“Raging Blast 2″
The annualization of the Dragon Ball franchise seems like it took its toll on last year’s flagship product: the first Raging Blast for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Despite an overhaul in graphics to the current generation of systems (running at 60 frames per second at 720p), a redesigned control scheme from the prior Sparking! series and an abysmally poor camera made the game more of a curiosity than a product with any longevity.
Developer Spike clearly took some of the criticism to heart and went back to the drawing board for this year’s Dragon Ball: Raging Blast 2, also available for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Beyond some camera work and yet another completely overhauled graphical system, the game includes a half-hour feature entitled Plan to Eradicate the Super Saiyans, itself a re-made version of the storyline from a series of products including a Nintendo Famicom game, a visual strategy guide, and two games for the Bandai Playdia.
Is this enough, though? Has Spike (and in turn, Namco-Bandai) burned out their fanbase with what could be considered the fifth iteration of the same game in as many years? Or is the attention to detail enough to not only keep around the old fans, but drag in some new ones?
|Release Date:||02 November 2010|
|Platforms:||PlayStation 3, Xbox 360|
Review By: Mike LaBrie (VegettoEX)
So how about that there video game…?
How We Gamed:
Raging Blast 2 came right at the heels of Tenkaichi Tag Team on the PSP, so those of us playing the games in immediate succession were going to feel pretty much at home stepping up to the consoles.
Over the last couple years, the American distributors have finally embraced the Japanese vocal theme songs, and the latest release is no different. “Battle of Omega“, performed by Hironobu Kageyama, starts the game off with a bang. Spike has been well-known for some incredibly awkward animation in prior intro sequences, but Raging Blast 2 finally takes it to new heights of excellence. Sure, it is the typical sequence of heroes facing off against baddies one-by-one, but little bits of attention to detail all throughout this opening really makes it shine. In particular, the shaky-cam effect at the very end as Hatchihyack blows everything away is quite striking.
Much like its predecessors on the consoles, Raging Blast 2 features an option to choose between the default English voices (all from FUNimation’s dub cast) and the original Japanese voice cast. While not branded as Kai in any territory, the voice casts do feature the respective Kai updates from both the original Japanese cast, as well as FUNimation’s English dub cast — notable inclusions on the Japanese side are Hikaru Midorikawa as Tenshinhan and Katsuyuki Konishi as Ginyu, while on the English side we have Colleen Clinkenbeard as Gohan (all the way up through the Cell Game era) as well as Chris Ayres as Freeza. As with the first game, the character profile areas actually switch the names of the voice actors depending on which language you are playing in, which is a fantastic touch.
Before jumping into any standard part of the game, as with most people who were even aware of it to begin with, I jumped straight into Plan to Eradicate the Super Saiyans, a half-hour feature presentation included right on the game disc. It is a condensed version of what was previously animated and released as a so-called “Official Visual Guide” for a Famicom game of a similar title, Plan to Eradicate the Saiyans (sans the “Super” variety, though they did indeed turn into Super Saiyans in the original story, as well). An entirely separate review could be dedicated to the feature, and in fact has been done right here on this site as a part of Episode #0238 of our podcast (listen below). In a nutshell, it is a vastly improved version of the original story, features adequate animation, a very serviceable musical score from newcomer Hiroshi Takaki, and simply watching the feature to the end unlocks Hatchihyack as a playable character in all modes.
I typically jump into a game’s included tutorial mode after firing it up and switching the language over to Japanese, but having just plowed through Tenkaichi Tag Team and prepping for this game, I decided to jump right into the action. It should be noted though, that like the first Raging Blast, many of the actions the game’s tutorial mode will ask of you are poorly described with no additional context. Rather than holding three buttons at once, you are really supposed to hold one and then press the other two. Have fun waiting for the computer teacher to re-charge up into whatever mode they must be in, as well. There is a lot of waiting in the tutorial, and far more than necessary.
Raging Blast 2 contains no traditional story mode (one that follows either the original or even a new story from beginning to end; Plan to Eradicate the Super Saiyans could be seen as “the story” for this game), so I began with the game’s main single-player draw: the new “Galaxy Mode“. Every single character in the game has their own series of interconnected dots representing fights, all with circumstances (mostly handicaps) to overcome. Characters like Goku have much larger Galaxy Mode arenas than characters like #14, but if you want to unlock everything there is to see, you will need to get at least a little taste of what every character has to offer. Even with no “story” to the series of fights, fans will pick up on very clever team-ups and opponents that roughly follow the arc of the chosen character.
