Dragon Ball Z: Legacy of Goku
Dragon Ball Z (DBZ for short) is a hugely popular cartoon hailing from Japan. It is the second in three series that tell the story of a super being called Goku and his struggles against various earth shattering threats as both he and his family and friends grow up. Although DBZ ended in the early 1990’s it has now became a cult favourite in the USA and then the UK thanks to exposure on satellite and cable TV channels like Cartoon network and CNX. Of course where there’s fans there’s gold and it’s hard to think of any set of fans who have been more brutally and cynically exploited than Western DBZ fans.
DBZ: Legacy of Goku on the GBA is a prime example of how game developers (in this case Infogrames) given the lucrative Dragon ball license to play with have produced some of the foulest pieces of software ever to grace the system, safe in the knowledge that rabid fans will snap up anything with the DBZ logo on it. It’s probably best if I describe the game calmly and without prejudice to begin with so you have at least a good idea of what the game is about before I start to twist the knife.
Well, the basic plot of the game follows the story of the first saga in the DBZ series, the Saiyen saga. It begins with Goku’s brother Raditz arriving from space and kidnapping his son Gohan. After searching for Gohan, he and ex-archenemy Piccolo team up against Raditz. Here Goku discovers he is not a native of earth but from a race of destructive aliens called Saiyens. Both Raditz and Goku are killed and Goku travels into the “otherworld”. After an excursion to Hell, he winds up on a planet where he learns new attacks under the tutorship of the eccentric King Kai. He then returns to earth to take on the next two Saiyens who wish to destroy earth, Nappa and Vegita. After defeating them, he and Vegita try to beat each other and archenemy Frieza to finding the seven dragon balls (which can grant wishes), before Goku fights Frieza in the final showdown.
The gameplay mechanics have some rpg elements to them. As you explore the levels from a top down perspective you can undertake mini-quests to gain experience as well as killing the creatures that roam about. The experience points level you up and make Goku stronger, tougher and able to fly for longer. The A button punches, the B button fires one of three Energy blasts you can learn as the game progresses and the R button allows Goku to fly. There are two bars to keep a watch on. A green power bar that drains as you use energy attacks and a health bar that depletes as you are damaged. That’s objectively what the game is about. Explore, fight, level up, move on.
Time for my subjective take on the game, and I am speaking I feel from a position of authority as I am a DBZ fan/nerd. Now I’ll discuss the good things about the game first. Graphically it looks very nice, at least when the characters aren’t moving. Also the sound is generally faithful to the series and the sampled pieces of speech are clear and effectively used. The opening sequence taken from the cartoon is slick as well.
And that’s it for the good points. Now for the bad, and boy there is a lot of bad about this game. First of for a game that professes to be a faithful retelling of the first third of the DBZ saga this has many, many mistakes in it. First of all as Goku starts out in his quest to find Gohan, he is pathetically weak. Watching the cartoon, I fail to recall the episodes where Goku was bitten to death by hordes of rampaging cats and worms! Yet that’s what happens in the first level! The collision detection is so poor, that you can go right up to an enemy and frantically hammer the punch button only to have your hits miss and the enemy walk backwards and forwards through you inflicting mucho damage as they do so.
So you back off and try energy blasts. However these have to hit the enemy sprite in EXACTLY the right place or.. yep no damage. You’ll often see your powerful Kamehameha attack glitch through an enemy and cause no damage whatsoever. They then smack you up with three punches and you’re dead. Again. For the 100th time. In fact the only way to progress in some levels and Boss Fights is to take advantage of the crippling poor AI (Artificial Intelligence) of the enemies. If you manage to get a certain distance away from them they will forget they were chasing you and stand still, and yes this does happen in Boss fights to. Then you can fire masses of fireballs at them until they die while they happily just sit there and take it. AAAH!
There are also plot mistakes in bundles. I won’t go into them all but the main boob concerns the three energy blasts Goku can learn. The final one he learns in the game is his fabled Kamehameha attack, which according to the series he SHOULD ALREADY KNOW! He is taught this attack in the game by King Kai, but in the series King Kai taught him the Kai-ou Ken attacks and how to make the Genki Tama (Spirit Bomb). This may sound like nerdy nitpicking, but every player of this game is going to know this and find it annoying. So why do that, why Infogrames??
Considering how much damage that can be inflicted on Goku right from the start the number of collectable health power-ups like herbs and the magical “Senzu beans” are very hard to come by. This leads to many restarts at the beginning of the area you are in. You do at least get to keep any levels you gained before you died and the game does allow you to save at anytime which relieves the pain somewhat.
By concentrating on Goku, this game has missed so much else that makes the cartoon so enjoyable, the various storylines and battles undertaken by the likes of Piccolo, Gohan, Krillin, Tein and Yamcha to name a few. So gone are the training and battle sequences as the others prepare to take on Vegita and Nappa. Gone also is one of the best sequences in the Saiyen saga when Vegita goes Ozaru (turns into a giant ape) and nearly kills Goku. It baffles me why so many superb sections of the cartoon were overlooked, and lots of really lame and pointless side quests were added instead.
And the side-quests are ridiculous. Find some magazines, find a lost kitten (ok that one is quite sweet), pick some flowers, reunite two lost children etc etc. This is Dragon Ball dumbed down to kiddie level. But even young fans will be sickened by the poor quality of the game our great hero Goku has found himself in. When I think about what make Dragon Ball great, I think of the epic fights, quirky characters and twisty-turny plotlines that both confuse and delight. This game treats the characters like bland ciphers, the combat is inaccurate and relies on exploiting programming weaknesses not your own skill and finally the plot has been reduced down from a 100 episode storyline into a factually incorrect speed through that can be completed in less than 10 hours.
There is a superb rpg game to be made based on the Dragon Ball Z series. In fact many such games were released in Japan on the NES in the 1980’s. This however is not that game. This game is a shamelessly poor cash-in on the willingness of any DBZ fan (like my poor sad self) to part with money to add another DBZ game to the collection. Well this game is not worth it, truly. If you perhaps stumble upon it second-hand for a few pounds and you are a completist, then get it by all means. But never pay full price for it. In fact don’t even play it. Just file the box away in your shelf of DBZ collectables and games and save your pennies for DBZ: Legacy of Goku 2. It looks to be much better game as veterans Atari are now behind it and have taken on board criticisms of the first game (which was done by Infogrames) to produce something much more faithful to the series and for that we should be truly thankful.