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“Dragon Ball Origins 2″


The first Dragon Ball DS saw its release in Japan on 18 September 2008. Unlike the prior DS fare such as the card-based battles in Harukanaru Gokū Densetsu and the one-on-one fighting in Bukū Ressen, it was an action-adventure game not unlike a standard Zelda outing. Goku had to push rocks into crevices in order to make his way across the map, slash bears and pigs with his Nyoibō, and rough it up with boss characters.

The game’s dead-on marketing campaign focused on adults and their fond memories of little Goku now being passed on to their own children (all singing a choral version of the TV series’ opening theme). With the re-release of the manga in its kanzenban form and (the then still un-announced) Kai on the horizon, it seemed to speak directly to its audience with impeccable precision.

Unfortunately, it did not particularly translate over into sales. It had a strong-enough debut (selling just over 72,000 copies in its first week), but ultimately went on to sell only just over 200,000 copies in his homeland.

North America received the game from Atari as Dragon Ball Origins about two months later on 04 November 2008, with the rest of the world also receiving their respective versions over the next month. Other than some audio dubbing into English (and the obvious text translations), the game was near-identical to its original Japanese release. In January 2009, the game was recalled in Australia due to some of the game’s content not quite matching up with its local rating (“PG”). Apparently the self-censoring with the DS’ screen separation did not do a good enough job for Australia…!

We gave the first game some initial thoughts back on Episode #0151 of the podcast here at Daizenshuu EX. As charming as the game was, we had a lot of issues with it — namely its touch-only controls. There were far too many instances where some button controls would have worked better, or at least allowed for a little more comfort. Furthermore, the “wash-rinse-repeat” cycle of smashing up some enemies, solving a very simple puzzle, and fighting the level’s boss got to be a little too repetitive. To be frank, it got real old real fast.

With the announcement that the game’s follow-up (Dragon Ball DS 2: Totsugeki! Red Ribbon Gun / Dragon Ball DS 2: Charge! Red Ribbon Army) would include optional touch and button controls, it seemed that developer Game Republic was paying attention to the international commentary on the first game. Would this be a sequel that fixed everything about the first game and present us with everything we had hoped for?

Quick Details:

ASIN: B003BE6OZW
Developer: Game Republic
Publisher: Namco-Bandai
Release Date: 22 June 2010
MSRP: $29.99
Platforms: Nintendo DS

Review of this game was made possible through a copy provided by Namco-Bandai. If you are interested in contributing to the site, please visit our “Donate” page or contact us directly.

Review By: Mike LaBrie (VegettoEX)

So how about that there video game…?

How We Gamed:

Origins 2 was played in its entirety on a Nintendo DS Lite.

As with any North American release of a Dragon Ball game, the first thing I do is hop over into the options to switch the language track to Japanese. Most DS releases (Supersonic Warriors 2, Harukanaru Densetsu, and the prior Dragon Ball Origins) have been English-dubbed-only; dual-language selections have been limited in the handheld space to the Shin Budokai games on the PSP. Unlike their console brethren, however, the handheld games typically have little more than standard grunts and signature-attack yells which can be more easily ignored by the player. Whereas Attack of the Saiyans featured the Chris Sabat-run OkraTron 5000 credits upon starting the game and yet contained only the original Japanese voice cast, Origins 2 exclusively features the FUNimation voice cast with no selectable options.

Similar to Attack of the Saiyans which had been out for so long in Japan with no American announcement in sight, I actually did not import the game ahead of time. It never completely fell off my radar, and I felt as if I kept up with the game as it headed our way more than I did with Attack of the Saiyans. I was well aware of the control enhancements, multiplayer modes, additional playable characters, etc. I would get moderately excited when viewing a trailer, but that excitement would almost instantaneously wane when I clicked away to something else.

