Few television shows lend themselves to the video game format better than Dragon Ball Z. With its large cast of characters and non-stop conflict, this long-running anime is the perfect fit for action and fighting games. But just because Goku, Vegeta, Trunks and the rest of the gang are perfect for beat-em-ups, that doesn't mean that they're going to fit into every video game genre. I can do without a Dragon Ball Z Sudoku spin-off, or a cart racing game, or even a rhythm game. And now that I've played Atari's newest Nintendo DS effort, Dragon Ball Z: Harukanaru Densetsu, I can safely say that I can do without a card fighting adventure game.
This is Dragon Ball Z: Harukanaru Densetsu, a card fighting game with an insanely difficult name to pronounce. But forget the subtitle, all you need to know about this game is that it takes all of the fun and excitement of a Dragon Ball Z episode and slows it down to the pace of a card game. While the idea of a card battling Dragon Ball Z game isn't so bad that it couldn't be done well, this effort is so simplistic and repetitive that it makes you wonder why developer Bec even bothered.
The problem most card games have is that they are extremely complex and convoluted. A game like Magic: The Gathering can't be explained just a few short sentences, you really have to sit down with it and learn the finer points that make the game worth playing. Dragon Ball Z: Harukanaru Densetsu takes a decidedly different approach; this is perhaps the easiest card battling game you will ever play. Instead of having to learn what each card does, Harukanaru Densetsu is all about numbers and objects, something most gamers will learn within the first round of their very first fight.
At its core Harukanaru Densetsu is essentially the card game War. Two players battle against each other and turn over cards, whoever has the higher numbered card wins and is able to use whatever skill the card holds. Each card has a small picture of one of the character's abilities, which include fighting, running away, upping their defense, use and item, and so on so forth. Each of these cards has a number on the top, and once both cards are turned over the winner is determined by who has the higher numbered card.
Along with the power number, you also have a number that shows your guard against an attack. Let's say you lose a round and the enemy is going to attack you, this guard number is there to keep you protected against a certain amount of damage. As you go back and forth winning (and losing) rounds you will be taking life away from your opponent, the winner is determined after one of the two players loses off of their health. To add a little spice to the combat, you will be able to create card combos (assuming you have cards in your hand with the same power or guard value). This has the potential of adding to the overall depth of the game, but it's rare and not as interesting as it should be. Unfortunately that's it, that's the entirety of the combat system. You just pick high numbered cards out of your imaginary deck and hope to place a larger number than your opponent.
While there's something to be said about the simple nature of Harukanaru Densetsu's card combat, the problem is that every round seems to be determined by luck rather than skill. You don't have much control over your deck, so it all comes down to what cards are selected for you to play. All you can do is hope for the best when you select five low numbered cards, whereas by sharp contrast you're practically invincible when you have a hand of mostly high numbered cards. This didn't annoy me as much as other luck-based card games (I'm looking at you SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters DS), but it's frustrating all the same.
Believe it or not, these card battles are strung together by a rather lengthy (an incredibly boring) set of stories ripped right out of the Dragon Ball Z anime. When you first start the game you will have a choice between three different scenarios, each with their own stories and characters. At first you get to adventure with Goku, Gohan and Piccolo, but eventually Vegeta's scenario is unlocked. Each of these stories unfolds in long, drawn out clips of dialogue that seem to go absolutely nowhere. The stories are exactly the same as what you would expect from any other Dragon Ball Z game or episode, the character arcs are the same and they all play out in a predictable fashion.
Most of Harukanaru Densetsu's action takes place on a large multi-path board (which, oddly enough, reminds me a lot of Mario Party). The same deck of cards you use to battle opponents is used to walk around this map. That is, you select five different cards from your deck and use them to determine how far you can walk in each turn. Your walk distance is determined by each card's strength, so if you have a card with a five stars on it you will be able to walk five spaces. Along the way you will run into various battles, these are usually preceded by a few minutes of the most boring dialogue your eyes will ever see.
The problem with these scenarios isn't that they are merely boring; it's that sometimes they can be wholly unfair to the player. For example, you'll go through a scenario that is filled with mostly easy enemies, only to discover that the boss at the end of the map is significantly more difficult to beat than anything leading up to it. While usually a difficult boss battle is expected, Harukanaru Densetsu makes it so that when you lose to an enemy you have to start the entire scenario over from the very start. This means that you will lose a good half hour of your life, something that gets old real quick. To make matters even worse, this game isn't about collecting cards and improving your experience level ... so when you start a scenario over again you will discover that all of your work was for nothing.
Things aren't helped much by the game's lackluster presentation. When you're moving around the board the game looks no better than a Super NES game, and the battles themselves are nothing to write home about. The only time the game ever looks somewhat impressive is when you attack your opponent, and even then the simplistic animation gets extremely old in only a short amount of time. I suppose it's too much to expect a card fighting game to have exceptional graphics, but Dragon Ball Z: Harukanaru Densetsu doesn't even try.
The game does come with a few different multiplayer modes, one of which only requires one Nintendo DS cartridge. Unfortunately these modes are bogged down by the simplicity of the gameplay, which will turn off a lot of gamers looking for an exciting two- (or four-) player experience. If you can't get into the single-player campaign, then there's no hope that you're going to enjoy this game with more people.
I'm not convinced that a Dragon Ball Z card game would be a terrible idea, but Harukanaru Densetsu is not a shining example of what could be done with the genre. While some gamers may appreciate that there are a lot of different adventures to go on in this game, I just couldn't get into the overall experience of battling these random cards. The game play is far too simple, the stories are predictable, and the sum of all its parts never quite comes together to create a compelling portable game.