Out of nowhere, Bandai Namco decided to end the Dragon Ball Games Battle Hour event with the surprise reveal of Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi 4, and audiences are losing their collective minds. Some people are probably wondering what’s the big deal. Why develop a sequel for a series that hasn’t been touched in over a decade? Well, we might as well start from the beginning.
Just what is Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi? This series was the second premier Dragon Ball Z fighting game franchise. The first, Dragon Ball Z Budokai, was developed by Dimps (which most recently produced Dragon Ball: The Breakers) and was a 2.5D fighter that plays like a slower version of Dragon Ball FighterZ.
Budokai Tenkaichi, meanwhile, is a 3D fighter (think Naruto: Ultimate Ninja) developed by Spike (which eventually merged to form Spike Chunsoft and create the Danganronpa series). The Dragon Ball Z license notwithstanding, Budokai Tenkaichi is not connected to Budokai and is called Sparking! in Japan. Why the similar names? Because according to rumors, Atari (which held publishing rights at the time) renamed it to capitalize on the existing popularity of the Budokai franchise. While Bandai Namco now is in charge of publishing, given the fan reaction to the Budokai Tenkaichi 4 reveal, Atari might have been on to something.
So why is Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 4 such a big deal? The answer is a mix of nostalgia and presentation. The Budokai Tenkaichi games (with the exception of Ultimate Tenkaichi) are beloved for their fast, frantic, and flashy battles. They were the pinnacle of anime fighting games and made fans feel like they were actually in command of the lightning-fast duels that made the Dragon Ball franchise beloved.
More importantly, the Budokai Tenkaichi games were a love letter to every facet of the franchise, no matter how small. For example, the third entry in the series had 98 characters with 161 forms between them. Yes, every character who had a transformation or fusion in the show or movies received one in Budokai Tenkaichi 3. Not even Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has that many fighters.
Budokai Tenkaichi games also feature a ton of fan service additions that tickle every part of a DBZ fan’s brain. Those include “What if” quotes that make characters utter special intro and victory phrases when certain criteria are met (e.g., pitting Bardock against Goku) and semi-dynamic textures that make characters look damaged the more health they lose. Also, whenever a character unleashes a gigantic energy blast finisher, levels tend to turn into blasted wastelands.
Perhaps the most important and beloved aspect of the Budokai Tenkaichi franchise was its absolute lack of balance. With over 100 forms to juggle, many characters were comparatively underpowered while many more had little in the way of checks and balances. For instance, any character who can turn into an Oozaru basically have an instant-win button since this transformation gives them a ton of super armor and makes them immune to any and all grabs, including command grabs. Meanwhile, characters like the Saibamen and Android 19 are hamstrung by their ultimate attacks, which are kamikaze blitzes that leave them with 1 HP, regardless of how much damage they actually deal. But few players cared back then. They didn’t want a fair fight; they wanted to command all the excitement of a DBZ episode and pull off a Kamehameha. And the Budokai Tenkaichi series delivered.
Budokai Tenkaichi 4 is so exciting because it has so much potential to deliver the unbalanced, frenetic experiences fans experienced years ago but better. Obviously, video game technology has improved quite a lot since Budokai Tenkaichi 3, so not only can we expect to play that kind of game with better graphics and controls but also online multiplayer (the franchise died when couch co-op was still king).
However, the most important improvement could come in the form of the roster. The Dragon Ball franchise has introduced so many beloved characters (and even more one-off characters) since Budokai Tenkaichi 3, and, given the general reaction to this information, fans want the developers to cram in as many as possible, balance be darned. Heck, with the advent of DLC, the studio can keep adding more and more characters after release. You can never have too many fighters in a Budokai Tenkaichi title.
The Budokai Tenkaichi 4 trailer has awakened the nostalgia centers of our brains, not unlike how the Godzilla DLC for GigaBash attracted everyone with fond memories of Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee. Odds are Bandai Namco read the room, realized that nostalgia is a powerful force these days, and decided to channel it by reviving one of the most beloved anime fighting games of all time. While that love is well-placed, only time will tell if Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 4 lives up to the legacy.