It had been a good six months since I last played and reviewed a video game for the franchise, which feels like eons compared to the last quarter of each year with at least three games all crammed in together. Origins 2 is really the one to start off the Dragon Ball game season for 2010, so the impression that it leaves has the potential to sour or engage any further interest.

As with most DS games, the majority of time spent with the game was either at home on the couch, on the train to and from work, and a little bit here and there on lunch breaks. It worked perfectly well in all of these situations. With unlimited time at home, one can charge through various missions and go on longer adventures. With shorter commuting and break timeframes, most of the levels still work well in this timeframe.

From start to main story completion, approximately 12 hours were put into the game. Some of that included playing previously-completed levels for extra in-game cash, or replaying levels (and bosses) after an unfortunate series of deaths. It is unlikely that a player will play straight through without being forced (or at least wanting) to back-track just a little bit, if only for the secret treasure chests. After completing the story mode, another couple hours were dedicated to bonus, unlockable stages and extra modes.

Presentation:

Origins 2 retains the exaggerated, bright, and colorful look of its predecessor. It relies heavily on close-ups on characters during story elements and cut-scenes, all of which have horrendous textures… but it somehow works with the style of the game and gives it an incredible amount of charm. Even when you are looking at Goku and company’s flat faces and blocky features, you cannot help but smile.

In actual game play the character models feel much more appropriately scaled to their surroundings. They are easy to see and keep track of against the background. Game play takes place on the bottom screen only, though your view extends up and through to the top screen, allowing you to see incoming attacks, hidden areas, and more. Early on in the game we found it to run very smoothly, but later stages will momentarily grind to a halt in the frame-rate department when multiple enemies and projectiles appear on screen. It does not chug along for more than a moment, but you will definitely notice it when it happens.

On rare occasion, actual “cut-scenes” will play with spoken dialogue (along with subtitles at the bottom of the screen). Something about them look “off” compared to the general game play experience. Perhaps they are actually movie clips pre-rendered with the game engine, or just directed better due to their segmented and non-interactive nature; regardless, you will probably do a quick double-take when they pop up, but like me will just move on and forget about them.

After completing any given stage, the player is returned to the main menu for their save file. It is a cluttered area, though everything is available at the touch of the screen or press of a button.

Music in Origins 2 has the potential to drive you bonkers. There are limited compositions to begin with (the music played for every single “wacky” scene is the best example), and what few there are seem to loop without enough length and range to the tracks. Running around the beach area was one area of particular audio torture.

Character dialogue during general game play is limited to Goku’s battle cries (“Ka – me – ha – me – ha!” and “Flying Nimbus!”), though the more elaborate cut-scenes tend to have richer amounts of (very stilted) dialogue. Having limited familiarity with FUNimation’s dub of the first TV series, I was certainly confused to hear the seemingly-random and overly-exaggerated accents from the Red Ribbon Army. What reason is there for White to have a Russian accent? Is it just another case of surface-level, quick-glance casting? The series is cartoony enough as it is, and when a story arc like the Red Ribbon Army arc starts to move the series forward by dealing with death in a more mature fashion, these dubbing choices seem counter-productive. Between the obnoxious music and voice work, you may want to plug in some headphones to your alternate musical score of choice.

For what it is worth, the ending credits list Stephanie Nadolny and Tiffany Vollmer for the roles of Goku and Bulma, respectively — Nadolny’s Gohan has been replaced by Colleen Clinkenbeard and Vollmer’s Bulma by Monica Rial in FUNimation’s recent English dub of Dragon Ball (Z) Kai.

Story wise, Origins 2 runs from the beginning of the Red Ribbon Army story arc (with Goku’s search for the four-star ball), up through the Uranai Baba arc and collecting the last Dragon Ball from Pilaf (along with the resurrection of Bora). This is a portion of the story that rarely receives attention in video game fashion (comparatively speaking), other than the occasional inclusion of characters like T’ao Paipai in fighting games like Sparking! METEOR. What is significantly working against this game, however, is that we just had a game that covered this story arc less than a year ago: Tenka’ichi Dai-bōken / Revenge of King Piccolo. While certainly having their own distinct play styles, the two are close enough (beat-‘em-up roaming style with boss encounters, though the Wii game focused a little more heavily on platforming) that if you played one, the other may be a very tough sell.

