Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3

Cole Stryker

Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 is the Yngwie Malmsteen of fighters. Its excess knows no limits.

Publisher: Atari
Genres: Fighting
Display Artist: Spike / Namco Bandai
Price: $39.99
Multimedia: Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3
Platforms: Wii (Reviewed), PlayStation 2
Number of players: 1-2
ESRB rating: Teen
Developer: Namco Bandai
US release date: 2007-12-03
Amazon UK affiliate
Amazon affiliate
Developer website

Let's get one thing out of the way: I've never played any other Dragon Ball Z games, and I've never really watched the show. Others have already written off this game because it includes so few updates from the first two Budokai Tenkaichi games, which in turn borrowed a lot from the original Budokai series. I have no idea how this game compares to its forebears, so I'll judge it on its standalone quality.

Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 confounds at every turn. It is frustrating and unforgiving in a way that makes the player unsure if he sucks because he's inexperienced or if the game is inherently flawed. Exemplifying every single ridiculous anime cliché in the book, Budokai Tenkaichi 3 laughs in the face of the serious reviewer, saying "Go ahead, take me seriously."

Budokai Tenkaichi, which roughly translates to "Strongest Under the Heavens Martial Arts Tournament" captures the feel of the cartoon exactly, with seizure-inducing speed, cornball dialogue, and outrageously grandiose battle scenes. The swooping camera, responsive remote gestures and intricate animations make for an intensely cinematic experience. This is the closest that gamers have come to being inside a cartoon, so far, anyway.

The Budokai series is unlike any fighter you've ever played. The game's sense of space is the most dramatic innovation to the fighting genre since Super Smash Bros. introduced 4-player matches. You're not limited to a 2D plane, and let's be honest, even 3D fighters like Tekken and Soul Caliber essentially take place on a 2D plane. You and your antagonist arc corkscrew and plummet across vast landscapes in what plays like a ballet of combat. It is the Yngwie Malmsteen of fighters. Its excess knows no limits. From the moment you load the game, it hits you full bore, and pummels your senses until you just want to take a nap or whip your controller across the room -- whichever comes first.

Um, ouch?

By the same token, Budokai Tenkaichi 3's tragic flaw is its sheer "bigness". Never before has there been better argument for brevity in game design. The 161 playable characters are a nice treat for obsessive fans, but wouldn't it have been better to feature a fraction of that amount, giving each character more personality and a unique fighting style? At what point do the designers begin recycling the same character with a fresh coat of paint? The same goes for game modes, unlockables, and even title screens (well over a dozen, no joke). One has to keep track of five different status bars, a staggeringly complex combo system, and cutscene prompts. The "more is more" philosophy is applied throughout, which makes sense when you consider that the game is based on an anime consisting of people flying around and grunting at each other...for hours.

The basic combat elements are a mixed bag. Taking a cue from Super Smash Bros., it's a simplistic, largely two-button affair. However, button-mashing will get you nowhere. It takes a long time to get the hang of it, but the aforementioned dance of offense, defence, and transportation is a surprisingly complex skill. Once mastered, new levels of gameplay are unearthed and the game becomes infinitely less frustrating. Breaking up this frenetic action is Ki-charging. Ki is energy that you can either shoot at your adversary in fiery orbs or charge up for earth-shaking attacks. While these attacks are fun to watch at first, pausing the action to charge up not only leaves you open to attacks, but totally kills your buzz.

The 9th Rule of Fight Club: No crying!

The "Dragon History" mode allows players to relive famous battles from the cartoons. The fights are peppered with player-initiated cutscenes that pad out the story. Infuriatingly, you'll fight with everything you've got, initiate the cut-scene, and then find out that you were never intended to really win in the first place. Unless you already know the plot from the anime, you never know if you're wasting your time fighting. Your enemy may call in a fresh replacement, change forms (with a new health bar), or run away. It's impossible to strategize because your enemy's health bar is no indication of how much more damage he can take. Why even include it?

The game's online element, probably its main selling point over previous iterations, is universally disappointing. The problem is, the gameplay is unforgivably laggy. Budokai Tenkaichi 3's fun is defined by speed, so anything but a smooth connection renders the game nearly unplayable. Secondly, when the game stutters, it throws off your combos, leaving you flailing around with your Wii Remote, trying to get the sensor bar to register your embarrassing gesticulations.

An awesome game is buried in this miasma of loose ends and superfluous content. If the developers had parsed the game down by a few dozen modes, levels, and characters, refining their craft rather than cramming it full of fluff, this would be a landmark title. Sanding down the game's rough edges should have taken place across the first two titles in the franchise; the lack of such refinement is, at this point, inexcusable.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.