Especially after slogging through the “Dragon Walker” story mode of Tenkaichi Tag Team, I was ready for a non-linear, non-traditional single-player “campaign”. While I cannot speak for any new fans still coming into the franchise, I have played the chronological story of the series far too many times — I simply did not need to see it in cut-scenes and predictable fights yet another year in a row. Galaxy Mode provided that somewhat refreshing take on the series of fights, landing somewhere in between a “story mode” and an old-school, arcade-style series of individual fights.
That being said, I found myself rather overwhelmed upon starting Galaxy Mode. I flipped back and forth between Goku and Vegeta and powered onward for a bit, but hit a brick wall with a fight that required me to, having zero health, defeat three opponents. It is entirely possible to do, but I quickly learned that items unlocked throughout Galaxy Mode would allow me to “seal off” these kinds of effects to make for an easier battle. I suppose you could ask why you need to go through the trouble of unlocking an item that will just negate the effect, anyway… and it is a fair question, since this amounts to nothing more than an artificial replay extension. As you will see, though, the amount of unlockables and how flashy the game treats them all tricks you into feeling as if you are making progress.
Still feeling that it was all a bit too much to rush into, I swapped over to the other of the big single-player options, “Battle Zone“, a much more straight-forward, quasi-arcade-style series of fights. The focus here is on stronger opponents in succession rather than gimmicky handicaps, and the branching paths up the fighter tree gives a little bit of replay value for each of the several “zones”. Additional items can be unlocked in Battle Zone, but are items such as aura color changes and a halo — ones that will not help out over in Galaxy Mode, and are mostly for aesthetic purposes.
Unlocking really is the name of the game in Raging Blast 2. Players will quickly realize that completing any objective what-so-ever will result in a parade of unlockable items, pictures from the show, as well as the occasional Dragon Ball and playable character. Galaxy Mode provides these in spades, and quite honestly, does a fantastic job of slyly prodding you along to play “just one more fight”. Being able to save your progress (represented as a percentage) of each character’s path, the constant flow of unlockables, and a new line being drawn to a new fight after each completed objective will undoubtedly make you hesitate when you go to put down the controller. It is a deluge of positive reinforcement, and with so many fights at your disposal (and better grades to get on each of them as you learn the intricacies of the game), you will return over and over again.
You will learn the intricacies of the game as you make your way through Galaxy Mode. Playing the characters roughly in order (top to bottom) seems to slowly beef up the challenge along the way, so you never feel completely out of your league… once you figure out how to customize your character, anyway.
The last of the three customization slots for each character and its forms (where applicable) are your method of destruction in the single-player modes. Completing missions upgrades the number of points available to assign items within, all of which cost different amounts based on their strengths. Equipping a character with an extra block of health, defense, a stronger super attack, and perhaps an item that “seals” one of the status effects is all you will need to fight your way to the end of any particular character’s Galaxy Mode stage, though you may find yourself swapping a couple items in and out along the way.
Character unlocks are predictable throughout the entirety of “Galaxy Mode”: winning the battle on the Dragon Radar spot unlocks both a Dragon Ball and a character. The unlocked character is usually connected in some way to the character you are actively using (using Vegeta results in Tarble, using Dr. Gero results in #13), though as you make your way through the list, the connections are far less obvious and done solely for the purpose of rounding out the cast — in fact, if you go “out of order” down the roster in Galaxy Mode, the unlocks become essentially random, filling out whomever is left for you to unlock. There are alternate methods of unlocking characters, but cruising through Galaxy Mode roughly in order is the most efficient way for those who wish to have the full roster available to them as quickly as possible. Beyond the in-game customization items, images from the series and movies can be unlocked for casual viewing, but I will hold off on those for now — see the “Extra Stuff” section for more detail.
Navigating the game as a whole is fast and effective. The first Raging Blast featured some great manga call-backs in its story mode, and prior games featured new 2D artwork, but Raging Blast 2 strips it down to a series of basic text menus. With so much content in other areas of the game, it is tough to find too much fault in this area.
As with the first game, online multiplayer runs at a steady 60 fps. PSN provided a smooth online experience for us, though players throughout the world are sure to issue a standard beat-down on you lest you charge onward into the land of super-experienced player, yourself.
From the very beginning, Spike and Namco-Bandai pimped Raging Blast 2 for its graphical overhaul compared to the first game. The first featured pages in Jump and one of the earliest trailers displayed the new graphics loud and proud. Is it truly a step “up”, though?