Gameplay:

It is the game play, whether it is similar to last year’s Wii game or otherwise, that will solidify or destroy your interest in continuing the game. Whether you are a seasoned player or not, the game works against itself right from the get-go by throwing a ridiculous amount of button-press combinations and attack styles that it requires you to almost instantaneously remember and execute. Sure, you will be able to get through the first batch of wolves and even the boss character with the most basic of “Y, Y, X” button presses, but you will not move much further without your Zanzōken, slamming Nyoibō on the ground, etc.

It starts off intelligently enough: walk this path over here if you already know how to play, and walk this path over here if you want to learn how to play. The tutorial path wraps back around to where you started, so you can either progress from there or give it another go. The tutorial, however, is somehow both far too long and far too short. It is too long due to how slowly it covers each available attack, and too fast due to the ridiculous number of attacks it teaches you in a row. Before starting the game, I chose the button-only control scheme (from the available choices of button-only, stylus-only, and a combined scheme). The tutorial told me how to do both the button and stylus version of each, which I can understand the logic of… but seemed to tack-on the button scheme implementations of each attack almost as an after-though — the stylus-based explanation was drawn-out and detailed, while the button-based explanation was almost too brief.

If learning what feels like every attack Goku can do with his fists was not enough, the very next level introduces every attack Goku can do with his staff. It is overwhelming, and really encourages the player to just skip it all and figure it out on their own. Isn’t that fine, though? How many times as a kid did I toss the instruction book to the side and slam the NES cartridge into the system? As described on Episode #0224 of our podcast, however, this can lead to a situation where the player skips over a necessary mechanic, such as slamming the staff on the ground to break through to lower levels.

I slightly exaggerate about learning every single last ability of Goku’s early on in the game. You do learn new variations on attacks like a homing-kick, using Nyoibō almost like a pole-vault, and so on. These new techniques even allow you to reach previously-inaccessible locations in earlier stages, giving you a pretty good reason to go back and see what you might have missed. Even when earlier levels frustrated me, as I made Goku stronger, I felt like going back through an earlier level would be much easier and would actually provide a bit of a benefit — perhaps I would find another special scroll, a ridiculous amount of Zeni, etc.

Even when you get the hang of all of Goku’s abilities, though, he just is not that much fun to play as… and it is heartbreaking to say that. Wandering around non-branching levels, being occasionally segmented off to fight packs of near-identical enemies (this guy shoots, this guy punches), and watching it all culminate in a boss fight was novel back in the days of Final Fight and Streets of Rage… but the charm is lost once you get past the visuals here.

The game, much like its predecessor, desperately tries to mix things up with simple puzzles like moving a block to create a walkway, jumping across a bit, or circling around to release an exit switch, but it is almost all far too banal to be even the slightest bit engaging until the very last few levels.

We spoke about this a bit when we gave our initial thoughts on the first game back on Episode #0151 of the podcast — the games seem like they want to bridge the gap between an old-school “beat-‘em-up” and light Zelda fare. While it is probably an unfair comparison to make with a yearly product like this versus any given Zelda game with its years of development, it is all too true that Nintendo’s franchise just does it better. One of the best aspects of its game design is the slow divulging of game play mechanics and items that allow the player to feel empowered and yet not overwhelmed… which is everything that Origins 2 does wrong.

Even when you feel like you have all of Goku’s abilities under your control and mastery, there is little incentive to do anything other than button-mash your way through fights. Sure, zip-zapping around is going to help a whole lot (and is key to taking down the group of Murasaki without taking much damage at all), but you just do not need to for so much of the game. What does it matter if I can either swing my staff in front of me to deflect, or teleport around, or slam the ground to stun them… when more often than not, a few punches will suffice?

