Dragon Ball Z. It’s spawned a lot of games – and I mean a LOT. A good 90% of the games spawned from the popular anime and manga series are fighters, but the rarest gems of all are RPGs. Previous iterations of Dragon Ball Z RPGs, including the GBA entries, most certainly underwhelmed. However, Dragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans is a Nintendo DS exclusive and quite possibly one of the best choices out there for any DBZ fan. For a series vet such as myself, it’s got fantastic scope of content, including coverage of lesser-known and entertaining characters, all with the humor and charm contained in the original story. If you want something other than a beat-’em-up to sate your hunger for all things Dragon Ball, then this game is a sure bet for fun.
It’s fairly traditional in the sense that you will pick up several tasks along the course of the game, grind for levels, and participate in random battles. It’s a true RPG through and through, so there’s nothing new here that should scare away the layman RPG player. As one (and more if you count parties in battle) of the many characters inhabiting the Dragon Ball universe, you’ll explore the ins and out of the Saiyan saga (commonly referred to as the “Vegeta Saga,” as Saiyans Vegeta and Nappa arrive on the Earth for battle), hence the title of the game. You’ll start from the beginning as Krillin and explore events that occurred in the first Dragon Ball series and work your way up to what occurred after Goku, Piccolo, Gohan, and the rest of the gang conquered the terrible Saiyans, leading into the nefarious plans of Frieza and adventures thereafter.
As you venture throughout each location, you’ll become tangled up in quests that aren’t exactly canon for the manga or TV series, but add quite a bit of flavor to what would otherwise be long, drawn-out series of dialogue or constant training from several of the cast members. For example, following Krillin to the monastery he hailed from and trained under to undertake a mission of revenge early on in the game was a welcome treat that I haven’t seen before in any other Dragon Ball title. This type of catering to what fans want to see (i.e. more interaction between lesser characters) was welcome, and the game continues to deliver more of it throughout.
Aside from the typical “explore lands, collect items, and level up” fare, you’ll be subjected to a metric ton of random battles, but that’s certainly to be expected. Battles play out in a predictable turn-based fashion with no special rules you need memorize. If you continuously land melee hits on an enemy, your “Sparking” meter will rise, allowing you to perform explosive special attacks that cause much more damage than simple melee barrages or typical specials that use up Ki. While exploring the overworld, you’ll often find use for the Ki gauge as well. Charging with a face button can remove boulders and barriers in your way. Ki regenerates as you move through the landscapes and aids you in scouting out surprises and hidden items, or creating new paths to travel through.
Though the game might seem simple enough at first glance to understand and play through without too much fuss, don’t be fooled. While there’s nothing entirely standout about it to RPG veterans or hardcore gamers, Dragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans is quite difficult. Unlesss you grind at every free moment, you’ll find yourself reverted to the start screen more often than necessary. You get no continues and save points are often few and far between. A simple fight between Krillin and random monsters proved most difficult for me at the beginning of the game. My attempts at grinding were quelled, as I died far too often to benefit. Healing items and money can be hard to hold onto as well, perhaps making up for the gap in difficulty, but upping the frustration factor in a needlessly annoying way. However, with diligence and determination you can get past these small caveats and enjoy an entertaining story-driven quest.
The entire game employs a 2D look to it with diminutive yet impressive sprites. Character portraits accompany dialogue and occasionally change expressions. In-game animations are fluid and detailed, much like watching attacks performed on the show, and are a treat for the eyes. What’s interesting, however, is that there is no English voice track available so you will hear the original Japanese voice cast calling out special attacks or grunting when exerted. There is no spoken dialogue in the game, so perhaps this was a plausible corner to cut.
Overall, I found Attack of the Saiyans to be a short but admirable attempt at bringing structure and story-driven action to the series in its video game adaptations. It can become frustratingly difficult, but it’s hard not to resist the charms of the adorable little sprites and looks into the heads of several Dragon Ball characters you may not have paid much attention to in the actual series. It stays faithful to the storyline without rocking the boat and offers plenty of fanservice for longtime viewers of the anime and followers of the manga. It’s great-looking, makes good use of the D-pad, and doesn’t rely on silly DS gimmickry to be a solid RPG. Hopefully we can expect expansions of this new franchise and explore the rest of the Dragon Ball Z saga in a similar vein.