Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dragon Ball Z: Legacy of Goku 1 Review

Because….you know….Christmas and uh….New Year and everything. That’s exactly why.

I let my friend borrow my DS to play Phoenix Wright, so I’m back to my Gameboy Advance SP for a while. I actually got it to play old Gameboy Zelda games and if I ever buy a 3DS the SP will play both my Gameboy and GBA games. Plus the original games are probably cheaper than 3DS Virtual Console.
So now I’m digging into my little collection of old handheld games and that brings me to Dragon Ball Z Legacy of Goku 1 and 2. It was real nice of them to release both on the same cartridge. And I never thought I’d say this but this was actually a problem. In short, Legacy of Goku 1 is terrible but number 2 is great. And when you have both on the same cartridge you feel like you need to beat the first one before you move onto the second. I mean, you wouldn’t play .Hack Part 4 Quarantine unless you’ve played the first 3.
Anyway, Legacy of Goku 1. It’s a very short game. And the reason it’s very short is because you only play as Goku from Raditz to Frieza and the destruction of Namek. Now, if a game is called Legacy of Goku you of course expect to play Goku but if you think about it from the perspective of the show he isn’t omnipresent in every fight. The DBZ formula is an enemy rises up somewhere, and the Z Warriors are the first response. Goku’s not there because he’s still recovering from the last epic battle. Whenever Goku’s the first response it doesn’t go well for him at all. There are 2 cases like this. Raditz, when Goku gets killed. And Androids 19 and 20. There Goku gets heart disease and slowly begins to die. Goku usually shows up late in a saga. Everyone fights Nappa while Goku recovers from death. Goku shows up, wins, and fights Vegeta. Everyone goes to Namek, fighting Zarbon, Dodoria, and the Ginyu Force while Goku recovers from Vegeta. He shows up and finishes off the Ginyu force. Everyone fights Frieza’s first 3 forms while Goku recovers from Ginyu. He only shows up for Frieza’s final form. And then he never even makes it to Garlic Jr. And so forth.
My point is Goku’s ideally the finishing move. There is a lot of fighting in DBZ with everyone else. As far as this game has decided to go through, he fights Raditz, Nappa, Vegeta, 4 members of the Ginyu Force (in rapid succession so that counts only as 1 fight), and Frieza. So if you’re only playing Goku, that’s only 5 battles.
So for extra padding, they added levels in between fights. Long, drawn out, grinding areas filled with wolves, dinosaurs, and minions. And here you realize the biggest problem with the game in stunning detail: combat is broken beyond anything reasonable.
The underlying issue is Goku has no defense.  If anything hits you 4 or 5 times you and die and go to the last point you saved. Remember how in the show whenever a wolf clawed at Goku’s arm five times he keeled over and died? Of course you don’t. The boss fights are hardly any better. Very long and drawn out fights where your only chance of survival is avoiding their attacks rather than being tough enough to endure some of them. You have all 3 attacks by the time you get to Nappa. A regular ki blast, Solar Flare, and Kamehameha. The latter of these is only really useful if you’re taking on a large group of enemies, which is no help because if you are fighting more than 3 you have no chance of survival.
When you’re leveling up, Solar Flare is your salvation. If you watch the show you know it’s a blinding flash to anyone with open eyes. In this game it basically stops time, regardless of what your opponent is doing. It works instantly and you can get out if someone is chasing you. Very low defense, easily killable, and can stop time? This isn’t the Legacy of Goku. This is the Legacy of Guldo! All energy attacks can be charged up and blasted for more power and you recover energy over time. There’s also flying, but it’s never really used.
You’re probably wondering why I’m not talking about physical attacks. Well, they’re virtually useless because no matter how many times you hit them, the monsters will always kill you faster. What’s worse is when an enemy is fighting you their model goes over Goku’s and during this no physical attack can hurt them because Goku hits the person in front of his model and can’t hit himself when an enemy is occupying the same space as him. Shouldn’t programmers have caught this in the debugging process they never bothered to do?
And the enemy AI is just as broken, which makes it even more insulting when they kill you. They’re running around frantically for absolutely no reason and can’t even understand the environments around them. If you fight them and run away they sometimes don’t follow you and just spastically run about trying to figure out where you went. There are even times where they’ll just stand still while you’re shooting them.
The graphics are…fine, I guess. Occasionally they’ll show a still photo from the show. The intro to the game is the same as the classic Rock the Dragon, just with bad video quality and….music that isn’t Rock the Dragon. The music doesn’t really stand out as anything special and sometimes is annoying, especially if you’re stuck in the same area for a while.