Level design is a huge issue in Origins 2. To be more accurate, the levels themselves are designed (for the most part) intelligently with hidden items accessible yet sneakily placed off the beaten path, all the meanwhile giving the player enough information about where to go and how to get there. It is more the ancillary stuff surrounding the level design where it falls apart. This is no more apparent than with save points — why is it that I can save right before entering the door to fight the pirate robot, but I had to replay an entire level when I lost in a boss fight against Buyon? Later levels seem to even this out a little bit with a little more regularity to save spots right before the giant arrow that indicates a boss battle in the next room, but you will certainly run into a case where you throw your hands up in the air when you realize you have to replay an entire level.

The length of the levels themselves ramp up in time exponentially far too early in the game — early levels seem to last no longer than 10 minutes, when all of a sudden 3-1 doubles that, and then 3-2 doubles that. It is around this point that you can expect levels to last you half an hour on average, though the mix of cut-scenes and the occasional “mini-game”-esque level portion (such as climbing Karin’s Tower) leaves you with absolutely no accurate sense of how much time has passed.

There are an ample number of items at Goku’s disposal to help him get through the more difficult fights. By collecting Zeni along the way from things like hidden chests and defeated enemies, you can purchase a bun to restore a little bit of health, a ramen bowl to restore a larger amount of health, and so on and so forth. Careful play will allow you to get pretty far without the need for these items, but it is always nice to have a couple sitting around just in case. They can be used at any time during a fight, but just be sure you do not take that one last hit to result in your death before you get a chance to use your items! If you are not a careful item user, you may want to keep a Senzu on hand. I personally found that items were only useful in the very beginning and very end of the game — for the vast majority of the middle of the game, I was skilled enough and the enemies were weak and predictable enough that I simply did not need to heal.

Finding hidden “Dragon Scales” will allow you to increase the gauge of Goku’s health meter, strength, and skill levels. These items alone are not enough to actually level them up, though; you are rewarded with “Training Points” upon the completion of each level (and occasionally via purple orbs from defeated enemies and rocks), which can be spread among the levels’ sliders to build them up.

These items and learned techniques are of no use to you, however, during some of the game’s most unexpected and worst scenarios. The game engine in Revenge of King Piccolo at least partially lent itself to one-on-one matches, and it was smart to keep the “Versus”-style matches mostly in the same vein as the rest of the game… just kicked up a notch. Origins 2, however, decides that it wants to be a straight-up, 2D fighter during certain boss battles… complete with floaty, unresponsive, entirely-new controls. One of the best levels in the game was finding the Dragon Ball (which Karin has tossed back down to the ground) within the temple — it felt like Goku had accidentally dropped himself into a Tomb Raider or Uncharted game by needing to knock boxes around, hit switches, and fight some rattlesnakes. Games in the franchise have done this before, sure… but for whatever reason, the atmosphere was just right here in this one level in this one game.

Unfortunately, the entire level ends with a side-view fight against a pterodactyl with the aforementioned entirely new control scheme. It is a fairly easy fight, which helps ease the pain…

… but then this battle style reappears in the fight against T’ao Paipai (and several other bosses later on). Fans who watched my live-streaming of Revenge of King Piccolo will remember my endless cursing and cry of delight upon finally defeating T’ao Paipai in that game — Origins 2 is just as terrible of a process, yet without the predictability of patterns from the enemy, with clunky controls, and probably with a lot of yelling from the player. It is just not fun.

On the subject of “not fun at all”, I hinted earlier at “mini-game”-esque level portions. Mix the unresponsive controls of the side-view battles with a Mario Party-styled “press X a bazillion times” game, and you have the climbing of Karin’s Tower in Origins 2. Goku’s health meter constantly depletes as he climbs up, giving you a sort of time limit for reaching the top. You can restore little bits of health by collecting the sporadic hearts along the way up the tower, or by doing a sort of dashing-jump through enemies. It is a cute idea, but it just is not fun. The fact that you have to do it again after collecting the Dragon Ball that Karin tossed to the ground just adds insult to injury.

