Not Exactly Bursting at the Seams...
With every year in gaming, comes inevitabilities. Sports fans are treated to yearly entries in the EA Sports series of games, movie fans are catered with game adaptations of the biggest blockbusters or the year, Playstation owners are treated to games from Insomniac, and so on – Dragon Ball Z is no exception. Ever since the release of the first Budokai game in 2002 (and effectively becoming the first Dragon Ball Z game to be popular in the West), fans have been treated to a yearly fighting game starring Goku and company. 2008's iteration seeks to be the most promising yet – the return of original Budokai developers Dimps, a shift to a new generation, and an entirely new slate to work with. So how is Burst Limit, anyways? Kind of a disappointment, actually.
The first thing to take note is that the game uses the familiar Budokai combat system, a refreshing change from the somewhat jarring system present in the three Budokai Tenkaichi games. For the uninitiated – it's essentially a traditional VS fighting game. It takes place on the one plane on either the ground or sky, and the character is free to sidestep around the battlefield to avoid attacks. Taking a cue from the Tenkaichi series, Burst Limit adopts a similar method to perform special attacks. For example, in Budokai 3, had I wanted to perform Goku's Kamehameha attack, I'd need to enter a five button combination – Budokai Tenkaichi went around this by using a two button combination. It's the same system used for each character, and while some characters do have differing move combinations, it won't take long for players to be familiar with characters.
Speaking of accessibility, the fighting system has been changed slightly. Ki is now charged automatically, which does help. Also, Ki doesn't degenerate once you've reached a certain point, which does make for an easier fight. More powerful versions of special attacks are done by simple holding the combination longer before releasing. Ultimate Moves, which previously forced you to go into Hyper Mode to pull off, are now done with a simple button combination, which does save some hassles. Also, the annoying mini-game that determined whether or not you succeeded in performing the attack is removed. While all this does sound like it makes the game simple, and it does, there's still some depth in there for those who wish to explore it.
One of the biggest new features introduced in Burst Limit is the Drama Piece system – which effectively replaces the character customization element present in the Budokai games. Allow me to explain – in the Budokai games, you had the ability to pick and choose what moves a character could use, as well as equip bonuses to your character. The Drama Piece system works similarly – except you choose bonuses, as well as a 'partner' character that can determine which pieces can be used. Once in a fight though, the pieces you selected will kick in at certain moments during the fight. You'll know this because the fight will stop for a moment to show a cut scene of the drama piece kicking in.
Unfortunately, the Drama Piece system is rather annoying. For starters, it breaks up the fight at the most random moments. You could be firing off an ultimate attack to help score some serious damage, and just as the move hits, the drama piece cutscene kicks in, and after the brief cutscene of a character charging up their Ki or their partner attacking you, you'll have used up all your Ki, while your opponent receives little to no damage. It's great if you weren't on the receiving end, but frustrating if you initiated the attack. Though thankfully, it's totally possible to fight without them, so if you want a more 'cinematic' experience, at the risk of gameplay interruptions, then by all means, use the system.
The story mode of the game is also somewhat of a disappointment. It takes after the original Budokai's story mode in that it's a series of fights that take after the three out of the four main sagas of the DBZ storyline (for the record – Sayian, Frieza and Cell). In a shocking move though – you'll actually have to have prior experience with the storyline of DBZ, because the game tells you squat. Literally, you'll fight off Raditz as both Goku and Piccolo, then all of a sudden, the next fight is Yamcha fighting off against the Saibaman. There's absolutely no description as to what happens between fights, save for a scant description of the fight– it really does hurt if this is the first time that someone has played a DBZ game.
Speaking of story – the limitation on content is one of the biggest disappointments in the game. There's only 16 playable characters (that's not including transformation characters), which is barely a scratch on the near ludicrous number of characters present in Budokai Tenkaichi 3. Hell, the original Budokai had seven more playable characters than this game! Granted, the sixteen characters are some of the more important in the series, but it's a massive disappointment overall. Not even the additions of Bardock and Broly (who were not in the original Budokai) can help this. What's worse is that you can burn through the story mode in only a few hours, and as you unlock characters, stages and drama pieces at a frantic pace, there's little else to unlock or do in the game.
There is online play however – a first for the series, and it's not just limited to versus battles. While the online play does work, it's a disappointment that Dimps didn't have to innovate for sake of it and remove the Budokai 3 customization options. It would've made for a great experience that would keep the player coming back for more. With no plans for DLC, it's a shame that Namco Bandai are holding out for the inevitable Burst Limit 2, which will hopefully rectify these problems.
One huge positive for the game though, is it's visuals. In stills, it looks barely a patch over a PS2 game, but in motion, the game looks absolutely jaw dropping. It's the correct amount of balance between framerate and cel-shading, and the effect is truly something to behold. It's also great to see that Dimps managed to also get the game running on the PS3 just as well as its 360 counterpart. Though at times, there is some slowdown, but this happens rarely. The only real disappointment visually is the animations – it feels as if basically the same animations from Budokai 3 were lifted and used in this game, and anything new is just repeated for each character. However, seeing a shot by shot remake of the infamous "Over 9000" scene in glorious high definition is well worth all the little flaws.
The same can't be said for the audio. The soundtrack itself is nothing spectacular – the music is the same upbeat jazz/rock that you'll have heard in previous DBZ games, as well as all the sound effects lifted straight from the anime. As for the voice acting, it's the same stuff you'll have heard before. While it's great to see that Namco got all the correct VA's for their roles, if you're the kind of person who's heard it all before (or a hardcore anime enthusiast – the "subs not dubs" kind of person), then it's best to switch over to the Japanese VO. Otherwise, don't go expecting a great aural experience, even with the game in 5.1 DTS sound.
Overall, Burst Limit is more of a framework of what to expect in future instalments than an actual game. It's hard to recommend Burst Limit as a purchase with what little the game has to offer. That's not saying that it's a bad game – don't get me wrong, the gameplay is great; you can have some close and frantic battles, but there's just not a whole lot to do. Even with the online play and gorgeous visuals, it's really hard to recommend the game at full price – especially if you're a first time Dragon Ball Z gamer. Despite this, the game makes a fantastic rental, you'll burn through the game quickly enough to unlock everything and have a number of battles. If you must purchase a Dragon Ball Z game, pick up Budokai 3 (which should at Platnium/Greatest Hits pricing by now), it's essentially the same game, but feels much more complete overall. It should work on any PS3 with Backwards Compatibility, and has enough of a feature set to tide you over until the inevitable release of Dragon Ball Z Burst Limit 2.