Puar Looking Up Bulma's Skirt Not Included
Long before there were Vegeta, Frieza, Cell, Majin Buu, power-up sessions that lasted whole episodes, mass grunting, yelling, and looks of constipation, countless internet memes that those lacking a knack for comedy still use, and a slew of high-flying, visceral fighting, there was a story about a naive little country boy named Goku. Seeing the monsoon of Dragon Ball Z games that have represented the popular series in interactive form, Namco-Bandai and Atari have joined forces to bring Goku's earliest adventures to the forefront with Dragon Ball Origins for the Nintendo DS. Not liking the original source material, does Origins have enough to entice even the non-Dragon Ball fan?
The juggernaut franchise all started when an unworldly boy by the name of Goku meets up with a bossy, demanding jail-bait named Bulma. This green-haired girl is in search of the seven fabled Dragon Balls which, when gathered, allows the assembler to call upon the behemoth dragon Shenron. This genie covered in green scales will grant one wish to the lucky holder of the balls (shut up). Bulma observes that Goku has one of the Dragon Balls in his possession, but he's hesitant to give it away as it's the only thing left of his late grandfather. With some female persuasion, Goku and Bulma team up to find and snatch up the other missing balls (shut up). Dragon Ball Origins' story stretches from the beginning of the series concluding with the very first World Martial Arts Tournament, so there's plenty of content available. Of course, liberties are taken with the source material to create more missions and set up the story better for game-form. However, none of these liberties ruin the experience or alter significant events whatsoever. The story itself is told through real time cutscenes with limited spoken dialogue-- usually just for important sentences and text for everything else. Origins is a very funny game, much like the show. I was laughing pretty hard during various scenes. One in particular, which I won't spoil for you, involves a very clever use of the gap between the DS' two screens.
Borrowing a page from The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, the entire game can be played solely with the stylus. Slide the stylus around the screen in the direction that you want Goku to move, tap enemies to attack, and tap Goku to perform various special attacks. Each attack costs Ki which is represented by a yellow bar at the bottom left-hand corner of the screen. When it's depleted, Goku won't be able to attack until the bar automatically refills after a few moments of waiting. This element in gameplay, while annoying at times, is crucial for the balance of the game. Otherwise, Goku could just unleash his most devastating attacks with no limitations, breezing past any enemy. Alternatively, you can play using both the stylus and analog controls in tandem. I found this much easier to control Goku, alternating between movement and attack almost effortlessly.
As for the design itself, controls are really the only thing Dragon Ball Origins has in common with Phantom Hourglass. There is no overworld map connecting every area together. Instead each area is split up by chapters and episodes. Origins has eight chapters total. Each chapter deals with a different plot element. For example, while chapter three is based on the gang's meet-up with the desert bandit, Yamcha, chapter four deals with Ox King and Fire Mountain. There's four episodes to each chapter. To clarify what I mean with an example, in 2-3, Goku chases after the bad guy, and in 2-4, he explores the bad guy's lair. Each episode is set up in a different area with different goals in mind.
The game is played in an isometric view with Goku needing to explore various closed-in environments. Level progression is essentially all about getting from the beginning of the level to the end all the while dealing with enemies, optionally collecting treasure and other goodies, solving simple puzzles, and then beating down a boss (if there is one). In most levels, Goku will be accompanied by Bulma who has her own health bar. If either Goku or Bulma's health hits 0, it's game over. However, Bulma isn't some helpless gal. She's equipped a weapon to fend off her pursuers, but she can't always do it alone. Occasionally, Goku will have to clear a way for Bulma since she can't leap across narrow chasms like her nimble friend can, so that means Goku will have to do whatever it takes to make a passage for her like moving a block between two walkways for Bulma to cross.
The main story took me about eight or nine hours to complete. However, there's far more to do once the main game is finished. Once 8-4 is beaten, a whole slew of episodes are unlocked. These are aftermath scenarios showcasing what the various cast of the game did shortly after the World Tournament. Some of these are rather lame though since they force you to replay through the same dungeon over again with little to no changes, and if you've gone through the original dungeon 2-3 times like me, this gets tedious to do. Furthermore, there's several treasure chests hidden throughout most of Origins' levels. These give Goku and Bulma increased health and Ki as well as unlocking cool collectibles known as figures. These figures, 200 in all, can be collected by clearing a level in fast enough fashion to earn an S-rank, from treasures as stated, and from the main menu shop's lottery. In the figures menu, you can view each collected figure up-close, zoom in and out, pan, rotate, and play that 3D figure's animation. I was addicted to collecting all of these since the 3D models are just fantastic.
That's not all that is aesthetically fantastic either. Sure, the characters are amazing to look at-- showcasing some of the best 3D I've seen on the DS, but the animations are beyond terrific as well. These can be marveled at via the figures menu. The environments themselves are rather good, but I'd love to see more variety in the upcoming sequel. Seriously, there's basically only two levels of height throughout the entire game? The music blends with the game suitably. Unfortunately, North American Origins owners won't get to hear the Dragon Ball theme for some reason. Regardless, every other track is present, my favorite being the outside overworld theme.
Dragon Ball Origins is a wonderful action-adventure game dipping into the lesser-explored territory of the Dragon Ball universe-- at least in gaming. Even those in my camp who don't really consider themselves fans of the show or manga need not brush this game away. It's an entertaining and refreshing take on the genre with enough humor to put a smile on the face of any person-- fan or foe of Dragon Ball. If you're a fan of Dragon Ball, then there's no question that you should pick this title up, and if you're into action-adventure games akin to Zelda, then you may find this game to be the origins of something good. Most importantly, you won't even need to wish for Shenron to destroy the creators of this game.
Gameplay: Somewhat similar to a dungeon-crawler. Playing with the stylus can sometimes lead to frustration, but the fun moments far outweigh the frustration.
Replay Value: Approximately eight hours to beat the main story mode. It took me around 22 hours to finish all there was to do-- opening all treasure chests, S-ranking all episodes, and collecting all 200 figures.
Presentation: Some of the best 3D the DS has seen. The game doesn't come off as big-budget, but it's definitely not a low-effort project. A lot of the things in Dragon Ball Origins "wowed" me.