Hello, all! NotGoodForYou here with another one of my amazing, totally-not-bought review. It’s been a while since I last did one of these, isn’t it? Well, I have a reason for that.
Game companies stopped paying me to make their games look good Somehow all of my game consoles (all 4 of them!) burned their graphics cards out within months of each other, so all I have left is my brand new phone (which also has a burned out graphics card within a week of buying it (seriously, I’m not joking, this actually happened)) with which to play Puzzle and Dragons and other stamina-based collectathons.
In this case, I’ll be reviewing Dragon Ball Z: Dokkan Battle, a Dragon Ball based collectathon not entirely unlike Puzzles and Dragons. Still, I came in expecting a drug-like addictive cash-grab with minimal effort going into the game, itself. I was surprised to see a product that actually had a level of quality unprecedented in games in this genre.
The Battles are Gorgeous
In typical Dragon Ball Z fashion, the fights are a spectacle to look at. They’re animated in the style of sprites duking it out in pseudo-3D, and every time you input a move, you’ll have your characters flying across the screen, and even straight into it (you’ll notice that the game really enjoys cracking your screen when you execute special moves). It’s a refreshing change of pace from the underwhelmingly minimalist Puzzle and Dragons, and even Bandai’s own One Piece: Treasure Cruise.
The battles, themselves, unfold like this: Each turn, you have three out of seven characters at your disposal. They get swapped between turns with other characters in your roster. While they share a single health bar, it absolutely matters which character gets hit, mostly due to the colour-based rock-paper-scissors. Since you can see when when the enemy attacks, you have to constantly reform your formation to ensure that your dominant colour gets hit by the enemies’ respectively inferior colour (blue beats red, so have the red guy hit your blue guy for minimal damage). It’s easier said than done, because with only three characters at a time, you may not have a colour at your disposal which may block the enemy, but it may also mess up your plan when it comes to Ki Spheres.
Ki Spheres are the game’s combat system. The biggest difference is that they’re interacted with a single tap; you don’t drag them into place like in Puzzle and Dragons, you tap already existing chains. You have to link as many of them as you can of the same colour to build up your character’s “ki,” which determines their damage output, and not only do they rarely fall into place like you would like them to, the only way to gain max ki is to either collect it through support items and the dungeon map (more on that later) or use the coloured spheres corresponding to your character. And given max ki unleashes your most powerful move, including the titular Dokkan mode which kills everybody simultaneously, you’re gonna want to do that.
The combat system is deceptively simple, and at least 50% of it is actually luck based. However, there’s actually plenty of depth to be had once you figure out how to stack the spheres to your liking, and all the fine details you’d have to consider (such as character link skills and enemy attack delay) could trip you up more than you’re willing to admit. In my case it was just once. Yeah... just... once. Totally.
In any case, Dokkan Battle looks great, and has a simplistic but tactical combat system that has a high visual pay-off. It’s truly where the game shines. Literally. There are flashes everywhere. Be forewarned.
The Music is Great
There Is Actual Dungeon Crawling
While not a big thing on its own, or even a major departure from previous Dragon Ball games (especially the Budokai series), Dokkan Battle differentiates itself from other collectathons by having an actual “dungeon” to blast and loot your way through. It’s essentially a board game where you roll three dice and choose one of the numbers available to determine your steps. You can either land on loot or traps and enemies, which you can see in advance, or on question marks which can be either a loot or trap of sorts.
It’s also a minor bonus that you sometimes have branching pathways, but a little goes a long way, and it really gives a sort of sense of control as you determine which route you can take. Since the whole map is visible, your choice actually matters. Sometimes the paths are blocked by an obstacle which is only accessible on certain (not necessarily higher) difficulties, prompting replay value.
One of the coolest aspects of this exploration mechanic is that it prevents the game from feeling like a mindless gauntlet whilst also not demanding too much from the player. The dungeons are short, and you’re only ever actually forced to fight about three parties per dungeon maximum, not including the boss party, but at the same time, your decisions can impact your progression in terms of equipment and levels. You can level up characters by sacrificing other, lesser characters, much like in other collectathons, but the process is slow and painful unless you loot a “Training Item” to exponentially increase that number. Similarly, this is the only way to obtain in-battle Support Items, which can provide boosts, heal, and delay enemy attacks. Their scarcity makes them all the more rewarding to obtain, and they can make all the difference in combat. The board game style of dungeon crawling dampens the random factor by a ton and puts it in the player’s hands, even if their movement is more or less determined by a dice roll.
