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Dragon Ball Z: Harukanaru Densetsu

(Atari; US: 5 Jun 2007)

Wake me up when it’s over.


Often, an outsider looking in can be far more impartial and honest, when one looks for advice regarding important life decisions. When buying videogames, especially those based on a hit franchise such as Dragon Ball Z with its legion of adoring fans ever ready to snap up anything with Goku’s face slapped on it, it’s even more essential. After all, $30 is a lot of money and it’s all too easy to be swayed by the mob. In the case of Dragon Ball Z: Harukanaru Densetsu, however, even the most rabid, die hard fan will require some convincing to part with their hard earned cash.


As with any game I play, a quick read through of the tutorials is my first port of call, more important in this case as the Dragon Ball Z universe is a relative unknown for me. With any tutorial, all anyone really requires is a basic understanding of the ins and outs, a gentle hand-holding if you will. Dragon Ball Z: Harukanaru Densetsu, however, doesn’t so much as choose to hold your hand, but instead amputates it and uses it to give you a John Cena you can’t see me taunt for good measure.


Never before has a tutorial left me in such a state of utter bewilderment, scratching my head at the seemingly endless ramblings of some freaky, mutated green alien. What initially started out as a lesson on gameplay mechanics soon turned into a nightmare scarier than any three hour lecture I’ve endured on structuralism.


Now, if the tutorial left me a little dazed, then the genre that Harukanaru Desetsu falls into has left me wondering what type of smokes Atari marketing execs are on. DBZ is known and loved for its over the top, action packed, fast paced, soap opera-esque drama. This has been retained in the game’s presentation, but has been completely eviscerated from the core combat—yes, combat, which any fan will tell you is the spine of any Dragon Ball Z title. The genre here is a card-based RPG, which boasts turn-based duels, with incessant random battles thrown in just to rub the salt in some already deep wounds.     


Imagine taking the Halo franchise and placing the Master Chief in a love simulator where he has to win over the affections of the Flood by buying them roses and chocolates and taking them to the pictures to watch the next vomit-inducing Hugh Grant romcom.


It makes no sense whatsoever, that a persistent action brawler in origin has been grinded down to a halt, with some levels taking up to 30 minutes to complete. Atari’s desire to expand the horizons of the Dragon Ball Z universe beyond that of a beat-em-up is perfectly understandable, and you don’t get more diverse than the demographic of the DS’s. Still, who exactly do they hope to attract with a card-based, turn-based, random-battle-littered RPG outside of the Dragon Ball Z faithful?


In its favour, the presentation does remain faithful to its source material. The camp, overly dramatic teenage mood swings, interspersed with silly one-liners and general all-around wackiness, can only be admired and should raise a chuckle or two from even the most hardened soul. Complementing the humour is a truly delightful art style, which not only captures the look of the cartoons but also an elegant Japanese décor that one could easily imagine that most Dojos in the land of the rising sun are designed with.


Even so, a game could look like Angelina Jolie, and it still wouldn’t make an ounce of difference if it plays like a broken bagpipe.


There are eight card types in total: ‘strike’ for attack, ‘hide’ cards to flee from battle, ‘training’ cards increase defence in all cards, ‘reverse’ cards trade stats with foes, the ‘energy’ card has the same effect as training cards only this time it benefits offence, ‘event’ cards calls in help from your buddies, ‘use’ cards allow you to access your inventory, and ‘Z’ cards do all of the above. All cards have a numerical rating between one and seven for attack and defence, but the ‘Z’ card trumps all and is equal in rating to an eight (why it’s not just called eight I can’t possibly say). At the start of a battle both player and foe draw cards; if the rating is higher for the player, then the payer takes the first turn. Any action, though, will be dependent on the card chosen.


Still with me? Good. What kills this aspect of the game is that all cards are dealt at random, so if you haven’t got a ‘use’ card and your health is running low and you need a quick pick-me-up, you’re basically screwed. Or, say you’re saving a couple of ‘Z’ cards for the big boss battle up ahead only to have to use them during the constant random battles that stand between you and the big showdown. By the time you reach the boss, your deck has been completely wasted and any plans you had get flushed down the toilet.


With no customization options available in either the way you approach each level or the avatar you play as, the sense of mastery and control is nonexistent. In essence, all you do is tap the touchscreen; hope for the best and the ensuing cutscene informs you if you’ve succeeded or not. It’s as if the interaction aspect of the game was cut during the Q&A process as some form of desperate cost cutting initiative. What makes matters worse is that the symbols used to describe the various options are just as confusing as the combat, which means that until you’ve memorized them all, you’re just randomly stabbing at the screen, accompanied by the same combat scenes over and over again, which in turn only makes you cry out for a proper action title. 


This is the biggest problem Harukanaru Densetsu poses for gamers; instead of the ability to enjoy what it has on offer, one craves something else while playing it. It’s like eating a veggie burger, when all you really want is a big, fat, juicy steak. What possessed developers BEC to combine the two deadly sins of the RPG genre, cards and random battles in the same game is beyond me, but is even more baffling considering the license they are working with.


These factors haven’t stopped Dragon Ball Z: Harukanaru Densetsu from flying of the shelves, which is not only expected but is also a slap in the face of decent games more worthy of your attention. Truth be told, the only accomplishment BEC has achieved is finding a cure to insomnia. Don’t believe me? Just read the opening tutorial.

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