Dragon Ball Z fever was very much a real thing in the '90s, but this blonde hair, Kamehameha-throwing insanity hit the UK and America much later than the rest of Europe. As such, it might still not be common knowledge that all four of Super Famicom's Dragon Ball Z one-on-one fighting games received PAL localization and distribution - but only in France. Many of such releases ended up in neighboring countries where avid fans snapped up the game despite sometimes not even knowing a single word of French, but we guess it was still slightly easier to understand what was going on in French rather than Japanese.
Dragon Ball Z: Super Butoden 2 ("La Légende Saien" in France) was the second of such titles, published by Bandai in Japan in 1993 and arriving in European shores the following year. Clearly trying to make a Street Fighter II clone simply would not convey the incredible action we were witnessing on TV, so the developers TOSE Software Co. came up with an ingenious way to achieve that. Players could fight up close like regular one-on-one fighting games or speed away several screens apart and into the skies above, with the screen splitting accordingly and enabling the usage of their iconic Ki energy blast attacks the size of small houses. This system was created for the original Super Butoden and it has been revised for this game.
"Y" will let your character punch and "B" will unleash your kicks, with "A" being reserved for Ki special attacks, powered by your stored Ki energy meter that is show below your life bar (which you can charge by holding "Y"+"B"). Every character has several special moves for each button plus two super special Ki blasts. "X" lets you switch between the ground and the air while "L" and "R" let you quickly dash to either side. When a player unleashes a super special Ki blast (Kamehameha, Final Flash, Special Beam Cannon and so forth), the defending player has options on how to respond. Simply defending will cost you 50% of the damage the attack would inflict undefended, diverting it will cost you 25% and eliminating it with your own Ki power will effectively nullify the attack at the cost of Ki instead of vitality. New to this entry in the series is the ability to respond with you own super special, with the result being decided in a clash of Ki blasts where the player who mashes the "A" button more times in the allotted time wins. It is a great system that translates the thrills of the series to the players rather well.
The playable roster suffers a cut in numbers when stacked to the original Butoden. There are eight playable characters in the game: Son Gohan, Picollo, Vegeta and Trunks represent the good guys while Perfect Cell, Cell Jr, Zangya and Bojack fight for the bad. Two hidden characters can also be unlocked by inputting a cheat code during the game's introduction: poster saiyan Son Goku and the legendary Broly. Fan favorite Mister Satan pops up in Story Mode but remains sadly unplayable. It is however that very same Story Mode that makes Super Butōden 2 stand apart from other games in the series. If you are familiar with the show, the character roster clearly points you to the era this game takes place: The Perfect Cell arc and the OVA arcs from both "Bojack Unbound" and "Broly: The Legendary Super Saiyan".
Unlike the regular "pick one character and fight everyone else" tried-and-tested formula, winning or losing a battle will take you on several branching paths until you reach a conclusion. This offers great replay value for solitary players and is refreshing and rather original. We don't understand why it is completely absent from following entries, devaluing the game for solo players. If you do manage to get a few friends over, Tournament mode lets you reenact the glorious Tenkaichi Budokai tournaments from the manga. Sadly, the commentator remains silent.
We can't help but notice how curious Bandai's decision was to offer this game as pre-order bonus for 3DS's Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden. Not in the title selection - it is clearly the best offering on the SNES - but the fact the game was offered as a digital 3DS download, teasing us that the 3DS is fully capable of emulating SNES games many months before Nintendo officially announced other Virtual Console titles on the system (which are exclusive to the New 3DS).
Super Butoden 2 is a very competent game and it offers up a good alternative to the other well established one-on-one fighting series. Feel free to add an extra point to the total score if you are a fan of Dragon Ball and have like-minded friends around to play against. Be mindful that the French PAL version has some atrocious translations in Story Mode, so you might just be better off with the original Super Famicom release. The menus are easy to navigate - even in Japanese - so it is no real barrier if you want to pick this up straight from Japan. While it's arguably not a solid-gold classic in the fighting genre, it does such a commendable job of replicating its source material that it's well worth a look, even if you only have a passing interest in all things Dragon Ball.