You Can Actually Search for Dragon Balls
This isn’t a big deal compared to other games in the franchise, but it’s amazing that they actually took the time to implement this system in a mobile app. The way this works is that in the “Shenron” screen (which I believe would have been more suitable being called the Dragon Radar) you have a shelf showcasing the collected Dragon Balls. Tapping on a greyed out Dragon Ball will tell you which episode you have to play to find it, so this isn’t a wild goose chase. Once there, you have to arrange your dice roll steps accordingly in the board game to land on the Dragon Ball, itself. I found this to be surprisingly easy, with very little luck involved, as the’re usually not that far from a battle encounter which stops you from proceeding, meaning that after the battle, if one of the dice still have the distance between the ball and the battle location, It’s pretty much guaranteed to be obtained when you tap it. A very fair system, indeed.
I’ve collected the Dragon Balls thrice now in my week-or-so length of play time and I noticed something... iffy. Each wish seems to be able to be granted only once. I’m not sure if that maybe resets when you get all the wishes, but it’s a pretty dick move to have what’s probably the most “Dragon Ball” aspect of the game be so limited.
Unlocking Characters is Pretty Cool
A minor bonus point, but a pretty cool one nonetheless. Much like how in Puzzle and Dragons you unlock characters by physically pulling a lever (hand) on a toy dragon, you pull back Goku’s hands to blast a Kamehameha at an incoming asteroid. Why an asteroid instead of an iconic space pod? I don’t know. Still, it’s a cool visual that’s also really fun to execute, even if it’s not as cool and thematic as Luffy launching himself into a bar to recruit Pirates in Treasure Cruise.
All the Special Attacks are Exactly the Same.
In all fairness, despite its outlandish character designs, Dragon Ball Z wasn’t too noteworthy in its variety of special moves. Pretty much every character had some variation of the Kamehameha that more or less functioned the same. That’s what each special move entails. But that’s not exactly what the problem is. The problem is two-fold.
One, there is a description at the bottom of each characters’ special move that details it’s special effects. They always say “deals huge damage to the opponent,” with the exception of when I found one that says “extreme damage” instead. This really tones down the tactical aspect of the combat system, and while it’s still a joy to watch each character make their battle cry before blasting each other to kingdom come, it’s still pretty shallow. Think of how much variety the game would have if the Planet Namek Goku, with his overuse of Kaioken, would have if with each special attack he uses his Kaioken + Kamehameha, increasing his attack significantly but lowering the party’s defense. Or Ginyu using his “Body Change” technique to swap his element type with his enemy.
Which brings about the second issue that in cases like Ginyu’s, they don’t even take the character’s most notable moves. Nor does the game use this opportunity to have the classic “energy wave” clash when two characters simultaneously use their special attacks together. Why not? The battles occur after each character has made their move, so if two characters are going to fight each other in one turn and both characters happen to use their special attack, why not have this system implemented? It’s as much a part of Dragon Ball Z as the Dragon Balls, themselves.
It Requires an Online Connection
Now, this would be fine, but given that the game requires an internet connection (on a portable device) it’s ridiculous that the game doesn’t at least use this opportunity to give to the player whilst taking away their freedom to play it anywhere they want. Granted, it doesn’t use too much data (it still uses it, though) and it does give you the ability to take another character’s leader and bring them into your party, but neither of those two options really give you a reason for forcing the game to be online. There’s no PVP. No co-op. It doesn’t even save your progress to the Cloud, which many games that don’t force an online connection actually do. What it does do is provide event missions (they’re actually pretty great), granted, but there’s no reason we can’t go online, download them, and then be on our way, with an internal clock determining how long before they run out. The system seems to be solely in place to protect the validity of its microtransactions (which are overpriced, go figure) and stamina system (which speaks for itself) and nothing more. It’s a system which holds the player under surveillance and does nothing to even the tables between the consumer and the company.
The Story is... Ehhhh...
So this is Dragon Ball Z, but there’s something about the way the story is presented that is so goofy that it isn’t even campy. It takes place in an alternate universe where the events of Dragon Ball Z are completely jumbled. Frieze invades Earth instead of Namek, for example, and this is before the Saiyans attack. Sounds pretty cool, and it sort of is. It even has a comic book style presentation in each level! However, there is the problem of nonsensical dialogue, bad jokes (many which don’t make sense) and worse off, fillers. These fillers don’t even have a story of their own, they’re merely Trunks saying the same thing over and over. “We need to be careful!” or “I must get stronger!” with the victory cutscene being “Woah, your power is awesome, [Insert Name Here]!” It feels very lazy and scoff-worthy.
But you’re not here for the story, so it’s not too much of a big deal overall.
Curiously, the event missions seem to be pretty accurate to the show. Just something that seems worth mentioning.
Dokkan Battle does have the pitfalls of a standard free-to-play game, but it’s noteworthy for standing out from the pack with some unique, tactical exploration and combat. You’re going to love the music, the battles and the progression, which may likely hold the game’s head above water regardless of how much effort the free-to-play scheme keeps trying to drag it down.