Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Dragon Ball Video Games: A Retrospective Part 7

The Game Boy Advance saw quite a few Dragon Ball titles and, to the best of my knowledge, I've played all of them extensively (except for the one based on the Trading Card Game).  That said, both today's and tomorrow's posts will almost certainly be exclusively GBA-related.  Today's post is all about the Legacy of Goku Trilogy.

Aw yeah, just look at that title screen that doesn't even have the title of the game in it.  Quality stuff!
 Legacy of Goku
Why? Just...why?
Please keep in mind that I am not targeting either of this game's sequels with the following comments.
This game sucks. This game really, really, really, really, really sucks!

Stockart Gohan Portrait

Every time I've played this game, I find myself just dumbfounded that it's actually an official product. Everything about the game's design screams unlicensed, Chinese black market game. 

Problem #1: Not being able to move on diagonals. This is an action RPG. Not being able to move on diagonals is a criminally stupid oversight in this genre. Even in the NES days, this was barely acceptable (the same oversight is in the first Zelda game* while other titles like Crystalis and Willow had diagonal movement).
*Yes, I know Zelda is an action/adventure game rather than action RPG, that doesn't change the point of the criticism.

The collision and hit detection are phenomenally poor. All of the mountain walls in the game don't stop you from moving until Goku's sprite is entirely flush with them making him appear to be a paper cutout. Your punches will often miss when they clearly make contact and yet do damage when you're blatantly punching beyond the enemy.

Poorly Drawn Master Roshi
 Additionally, transitions between areas is absolutely instantaneous which is incredibly jarring. In any competently made RPG, the transitions when going from one area to the next contain, y'know, actual transitions. Here, it just pops onto the next screen.

How Do I Perspective?

 Problem #2: The presentation just makes me think of a 12-year-old using PowerPoint for the first time. Message boxes have a tiny silver border containing a very gaudy, flat blue. Text is coloured with an invasive yellow gradient and the font has a cheesy pseudo-futuristic appearance. Character portraits are either taken from poorly rendered screenshots of the anime, poorly rendered stockart, or are just outright bad drawings of the character made for the game; it's not even consistent. Your health and Ki bars are marked by Comic-sans-ish, blocky 'H' and 'K' letters.

Incidentally, this might be the only game I can think of that FUNimation is attached to to actually use the term 'Ki' rather than just translate it to 'energy'.
That dog seriously nearly killed me.
Me, Goku.  A Dog.  Goku.  Dog.

 Problem #3: Every gameplay mechanic involving a special ability seems to have been designed to include said abilities with as little effort in the programming as possible. Just look at how you fly! You press R to enter a limited flight mode, and you have to keep your flight counter up by collecting orbs with feathers on them...what? What?

How Do I Collision?
Problem #4: The choice of enemies and the strength of enemies is just perplexing. At the beginning of the game, you can easily be killed by...a dog.
Did the developers just totally miss the part where the player is freaking Goku!? Y'know, Goku? Anime Superman? And no, they're not wolves.  I thought they were at first, but they used the same sprite in the sequel for NPC dogs.

Raditz: Maximum Derp
Other early enemies include snakes that are nearly impossible to see because their bodies are literally two-pixels thick, and crabs that take dozens of punches to kill and are immune to your weakest fireball attack.

 Problem #5: The graphics are just bad. When they don't use low quality JPEG renders for landmark locations (such as Master Roshi's house) they are almost frighteningly reminiscent of the graphics I used to draw into RPG Maker 95's tileset when I was 8 years old.

 For some reason, Webfoot (the developer) decided that nearly every sprite in the game needed to fit within the same pixel limitations. Because of that, several characters appear way off-scale with each other, notably Recoome and Burter who are enormous in the anime and here are the exact same size as Goku (and everyone else). This is also a problem with Goku's hair, his spikes are scrunched up in order to fit within the width limit. Worst of all, Goku's circumcised hair spikes remained in Legacy of Goku II, not being redrawn properly until Buu's Fury.
Oh no, my best friend died.
Well, I better just continue to
express mild curiosity.

Seriously, look in those screenshots to the right there, especially the one with Frieza in his second form.  Frieza's second form is one of the largest characters to appear in the anime.  Here, he's almost the same size as Goku.  Also, is it just me or does he look like he's really uncomfortable walking with his arms snug against his sides?

 Problem #6: You only ever play as Goku and the game tries to follow the anime too closely for its own good (and yet also manages to add a painful amount of excruciatingly stupid sidequests). Because of this, huge chunks of the story are skipped over entirely. Remember all that stuff that happens between Goku's fight with Vegeta and his arrival on Namek? You know, Gohan, Krillin and Bulma heading to Namek by themselves, collecting the Dragon Balls while playing an epic game of cat & mouse with Frieza and Vegeta, and then teaming up with Vegeta only to nearly be killed by the Ginyu force? None of it's in this game! Hooray!

 Problem #7: GGUUURRAAAAAAH! This game is just really, really awful, OK? Don't ever play it.

What is especially hilarious about this game is the fact that there is a bug that makes you invincible (get hit with a projectile while flying) and Webfoot also included a cheat code for invincibility. Yeah, way to test your game.
This is with the glitch active.  All Frieza does it walk up to you.  He doesn't attack.  He just moves closer until he's practically making out with you and just stands there.  You can follow up with as many successive punches as you like and he still won't hit back.  'Cause Frieza's just a cool guy like that.