I found it more of a side-step than a chronological progression in “quality”. Whereas the first game opted for a super-sleek, cel-shaded, colorful aesthetic, Raging Blast 2 turns the shine-factor to overdrive with an almost metallic sheen applied to everyone. At times, it feels like a current-generation version of the first Dragon Ball Z / Budokai back on the PS2 (before its Gamecube and subsequent PS2 overhauls), where the characters truly feel as if they have a full three dimensions to them.
The resulting graphics certainly have their own look, but now suffer in other ways. Outlines around the character models break apart at the seams, leading to confusion about whether or not they wanted the characters to have a soft, black outline around them in the first place. There is just a strange shimmer around everything, enough to remind you that it is indeed an annualized franchise that could always use just a little more prep-time.
Spike could honestly revert back to a more traditional cel-shaded approach with a sequel and still call it a “step up” from this game, if they truly wanted to. The approaches are different enough that it would not feel like a lie.
That all being said, as with the first game, Raging Blast 2 moves like butter. Characters move with precise fluidity at an amazingly convincing level. The problem with them, as is always the case with Spike’s games and character models, is their rag-doll, plastic feeling. Fights conclude with a character in a standing animation yapping away with a dead look on their face, flourished with the occasional movement that looks ripped from the animation sequence of a 32-bit game. For how “real” the characters feel during their fights, they feel equally dead after their fights.
Also, what is up with that weird, phasing, awkward, scrolling close-up on an opponent’s defeated body before their teammate jumps in? For extra fun, deliver the final hit to your opponent and cause them to fall down the side of a cliff — their dead body will phase in and out, sputtering down the screen in colorful spasms until their teammate arrives on the scene.
One excellent option that was unfortunately lost in the transition from the first game was the ability to preview your character’s alternate costumes. Whereas in the first Raging Blast you would select your character and their in-game model would hover on the side of the screen, the character select screen of Raging Blast 2 only features a pre-rendered, 2D piece of character art that does not dynamically change with your choices.
Much like the first game, background landscapes feel barren and uninteresting. More areas from the series and movies are represented, and while it certainly is fun to put Vegeta up against #15 on the ice land from DBZ Movie 7… it still feels too empty and plain for what the Dragon World has to offer. Perhaps having more obstacles would get in the way of the camera (though there is still the ability to throw and slam your opponent into a wall), and it was decided that camera effectiveness was more important, in which case I certainly understand. Regardless, it all contributes to that “plastic” feeling of the game. The stages themselves feel even smaller than before, too, if that is even possible.
As noted earlier and similarly with its predecessor, Raging Blast 2 is a semi-Dragon Ball Kai audio experience on the voice performance side. The now-standard cast from Kai returns to voice all of their respective characters, even in cases where their original actor also returns to voice someone else — for example, Zarbon is played by his Kai replacement Hiroaki Miura, despite his original actor, Shō Hayami, returning to voice Sauza. A breakdown of some of the voice changes can be found below:
The general soundtrack in the first Raging Blast was largely forgettable, and this carries over into its sequel. In all honesty, beyond “Battle of Omega“, the only track that stands out as memorable is the Galaxy Mode music, which sounds like a toned-down cross between Rammstein and KMFDM. It is not just that you will spend so much time in Galaxy Mode that makes it memorable, either — it has a great progression and hook to it, and perfectly sets up the oncoming fights. As with the first game, with so many Kai elements being brought in via the voice cast, it certainly would have been nice to experiment with Kenji Yamamoto’s score for the TV series in the same way that Shunsuke Kikuchi’s score for Dragon Ball Z was used throughout the Sparking! series. Today’s consoles allow you to play your own music during play, and I experimented with all sorts of classic vocal and instrumental tunes from the franchise; it certainly heightened the mood to have these familiar tracks playing.
Since this article’s original publication, it was brought to our attention that, similar to releases of the Sparking! games, the original Japanese releases of the Raging Blast games do indeed feature the Shunsuke Kikuchi score from the DBZ TV series and movies during in-game battles. This is a huge loss for international versions of the games and its localization.
