What it is
Recently I had an urge to go back and play a game from my childhood: Dragon Ball Z: Buu’s Fury for the Game Boy Advance. This game is based on last major story arch of the infamous anime that roared through the US in the late 90’s and early 00’s, which revolves around the evil monstrosity known as Buu. The game is a top-down ARPG wherein you control 5 different characters over the course of the game’s story: Goku- the series’ protagonist and previous two installments’ namesake– Gohan and Goten– Goku’s ~17 and 7 year-old son respectively– Vegeta– Goku’s best frenemy– and Trunks– Vegeta’s 8 year-old son.
When reviewing this game, I feel that it is significant to take into account some historical context. Between May 14, 2002, and September 14, 2004, there were 3 games released within the Legacy of Goku series, Buu’s Fury being the last of these, in little over 3 ½ years. Shipping 3 games in such a short time frame is no small feat and it would have been all too easy to not revise anything from one game to the next; however, each of the games in this series had large gains concerning gameplay features and, to a lesser extent, usability over the prior game in the series and that is something that is all too respectable, especially at a time when licensed games were being made so fast that their quality was almost always infamously horrible cash grabs. All of this being put aside, let’s commence with the nitty-gritty of tearing apart one of my childhood favorites.
Concerning the story of the game, you get what you might expect from a Dragon Ball Z storyline. If you are looking for some award-winning writing you are not going to get it here. I can not speak for how well the game specifically lines up with the show, but I can say that it is generally pretty consistent. There are some areas though where the game suffers from being a GBA game. The best example of this is relatively early in the game, when you are given control of Videl, a completely normal and powerless teenage girl, and tasked with beating up this huge hulking monster. After smashing the A button a few times you make short work of this monstrosity. Then a few lines of dialogue pop up from the announcer saying that while you won that you are disqualified for excessive force. In the game there is no way to understand what happened. There is no way for you to actually overkill him so you are not at fault and when he gets back up you have no idea why it is so shocking. However, it turns out that in the anime Videl kicked this guy so hard that his head spun 180 degrees. Without this context in the game everything in the whole scene comes off as confusing, but with it the moment suddenly regained its meaning.
On the other end of the spectrum, this game did a good job of lending some moments their awe factor. One of my personal favorite sections of the game is found while playing as Trunks/Goten as they search for the dragon balls. There is something that is much more fun and magical about actually experiencing the search for the dragon balls yourself as opposed to just watching characters gather them on TV. In fact, this active role was also displayed well in Videl’s fight. It is really awesome that they gave you a character for a single fight just to allow you to experience that moment; that is good design.
All of this being said, the writers and designers did a good job of separating the wheat from the chaff and creating a game story that was cohesive along a series of locations. Everything fits together into one, logical and sensible bundle and plays out pretty nicely. This is to say that DBZ as source material does not always offer huge diversity in locations, particularly since time constraints require you to stick to the core fights and plot points. The game takes you to several unique and interesting locales along the way, especially during the aforementioned journey to find the dragon balls partaken by Trunks and Goten halfway through the game during which time you visit an ancient, mummy infested pyramid; a hidden trove of ninjas based out of an old, dilapidated fortress; and a flying fortress which very much represents the very opposite side of the technological spectrum. Despite some interesting places, the game feels like it could have used some more interesting mechanics to make it really come alive and differentiate locales from one another.
I would also like to give a shout out to a very solid soundtrack. The whole Legacy of Goku series took the anime’s OST, grabbed the most memorable melodies and tracks, and made them into a great soundtrack despite the restrictions of the Game Boy Advance.
This game brings back the simple, yet enjoyable gameplay of the previous installment and improves upon it in many regards. For instance, your energy based attacks now get their own levels, so once you reach a certain milestone level your energy attack levels up. Some of these allow for very simple things, like a bigger, more powerful energy wave, but some of them drastically increase the functionality of a power, like allowing Goku’s Instant Transmission to hit up to 3 targets and increasing the length of Trunks’ fire kamehameha, which you can freely control thereby adding significantly more value to his attack. Similarly, the game improved the way that going into Super Saiyan form worked so that it no longer drains from your primary energy source, instead creating a new energy source of its own that, when completely drained, causes you to revert to normal.
One final positive thing before I start railing against the game: it has some very nice and user friendly usability options. My personal favorite is that when you switch characters you can easily switch equipment from one character to the next merely by clicking on the item in the equip screen and selecting to unequip it from one person in order to requip to this person.
The bad is bad and it makes this game hard to enjoy past the intro. Most of the individual problems all contribute to one larger issue: the game is way too easy. At its base what it boils down to is that your character’s stats are too high. When you level up, you get 3 stat points that you can place into one of 3 categories: Strength– which increases melee damage– Power– which increases energy attacks’ power– and Endurance– which decreases the amount of damage you take from enemies. (Note: You cannot have more points in any single category than your current level.) Putting one stat point into any category makes a noted effect, especially concerning Str. The game also has an insane number of levels; the max level is 200 for each of 5 characters. You are constantly leveling up because of the relatively short length of the game and the insane number of levels. Ensuring that you have max strength alone makes it to where you can single hit most enemies that are your level. For great spans of time I would have 50+ unused stat points because the game was already easy without using those stat points. To make matters worse, when you level up all your HP and EP (Energy Points) are restored, meaning even if you get in a tough situation, you are probably going to level up pretty soon anyway, so there are no real worries. There is also an item in the game, which you can equip at level 100, which allows you to get 4 stat points upon level up instead of 3, which makes you all that more overpowered. The addition of equipment in this game is completely undermined by the fact that you can blow past enemies without using it. Because of that the need to buy items and equipment is gone, which in turn makes money completely worthless.
On top of this, you can basically stay in super saiyan all the time because of how fast it recovers and as you might guess super saiyan makes you more powerful and speedy. All of these things then combined to make the newly added blocking basically worthless in this game. It honestly felt like they created this game to be balanced like its prequel and then decided to add in the ability to assign stat points and gain equipment along the way and never bothered rebalancing. Which is honestly really sad because DBZ:LoG2 is better than this game solely because of the polish in the balancing of the game and not because of the polish in the gameplay.
There are also a few other, problems. Bosses continued the tradition of being the worst part of the Legacy of Goku series despite being the best part of the anime and the sole thing that most of the other games ever even concentrate on. And there were times where dialogue seemed to have been written starting from 6 dialogue blurbs in, but this was ultimately just a minor nuisance.
The Verdict: 07/10
At the end of the day I would have a hard time recommending this game to someone that is not a DBZ fan just because of the balancing issues. The game is fun, responsive and mostly intuitive (although I think that they could have streamlined some of the controls concerning switching between powers) which is why it really sucks that poor balance is what made it fall flat. You might argue that this game was easy because of the fact that it was made for kids, but that certainly did not stop the previous two games from being hard. If you just want a solid, fun ARPG then there are much better offerings out there, including the predecessor to this game: Dragon Ball Z: Legacy of Goku 2. That being said, if you just want a mindless romp, or don’t mind limiting your expenditure of stat points, then I think you will have a hell of a time with this game.