I almost feel bad about providing a laundry list of the level types that Origins 2 does so poorly, but it feels that for every level that the game does well (Goku in the temple, Goku/Kuririn/Bulma all meeting up with each other in the pirate area), we get a level like Goku’s assault on Niko-chan’s spaceship in Penguin Village. The level itself is wonderfully laid out and it sure is fun to beat the snot out of a spaceship, but it just does so much wrong. Immediately before starting the level, Goku learns a variation on Arale’s kick which lets him home-in on enemies or objects for a combo and to reach far-off areas. Since the spaceship hovers in the air, one would assume that running up to the ledges which the level provides and using this new kick (which it just taught you) is the way to effectively take it down. Nope! Instead, Goku needs to use Nyoibō to reach from afar and knock it to the ground. Except on the parts of the level where the spaceship just hangs out on the ground by itself, anyway. Did I mention that it leaves to go to another, random part of the stage after a few hits, and you have to run off in search of it? Did I mention you only have five minutes to complete the level? It is just poor design choice after poor design choice, making another potentially-awesome level into an abysmal one.

It would be remiss of me to not mention the other playable characters. Shockingly enough, they all do indeed play differently, have their own unique attacks, and are pretty darn fun to use. Arale in particular is a blast — her absurd speed makes a mockery of Blue, which is definitely fun times (and somewhat reminiscent of her characteristics in Sparking! METEOR). Bulma is another blast to play as, and quite literally so. Bulma cannot physically attack, so her guns allow you to keep foes at a distance, while her controllable, robotic explosives let you cruise through levels and destroy obstacles without needing to put yourself in harm’s way. Kuririn has fast attacks, Hat-chan is slow but powerful, and Yamcha has a longer reach than everyone else. The unlockable bonus stages (with their cute stories) are a great addition, since it gives you extra opportunities to play as these non-Goku characters who are otherwise only briefly playable in the main story.

As the game’s story mode starts to come to a close, it begins to suffer in the same way as its Wii equivalent, Revenge of King Piccolo: it is just a series of boss battles with no real “stages” to speak of. To some degree, I can understand this — what else can you do with Uranai Baba’s five fighters? At the same time, games like Attack of the Saiyans, while perhaps in a better position to do so due to their more traditional RPG nature, are able to pull engaging and playable stories around what would otherwise just be a similar series of fights. To make matters worse, the expected cut-scenes that introduce each new chapter are downgraded to a series of still-shots with the game engine. It was almost as if the game was “done” with the defeat of Black, but the story still needs to be wrapped up with the Uranai Baba material and collecting that last Dragon Ball. Thankfully, the first chapter of the last “world” of stages is a pretty interesting quasi-maze with quicksand and tornado teleportation devices, forcing you to check each and every single last crevice of the level. This particular level took me about thirty minutes to complete, which was very different coming off a series of one-on-one battles against boss characters. It was a welcome change-up, so do not misunderstand — it just felt very “tacked-on”, despite being so well-designed. In fact, the final “world” of stages in the story mode as a complete whole is a very satisfying and incredibly challenging end to the game. It feels much more “fair” than some of the earlier boss fights, though you may toss your DS to the ground in frustration with the Mega Man-esque disappearing platforms of 8-2. Consider yourself warned!

The additional functionalities of the DS are only put to moderate use with Origins 2. The top screen is always visible with an expanded survey of the area, but all action takes place on the bottom screen (unless firing ki blasts into the distance, such as at an enemy on a far-off bridge). The touch-screen controls can be entirely ignored with the button-only control scheme, but the choice is yours.