You better enjoy Hironobu Kageyama’s opening theme for Raging Blast 2, because “Battle of Omega” plays any time a character enters “Raging Soul” (a new status which negates special moves but enhances standard attack power). It is actually a pretty fantastic song, and possibly one of his best in recent years. Beyond the singer’s own characteristically enthusiastic vocal performance, the wailing guitar solos reminiscent of those in Super Survivor” and even “We Gotta Power” are in full effect here. Collecting Dragon Balls in Galaxy Mode allows for a wish which changes the music played when entering Raging Soul (including an instrumental of “Battle of Omega”), so even the blasphemers can turn the song off, if they so desire.
The Sparking! and now Raging Blast series eschews the traditional side-view of fighting games, and instead places the camera a ways back behind the shoulder of the player’s character. Like its predecessors, Raging Blast 2 allows for completely free-reign control anywhere within the stage, including up and down. On certain stages (such as Kami’s palace), buildings and other obstacles allow for quick hiding places, though the game’s pacing is so frantic that you will never sit still for long. Battles consist of up-close melee combat, mid- and long-range ki-based attacks, and everything in between.
Control on the current games has been shifted to the left analog stick, while the d-pad acts as the ki charging and camera shifting buttons. Also new to the latest console games and carried over into Raging Blast 2 is the right analog stick acting as a four-button quick super move release; certain super moves can be assigned to the up, down, left, and right positions of the stick. This makes unleashing these attacks easier than in games such as Street Fighter, but at the same time streamlines them down from the often painful and cramping L1+Triangle+Up of the PS2 generation. It is still up to the player to understand what each super move actually does (as well as what its range is), so even with their initiation assigned to a flick of the thumb, there is still some underlying strategy to incorporate them into your play style properly.
Many new additions from the first Raging Blast carry over to its sequel: swaying in defense, knocking away super moves, crash attacks into walls, high tension mode, each character’s “Signature Skill” giving a little more individuality, etc. You will still feel that once you have played one character you have played them all, but Raging Blast 2 does what it can to attempt to fool you otherwise.
That being said, the control scheme is still a complete train wreck. There is simply so much that these characters can do, that even a PS3 or 360 controller cannot fully encompass all of these techniques. What will at first appear as obvious and logical combinations of buttons will be quickly forgotten in the heat of the moment: pressing “X” (PS3) / “A” (360) to dash in can be combined with “R1″ (PS3) / “RT” (360) to fly up to create a dashing upward flight, but the alluded-to cramping takes over and all too often I found myself double-tapping the dash button to fly behind my opponent in hopes of catching them off-guard that way, instead. It is that exact situation — relying on a small, base set of moves from a much larger inventory — which proves that only those dedicated to the cause will ever incorporate each and every movement into their arsenal.
It is here that I begin wondering yet again if this is the right game engine for the franchise. There is such an overwhelming amount of stuff these characters can do, but the fights are so obscenely fast-paced and frantic that it becomes neigh-near-impossible to actually use everything at your disposal. Slowing the game down in this type of presentation makes little sense, so what else can you do to replicate the actual feeling of the manga and TV series that the game otherwise does so well? Unfortunately, I do not have the answer to that — if I did, I would be making the game instead of writing about it!
Whereas the first Raging Blast felt genuinely sluggish in control, its sequel feels much more fluid, yet still nowhere near as natural as Sparking! METEOR. In particular, the “doubling-up” of certain buttons in contextual situations will drive you batty. At a certain point within range of your opponent, the “dash in” button suddenly becomes “flip backward”. This was an unfortunate change for Raging Blast 2; the dash button always acts as such in the first game, which makes a Hell of a lot more intuitive sense.
One of the biggest presentation issues of the first game that actually affected the gameplay to a significant degree was the abysmal camera placement and tracking. Before its sequel’s release, the development team acknowledged this issue and its correction for Raging Blast 2. For the most part, they indeed stepped up their game. There are still the occasional slow-trackings as the camera catches up with you (particularly after the double-tapped dash button maneuver noted above), but for the most part, you can actually see the character you want to see this time around. Huh. Fancy that.
The Extra Stuff:
The main “extra” within Raging Blast 2 is, quite obviously, Plan to Eradicate the Super Saiyans. This sets a new precedent for future games in the franchise — whether it is a “new” story (or a semi-rebooted one like this), a good deal of value can be placed in being able to watch an entirely new feature alongside playing a new game. It extends beyond the feature in a great way, and exactly as early trailers promised, with Hatchihyack brought back as a playable character.
Single-players will find plenty to go back to in each of the Galaxy Mode and Battle Zone stages, with a plethora of pretty pictures being gleefully unlocked at each twist and turn. Extra stages and game options can also be unlocked by collecting the Dragon Balls via Galaxy Mode fights, which summon Shenlong and Porunga in succession. For the non-collectors, players who love one-upping themselves will likely also return to best their own grades on each stage.
