The "Budokai Tenkaichi" title of the North American version is a rearranged version of . In the series, the Tenka-ichi Budôkai is a gathering of fighters in a competition for glory, fame, and prize money.
The game is not considered a part of the Budokai series of games, despite its misleading title. In addition to a completely different game engine, the game was developed by an entirely different company (Spike as opposed to Dimps). The game is also titled differently from the rest of the Budokai series in Japan. Were it a true Budokai game, it would have been Dragon Ball Z 4 in Japan. Speculation on the English re-title is that Atari chose to market the game as part of the Budokai series in order to capitalize on a pre-existing market of fans already familiar with said game series. The English version also uses a great deal of sound effects and background music made for the Budokai series.
While no official explanation was ever given for the musical differences, as FUNimation Productions did not use the original Japanese score in their "reversioning" of the TV series for an English dub (though they did indeed use it for their English dub of the original Dragon Ball TV series), it can be assumed that contractual issues came into play.
The games are quite different from the often-compared Budokai series; they use a "behind-the-back" camera perspective. Also different from the Budokai series (and more of a throw-back to games from the Super Famicom era), each form is treated as its own character, with varying stats, movesets and fighting styles, similar to Dragon Ball Z: Legendary Super Warriors while the free roam element is similar to Dragon Ball Z: Sagas. In battle, players can build up their Ki bar to execute various techniques such as the Power Guard, which reduces the damage characters take by 1/4. The Ki bar can also be used to use moves referred to as Blast 2s. Every character has a unique set of Blast 2s that allow the character to use special moves such as Ki blasts and physical attacks. Characters also have a bar called a Blast Stock that allows players to use techniques called Blast 1s. Blast 1s usually have a supportive effect such as allowing characters to regain health or immobilize the enemy. Players can also use a Blast Stock to power up into a mode known as Max Power Mode. Max Power Mode makes the character that initiated it faster, stronger, and able to use moves that are exclusive to the mode. One of these moves is the Ultimate Blast which is usually the most powerful move a character has, though use of an Ultimate Blast immediately ends Max Power Mode.
Similar to the same mode in the Budokai series, the player can enter a World Tournament and try to win their way to the top. There are three levels of the basic tournament and a Cell Games mode (which is hosted by Cell). Since characters can fly, characters can leave the perimeter of the arena, but will be called for ringout if they touch the ground. There are no restrictions to the Cell Games mode, but the last match of the Cell Games mode is always against Perfect Cell. In Tenkaichi 1 winning the tournaments gave players a Z-Item prize while in Tenkaichi 2, players would receive money which in turn would be used on Z-Items. The World Tournament mode could be played with several entrants, but if there is more than one human player, no prize would be awarded. Other features in the game includes more combo attacks or character specific combos, the Blast Combos, and the Z Burst Dash. The additional combo attacks will be able to help chain in more attacks for more damage and longer combos. The Blast Combo is the normal combos however by inputting the another button into the attack will allow you to use a blast attack for extra damage. Depending on the moves of the character you might not be able to use this feat such as Videl or Hercule. The Z Burst Dash is much faster and more evasive version of the of the Dragon Dash. It allows the user to get behind the opponent at high speeds for either a strike or to avoid a blast 2 attack. The drawback to this technique is that it will rapidly drain you of energy.
The game features 56 playable characters and 16 stages for battle. However, this game is the only one in the series to not allow in-game transformations.
Despite not featuring the original Japanese music, the American release of the game allows for selectable English (FUNimation Productions cast) and Japanese voices, while retaining the English-language written dialogue (as adapted from Steven J. Simmons' translation from the original Japanese version's script). However, there are known bugs in the American version of Budokai Tenkaichi that cause pieces of English and Japanese spoken dialogue to cross over into whichever selection the player is using at times.
Some additionally great bonus material within the game was the special story modes specifically given to Zarbon and Raditz, whom were attentively treated particularly well with their own game modes, unlike any other characters. One element of Tenkaichi 2 that is absent from Tenkaichi 1 and Tenkaichi 3 is that the story mode allows the player to fly around the Earth, which was also featured in Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3.
Tenkaichi 3 features over 162 characters, the largest character roster in any Dragon Ball Z game, as well as one of the largest in any fighting game. Ryo Mito once stated that the game would feature never-before-seen characters made exclusively for the game, although the only exclusive characters were the saiyans turning into big apes. Gamestop offered an exclusive version with a bonus DVD containing the top 10 television series battles as voted by fans on the release date.
Several new notable features include: Battle Replay, night and day stages, the Wii's online capability, and Disc Fusion. Battle Replay allows players to capture their favorite fights and save them to an SD card to view later on. Night and day stages allow for more accurate battles in Dragon Ball History, as well as the ability to transform into a Great Ape by using the moon. There are also several other time differences, such as dawn and afternoon. Not all stages provide different times. You can also change the aura of your character. The Wii version features online multiplayer capability, the first game in the series to have such a feature. Players can fight against anyone from around the globe with a ranking system showing the player's current standing compared to anyone else who has played online. As compensation for the lack of online, Spike has added a new "Disc Fusion System" to the PlayStation 2 version. Inserting a Tenkaichi 1 or Tenkaichi 2 disc during play unlocks Ultimate Battle or Ultimate Battle Z, modes featured in the respective games needed to unlock them. The game also supports 480p for both the Wii and the PlayStation 2 versions.
Other features in the game includes more combo attacks or character specific combos, the Blast Combos, and the Z Burst Dash. The additional combo attacks will be able to help chain in more attacks for more damage and longer combos. The Blast Combos are normal combos used in the game, however by inputting the another button into the attack will allow you to use a blast attack for extra damage. Depending on the moves of the character you might not be able to use this feat such as Videl or Hercule. The Z Burst Dash is much faster and more evasive version of the Dragon Dash. It allows the user to get behind the opponent at high speeds for either a strike or to avoid a blast 2 attack. The drawback to this technique is that it will rapidly drain you of energy.
With each installment, all the old characters from the previous game are carried over to the new one and new characters are added to the roster. For simplicity reasons, the table below will show the characters introduced in the original installment, and in the next section only the new characters in the succeeding game. All characters will also be referred to as they appear in the most recent installment in the series.
The PS2 version of Tenkaichi 2 received the 'Best Fighting Game of the Year' award from X-Play and the Wii version of the game also received a four out of five from X-Play. The game magazine Famitsu gave the PS2 version of Tenkaichi 3 a 32 out of 40, while the Wii version received a 33 out of 40. IGN awarded both versions of Tenkaichi 3 an 8 out of 10, with their only complaints being the comparatively underwhelming story mode (in comparison to Tenkaichi 2), gimmicky Disc Fusion and the lagging Wi-Fi.