Speaking of which, one level sticks out: Porunga’s Temple. At least I think that’s what it is, since none of the levels are labeled. It’s a maze of teleportation pads with enemies and statues with Nameks holding stone Dragon Balls. I hated this place, especially with the invisible corridors leading to one of the artifacts. You have to gather 3 of them and give them to the Guru statue to get to the Ginyu force.
There is an unusual attention to detail sometimes, especially in dialogue. For example, when you show up to Nappa, Krillin tells you about everything that happened and the friends that died, setting up the entire reason they went to Namek. Sometimes the attention to detail backfires and becomes unnecessary, like “and suddenly Vegeta becomes a giant monkey! Then a fat ninja cuts off his tail and he’s normal. Now Gohan is a giant monkey!” and sometimes they don’t explain it like Gohan going normal again without Vegeta cutting off his tail. But perhaps that’s also padding, something more evident when they include incredibly obscure characters like Princess Snake as a miniboss or not include characters killed before Goku’s arrival like Zarbon, Dodoria, and Guldo.
And other times the story is just outright wrong. The Ginyu Force has no special powers and there is no body change to injure Goku and therefore no need for the rejuvenation chamber (but they include it anyway to show a reason for Goku showing up after everyone’s fought Frieza for several episodes). And for extra padding Goku fights all 4 of Frieza’s forms and they don’t even bother with the part where Frieza has 100% power or gets cut in half. And actually they don’t give Frieza any powers except the standard blast attack. Also, everyone but Krillin dies off screen, namely Piccolo and Vegeta. You never even see Piccolo on Namek. But you do fight Princess Snake on Snake Way. And Gregory and Bubbles. And they show Yajirobe cutting off Vegeta’s tail. Barely mention his name but he did it. Kami? Mentioned but only seen once. Also we do not ever see the Namekian dragon summoned, the entire reason they went to Namek. But we do have an entire level dedicated to when Goku fell into HFIL and had to get out. So bizarre in their selection of continuity they keep, yet making so much sense when you realize they’re only including parts with Goku in it.
            Now what kind of idiot points out plotholes in a throwaway Dragon Ball Z video game when the actual show itself has a completely bonkers story as it is? Me, that’s who! Because this game totally missed the point of why Goku’s cool, his “legacy” if you will. Now ignoring all character development and depth, ignoring Bardock’s visions of seeing Goku be the one who finally takes down a tyrant that enslaved millions and killed off their entire race, ignoring the massive buildup the entire trip to Namek gave to fighting Frieza that the game didn’t, and ignoring all the cool story arcs and fights they left out, let’s just discuss him from an action hero standpoint.
In that sense, what makes Goku cool is that the show clearly shows you that he can fight the villains no one else can. That’s why everyone goes first before him; it’s to show how undefeatable the villains seem to set up Goku’s victory. It also shows us some interesting stories when other good guys go up against insurmountable odds. Like when Piccolo sacrificed himself to save Gohan from Nappa. Remember, Piccolo was the ultimate baddie of the original Dragon Ball show and now he’s laying down his life to save the son of his nemesis. Or the parts where Vegeta starts to go rogue against his former allies on Namek and they realize how much his battles on Earth changed him. Also unlike this game, the show depicts how tough fighting the villains no one else can beat is for Goku. Before he turned Super Saiyan, Frieza was kicking his ass in the show. That adds tension, makes you wonder how he’ll win, not if he’ll win. In this game you can’t see Goku get hurt beyond his mere health bar. Goku is cool because he has a good heart, fights for his friends, protects the innocent, and can defeat bad guys tough enough to destroy entire planets by meeting them on the same playing field. He said it himself in Wrath of the Dragon “If I don’t, who will?” Goku’s a cool action hero because he has a very simple, down-to-earth personality and can fight at ridiculous power levels but never becomes a heartless warrior. And this game does not convey even that.
Legacy of Goku is a failure. While I see some effort in padding and some story accuracy it’s not nearly enough to compensate for what they left out and extend the gameplay. Just because a TV show or a movie is good doesn’t mean it translates well to a game, especially when the focus is on one character when the show is about an ensemble cast. What really killed it was the broken gameplay and how easily Goku could get hurt and killed. And every death feels really cheap. And we never really have a legacy that Goku left behind. He fought a bunch of aliens and the planet exploded, supposedly killing both him and the villain. But if you know DBZ you know it’s not the end. Because apparently it sold enough for a much better sequel. Next time, on Dragon Ball Z: Legacy of Goku 2.

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