The Extra Stuff:

Heavily hyped from the get-go in Japan was the inclusion of one of the earliest games for the franchise ever made, Shenron no Nazo for the Famicom, as a bonus:

Many fans may be surprised to know that this game was actually released in North America by Bandai back in 1986 under the title of Dragon Power. Certain elements were changed and censored (such as panties being turned into hamburgers), but it truly was Dragon Ball in video game form a full eleven years before we saw the next one: Final Bout on the original PlayStation.

Sadly, no version (Japanese or censored English) appears to be included on the international release of Origins 2.

Your only real replay value will come from attempting to “A”- and “S”-rank each mission (including the extra, unlockable ones) and level up all characters to their peak. As mentioned before, all of Goku’s later techniques provide you with the tools you need to reach previously-inaccessible chests in earlier levels, and you will feel the itch to go after them.

The “Survival Tower” gives you an opportunity either by yourself or with a friend (via multi-card play) to take on a series of bosses from the game. It starts out easy enough with you fighting one boss at a time, but you will quickly realize just how different it can be. In addition to throwing multiple boss characters at you simultaneously, the game will not wait around for you to perform attacks like the Kamehameha as it did in the standard story mode — everything is in “real time”, for lack of a better phrase, so practice those exact timings for busting out with full-powered super attacks at the drop of a hat. Breaking boxes that randomly drop around the edges of the stage will provide you with hearts and power-ups, as well as the occasional Dragon Ball. Collecting all seven within a single fight will summon Shenlong to grant you a wish from a revolving wheel, such as even further increased power.

Due to the game requiring two copies of the game for cooperative play, I was unable to test multiplayer for review purposes. If “Survival Tower” seems as fun as it would be with more than one person, I can only imagine just how incredible of an adventure a story mode could be in a game like this with full cooperative play. With everything polished even further, that might finally be the killer game we are all still waiting for. Unfortunately, all we have are hints of it here.

You will also unlock various “figures” throughout your adventure (either by finding them in chests or by completing levels, sometimes needing to do so several times over with various grades). These figures can be arranged in virtual dioramas when collected in the right categories, which makes for a fun diversion.

Final Thoughts:

Since starting up the “Manga Review of Awesomeness” segment of our weekly podcast, I have rediscovered how much I actually enjoy the Red Ribbon Army story arc. The characters are unbelievably endearing, and Goku is forced to deal with a monstrosity beyond that of just a single opponent, and one not bound by the rules of an organized tournament. It has humor that is perfectly balanced with down-to-earth honesty. Since we so rarely get to play through this portion of the story (having Z-era games constantly shoved down our throat), even having played a similar game just last year was not enough to destroy my interest in this new game.

Origins 2 has a lot more to offer in the later levels than one might think after just the first couple hours of play. Once the additional characters and techniques are thrown into the mix, it really opens itself up a little more. While actually in the process of playing the game, it can get incredibly frustrating, and particularly with the side-view, one-on-one battles. In retrospect, it feels like I did have a fun time playing the game… which is a very strange contradiction, but I cannot deny how it is I feel. Perhaps the ends justify the means with this game…?

Completionists will get their money’s worth for the $30 retail price, but those who do not care about collecting every single last figure and plowing through “Survival Tower” may want to look for a $20 sale or price drop considering the game’s faults and annoyances (sluggish boss fights in the latter half, disparate level design and challenge consistency, etc.).

As of this review’s publication, there is still a brief demo for the game available on the Wii’s “Nintendo Channel”. It is a decent representation of how the game plays, but with an excessive amount of tutorial dialogue… so maybe it is not all that different from the final product…?

Dragon Ball DS 2 / Origins 2 was developed by Game Republic and published by Namco-Bandai, released in North America on 22 June 2010. MSRP $29.99. Standard story was completed in approximately 12 hours. Died more times than I would care to admit and cursed very loudly. 58% of treasure chests found and 16% of figures obtained; Goku’s Heart +6, Skill +7, Health +7 by review publication. Completed several of the bonus, unlockable stages.

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