Video Game Nostalgia: Playing Dragon Ball Z With My Cousin


Joshua Jones

When I was younger, perhaps 5 or 6, I started spending the summers with my cousin, Matthew, and Aunt Annette.  Matthew was basically an older brother to me. While he is eleven years older than me, it never stopped us from bonding.  A necessary part of male bonding (especially between brothers or cousins) is fierce competition. We would reenact fight scenes from TV shows we watched together, like Naruto, seeing which one of us was the strongest. Out of all of our bouts, my favorites included the times we  played video games together. Matthew introduced me to gaming (I blame him for my obsession). I have hundreds of video games, some of which I haven’t found the time to play yet.  I don’t foresee my interest ever slowing down. Video games are my passion, and more than anything I want to work as a video game journalist.
Since Matthew is much older than I am, I could never truly be faster, stronger, or more coordinated than him.  For these reasons, he would frequently go easy on me. He’d run at my pace, pretend that I was lifting him up, and even let me win when we were playing video games.  However, when he did want to win, he was ruthless. My aunt frequently reminds me that after playing with my older cousin, often times I would leave the room with tears streaming down my cheeks.   But the shame of defeat never entirely stopped me from wanting to try again and again. The game I always came back to was the 2005 game Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi 2, which was based off of the shows Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball GT.  I don’t remember when  we first played the game together, but I will never forget how excited I was for summer to start, so I could challenge my cousin once again.
Looking back at Dragon Ball, I wasn’t sure if it would live up to my memories.  In many ways, this game was a catalyst for my lifelong video game craze.  Although I played it on my cousin’s PlayStation 2, the game was so much fun that I bought it again for my Wii.  With this idea in mind, I wanted to take a step back into the past to discover whether or not Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi 2 was a good a game.  After rediscovering the game on my shelf, I placed the disc into my dust-covered Wii.  The console whirred to life with a bright blue light, and after replacing the corroded batteries in my “Wii-mote,” I started Dragon Ball.
Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi 2 is an arena fighter game, which tried its best to emulate the energetic and explosive fights from the TV show. Anyone who is familiar with its source material knows exactly what to expect.  The maps, where players fight, are large and the game rewards players who charge up their ki (magical energy that allows them to perform special moves), so although the fights are flashy, they aren’t particularly fast-paced.  However, the slower speed of the game isn’t a knock against it. In fact, in this way the game mimics the fights found in the television shows that span across several episodes.
If Budokai Tenkaichi 2 succeeds most at anything, it’s the game’s ability to make you feel like the god-esque warriors found in the show.  With a couple of punches, you are able to send your rivals flying across the map, destroying any hills or skyscrapers in their path.  You can then follow them at near breakneck speeds across the map, only to unleash the show’s most iconic attack, the “kamehameha,” which is an intense stream of blue energy emanating from your fighter’s hands.  Excellent sound design and decent graphics (for 2005) aid in creating this feeling of being a titan from the tv show.
The game opens with an explosive intro, featuring the game’s characters fighting and posing dramatically set to a genuinely good rock song.  I used to watch the opening video every time I played the game. Even though I probably would not do that today, I understand why I did. The song is more than catchy, and the fights between these god-like titans were fun to watch.  Following the intro, you are taken to the main menu of the game. The menus aren’t all that confusing, but at times they can feel cumbersome to navigate. Additionally, each screen is narrated by variety of the game’s main characters, such as Goku and Vegeta, whose designs are directly ripped out of the tv show. These characters explain every option of the menu.  At first, I thought this feature was cute and at times humorous, but it quickly became annoying as some of the menus feature a tedious amount of dialogue, prohibiting you from actually playing the game.
Finally, there’s the creme de la creme of Dragon Ball Z: the gameplay.  When I had first played the game, the majority of my time had been spent playing the story mode and the multiplayer, as opposed to the tournaments, which offered survival and arcade modes.  Since my little brother was far too busy playing Fortnite and Super Smash Bros, I continued to play the story mode from where I had left off all of those years ago.  At the start of the mission, there was a long narration that caught me up on the story, which was greatly appreciated.  Nevertheless, the game continued to be very narration-heavy. Despite the short cutscenes between fights, the game describes every moment of action, even when a character decides to stand up after previously being beaten.  Worse than that, the actual fighting is repetitive and challenging in all of the wrong ways. Winning fights never came down to being skilled, but instead buying enough upgrades and spamming special moves in a short amount of time.  This would be excusable if the game felt good to play, but it doesn’t. Although the PlayStation 2 version might feel different, the Wii is bogged down by unnecessary motion controls, which frequently do not work as well as they should, and most of the combat is mindless button mashing.  As I kept playing, I wanted nothing more than for the story arc to come to an end, so I could finally quit and play an actually well-made game.
I remember the first day that I played the story mode for Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi 2.  I was sitting on the floor of my aunt’s house, and Matthew had set up the PlayStation for me.  I decided that I wanted to beat my cousin, and the only way to do that was to practice on my own.  I played through the first mission and was able to beat it. My cousin came back into the room and said, “don’t worry if you lose the first level, you’re supposed to.”  That’s when I looked back and said, “I already beat it.” He gave me a surprised look, as if he was impressed. In that moment, I was overcome with the feeling that I was actually good at the game, probably better than Matthew when he started, and I smiled.  Maybe the competitive spirit was the only element of the game that was good in my eyes when I was younger. Or perhaps I was far too young to even consider whether or not the game was bad. Or maybe neither of those are important. That game helped to shape what I love today and  my relationship with my cousin, for which I am more than grateful.