The Game Over Screen.  Courtesy of a Dog.

Legacy of Goku II
No! It's back! Noooooo—What''s actually...good.
Yeah, this might be the starkest case ever of a quality jump between two games in a series. Legacy of Goku II is actually a good game. It's not a remarkable game but being the successor to what could very well be the worst video game I have ever played*, that's still astounding.
*Well, at least the worst game I've played that was both actually a licensed game and I played on a legitimate cartridge.

There's diagonal movement now! The dumb, pointless flying mechanic is totally gone! Characters have decent pixel-art portraits! Text boxes are neat-looking while being unobtrusive and can even be manually positioned with the L and R buttons! The health and energy meters look like something you'd actually see in a typical real game! The environment graphics are fantastic! Basic enemies are varied and consist of large, wild animals and things that you can actually understand being able to hurt a Z-Fighter (and not a god damn dog)! You get to play as 5 different characters! The character sprites...still don't look great. But hey, at least they aren't all confined to the same resolution in this game!

While the natural environments in the game look very good, the city environments are rather drab but they get the job done.

 Being an action RPG, there are puzzles to solve along with the enemies you combat. None are particularly taxing on your brain and, in fact, one of them is a series of switches that have to be in a specific setup that the game gives you absolutely no hints about; so that just becomes a game of Press All the Switches at Random and Hope It Eventually Works!

 The combat is much improved. Enemies still don't have the greatest AI, but when backed into a corner, they'll slide around behind you which makes it so you have to keep moving while fighting. Since this game covers the Cell arc of the show, you'll be fighting the androids. True to the anime, if you use energy-based attacks on either #19 or #20/Dr. Gero, it will heal them.

 The game even features a couple surprisingly extensive sidequests with very satisfying payoffs.
Of course the game isn't without it's faults. If you get the timing and spacing down just right, you can pummel even large groups of enemies for a while without ever being hit. The character portraits, while enormously improved over the previous game, do look a bit amateurish and lack multiple expressions. The character sprites have lots of animations but they're just not particularly well-drawn and look out of place occasionally in the beautiful natural environment areas.

 Much of the game's dialogue is verbatim from FUNimation's dub of the anime. I'm undecided how I feel about that. It's not really a point for or against the game, it's something that is what it is.

That's How You Perspective
 The difference between these first two games just floors me.  For the longest time when I was younger, I really wanted to see a Dragon Ball Z game with similar mechanics to the Zelda franchise.  When we finally got Legacy of Goku, boy was I disappointed.  I'm not sure I ever would have bothered with the sequel if I didn't get to play it for free thanks to a friend lending it to me.
Webfoot (yes, it's actually still the same developer) went pretty all out with available hardware even adding animated effects like the fire seen to the left (though a still image of it doesn't really enforce my point here) and weather effects like snow and rainstorms.

If it wasn't for the variable quality of some of the graphics (Chi-Chi's portrait looks downright creepy), Legacy of Goku II would be among the very best looking games the Game Boy Advance has.

 This is a good game for big fans, casual fans, and gamers who are into the genre. Again, you won't see anything revolutionary here but it's still a pretty fun title.

Buu's Fury

 The final installment in the Legacy of Goku trilogy and it's...a bit better than the second one. There are some minor differences in the gameplay, such as a much more in-depth leveling system, with which I find myself unsure whether I consider them improvements, downgrades, or just differences.
No question about it, this is the best looking of the trilogy. Character portraits are now of truly professional pixel-art quality and have multiple expressions, character sprites while still a weak area are generally improved, several environments have multiple layered animations running, etc. It's at least on par with how good common RPG's on the system looked (which was usually pretty good).
However, message boxes have become a little more gaudy again with an overdone, golden "hi-tech-y" border.

 This game ditched the enemy-sliding mechanic that Legacy of Goku II had which stopped you from cornering enemies and replaced it with some arguably better mechanics.

 First off, the game now features blocking; both player characters and enemies can block. Second, the timing for pulling off successive hits on an enemy is now much more strict. Third, some enemies don't get knocked back by your attacks at all and can still attack you even while taking damage.

 I do think the game is objectively better than Legacy of Goku II, but I personally have never cared for manual stat leveling, and the Buu arc is my least liked portion of Z (I do still like it). Because of that, Legacy of Goku II is my favourite of the trilogy but speaking strictly as a gamer, Buu's Fury is the best of the three. It's still not spectacular, but it reaches the level of “pretty good”.

If you're a Dragon Ball fan, I say definitely check it out; if not and you're still curious, give it a shot.

Incidentally, during the 'Minute of Desperation' portion of the final fight with Kid Buu, if you pause the game and un-pause, Goku's Spirit Bomb will vanish. Just a minor bug I remember discovering on my first playthrough. And speaking of bugs, if you want to max out your Senzu Beans early on, use the one you're supposed to give to Videl. Videl will still receive a bean even though you've already used the only one you had and due to a programming oversight, you'll end up with 255 Senzu Beans.

Next Time:  The remaining Game Boy Advance Titles

No comments:

Post a Comment