Never-before-playable characters such as Coola’s Armored Squad (from DBZ Movie 5) and Tarble (from the 2008 Jump Super Anime Tour special) are sure to delight long-time fans, and the Super Saiyan 3 forms of both Broli and Vegeta also return from the first game to satisfy the steroid-popping-enthusiast fanbase. Gohan completionists will also be overjoyed with almost every single version of the character appearing in the game, including the one from the alternate timeline which Future Trunks hails from.
The “Museum” returns from the first Raging Blast and is another great way for fans to kick back with the game and enjoy its overwhelming amount of content. Voice samples are playable for each character in both languages (with more unlockable via other game modes), and short biographies are also written out for each and every character form.
Downloadable costume packs will be available for the game, as evidenced by exclusive pre-order DLC in territories throughout the world. Some of these are “enhanced” characters that have special attributes, while others are simply just extra costumes. As of this review’s publication, Namco-Bandai has not outlined what their DLC release schedule will be for the game.
Europeans were lucky to score a “Limited Edition” of the first game, and Raging Blast 2 returned to them with a laser-etched artwork of Goku, eight of the downloadable costumes, and a special pop-up box packaging for the game.
Unfortunately, no “Limited Edition” version was produced for the North American (or Japanese) market, though this does not affect our thoughts on the game itself.
A huge number of flaws were fixed for Raging Blast 2. We are back to a working camera, moderately-responsive controls, and a larger roster of characters which include plenty of fan-favorites and new additions. To top it all off, Plan to Eradicate the Super Saiyans is exclusively available via this game for the foreseeable future.
Raging Blast 2 will certainly have a longer life span than its predecessor simply due to that inclusion of Plan to Eradicate the Super Saiyans. Online multiplayer will bring the competitive players back over and over again, and Galaxy Mode’s ridiculous amount of unlockables will keep completionists busy for weeks on end.
Is that enough, though? It has been five consecutive years and five console games of free-roaming combat from Spike. Sales figures are down. It very well may be that the average fan simply does not care anymore.
What about the enthusiast fans? Last year we recommended folks stick with Sparking! METEOR for their “DBZ-simulator” fix. Even with the knowledge that we will probably see a third game in the Raging Blast series next November, we recommend you at least check out this latest one. It has been polished up big time from the first game, and even if you are the type of fan who scoffs at the idea of there not being a traditional “story mode”, you will need to just suck it up and enjoy the actual game this time — there is a lot to go around.
The “game” may be a problem, however, and we still have some serious reservations about giving a full-on recommendation. It feels that more than any other year and any other game, we have to ask: how many players will have the dedication to incorporate sways, snaps, vanishes, deflects, pursuits, signature skills, rush combos, counters, quick descends, crashes, wall attacks, throws, Raging Soul, and the gazillion other mechanics into their everyday play style? As with all games in the franchise, most players will rest on their comfortable laurels of melee, fly away, charge, fire super move. Is this anyone’s fault? It is certainly up to the player to learn the game they want to play, but in this case, the developer continues to overwhelm with the sheer number of techniques available in the frantic battles. It does not help that all of the characters still feel as if they play exactly the same as each other, even when the game attempts to trick you otherwise.
This franchise of video games is in desperate need of a reboot, but Raging Blast 2 lays the groundwork for one final hurrah in the current style. Whether or not we actually get that game is anyone’s guess, and with this one having enough content packed in to please fans, it may be worth a look. As always with these games, it helps to know what you are getting yourself into — in this case, it is a lot of button mashing, the occasional cramped hands, some quirky presentation aspects, lots of things to unlock, and as much fun as you want to make for yourself.
The thing is, we have been doing this for five years in a row. If you do not already like this style of game, nothing Raging Blast 2 has to offer is going to change that for you.
Raging Blast 2 was developed by Spike and published by Namco-Bandai, released in North America on 02 November 2010. MSRP $59.99. Review copy received for PlayStation 3. By review publication, 31 of 66 characters’ Galaxy Mode boss fights completed. All characters unlocked. All tutorials completed. Dabbled in Battle Zone and World Tournament modes. Online multiplayer sessions completed. Watched Plan to Eradicate the Super Saiyans twice. Grieved over the non-inclusion of Appule as a playable character for roughly seven minutes.
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