh) RPG that covers the first arc of Dragon Ball Z's story (from Raditz's appearance to Goku defeating Frieza). While the game's visuals are very poor, the music can be very catchy; the overworld theme on Earth being the particular standout.

The game actually has some decent ideas that keep it from being a total waste of time. Firstly, you are not absolutely forced into following the anime's plot verbatim. It is possible in this game for Tenshinhan/Tien, Chiaotzu and Yamcha to survive the battle with Vegeta and Nappa (where they all died in the anime). Conversely, you can also let Krillin die in that battle and it won't result in a Game Over (game over's being dependant on when necessary characters die; the only necessary characters in this scenario being Gohan and Goku) even though Krillin survived in the anime.
Piccolo, on the other hand, if you manage to keep him alive during the actual battles, he'll die by way of cut-scene anyway.

This is not only useful in that you'll have a much larger team when you travel to Namek, it also provides a great pay-off. In the final battle with Frieza, to trigger Goku's Super Saiyan transformation, all you have to do is let any 1 character die (except Gohan which will be Game Over). This means that you can intentionally send your weakest party member (usually Chiaotzu) to be the sacrifice. So you end up still having a fairly large party for the final boss.

  Another clever mechanic used is the addition of 'fake bosses' as warnings. For instance, at the beginning of the game if you travel directly to Raditz without grinding any levels, you'll actually first have to face a fake Raditz who turns out to be a Saibamen in disguise. He's only there until you either defeat him or reach a certain level cap. I like this because it acts as a warning for when you are about to face a boss who you almost certainly cannot beat at your current level.
The following two paragraph contains spoilers.

 There is a secret final boss in the game as well. You can fight Super Saiyan Vegeta post-credits so long as you keep Vegeta alive during the battle with Frieza (another departure from the anime where Vegeta's death was a rather pivotal moment). Since I played a fan translation of the game I can't be sure if the dialogue is accurate, but if it is then what Vegeta says before transforming makes absolutely no sense. You see Goku flying over Namek during the credits (Namek having not been destroyed by Frieza in this version of the story) and, after the credits finish rolling, Vegeta appears in front of him and claims, “I killed Frieza!!”.
I really do not understand the point of the dialogue as a pre-battle message, nor do I understand why Vegeta is nonsensically lying to you. In any case, Vegeta then powers up to a Super Saiyan state and what follows is the strongest boss battle of the game.

 As mentioned before, this is another Card Battle game. This is probably the top reason why I simply cannot call it a good game; Card Battle systems are (in most cases) tedious, confusing, far too heavily based in chance, frustrating, and boring.

The game has many many quirks, especially in its graphics. One of the most notable is the lack of Goku's hairstyle changing when he becomes a Super Saiyan. Rather than the drastic upward flare seen in the manga and anime, in this title, the very tips of his spikes flare up ever so slightly and his hair gets re-coloured a flat yellow. When I first saw screenshots of this before I had actually played far enough, I was near certain they were faked; it really looked like somebody opened the game in MS Paint and used the fill bucket on Goku's hair. Nope. That's actually what it looks like in the game.

Additionally, if you thought beat'em-ups like Maximum Carnage and Final Fight were bad for palette-swapped enemies, just wait until you see all of the various technicoloured Saibamen and Ginyu Force member clones you'll be fighting in this game.

There are very few redeeming qualities to this game but, as a huge Dragon Ball fan, I saw it through to the end. It does have a couple of saving graces but it's absolutely a game for fans only. Gamers gaming for the sake of gaming are not going to find anything of value here.

Super Gokuden 1 & 2
Plain and simple, these games are extremely boring. I will not be surprised if I get flak for that statement as these seem like the exact kind of games that would garner cult classic status, but the fact is that they are just plain dull.
They do, however, have rather charming forms of presentation and very nice graphics. That's where the good stuff ends though.
Both of these titles are, in practice, slightly interactive motion comics in which the only actual gameplay comes in the form of battles.
I only got as far as Mt. Frying Pan/Fire Mountain in the first game so I cannot vouch for how much of Dragon Ball's story it covers (probably to the defeat of King Piccolo). I beat the second game though.
The first Super Gokuden begins, appropriately, at the very beginning of Dragon Ball with Goku living alone in the mountains. This game returns to the board game style overworld of some of the Famicom games but it, admittedly, does a much better job of it making travelling from one area to the next quick and usually uninterrupted.
The combat systems are what really hurts both of these games; they makes absolutely no god damned sense. In the first Super Gokuden, the battle system is an awkward form of quickdraw in which both characters slowly inch toward each other. Once one character reaches a certain point (which is not indicated by anything at all*) they can execute some sort of maneuver; be it a combo, a special attack, a counter, a block or whatever. It's never very clear what each button does normally or what they do in response to an enemy attack; none of the multiple fan translations I've tried of this game explain the battle system adequately. Even after reading a couple guides, I still had little to no idea what I was doing.
*I know the character's sprite will flash when they reach that point but I mean that there's nothing on-screen to indicate what the point is.
I didn't understood well either.

As I said, I actually did complete Super Gokuden 2; it had a vaguely similar but more straightforward combat system (a bit more akin to intricate Rock Paper Scissors than quickdraw) that made it a much more tolerable experience. This sequel covers the Piccolo Jr. saga of Dragon Ball up to (once again) Goku defeating Frieza.
Although I will give credit where credit is due. As I said, the games do have nice graphics, charming presentation and, in addition, they have some spectacular music.
Super Gokuden 2 is tolerable if you're a fan, but once again neither of these games offers a must-play experience to anybody. It would be really nice to see some fighting games...

Next Time: The Super Butouden Trilogy.

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