Story & World
I am most impressed with how close this game keeps to its source material; a rarity amongst such titles. Even if it meant sacrificing gameplay balance, DBZ:AotS gave zero fucks and kept it real. As a fan of the show, I'm going to be giving a lot of extra points here for just that reason; someone unfamiliar with DBZ would undoubtedly rank it lower. It's been awhile since I last did a run on the series, but the memories are still strong and helped me tremendously enjoy the role playing aspect while I gamed. Normally, I'm more of a fan of silent protagonist(s) so that I have a blank slate to project all my insecurities into (yeah right, like the impeccable Nung has any insecurities).
Exploring the world was far more enjoyable than the first DB installment, at least for the first half of the game. While the second half still had the grid system, the map layouts were more linear and, coupled with the Z fighters being together in a single group and having to use all available cards in combat, meant that the highest movement was generally always used (but more on that in the combat category). 17/20
I bitched about the hundred fights in the opening chapter being a little excessive, but the rest of the game wasn't nearly as bad. Also, based off subsequent battles, I probably overkilled it at the beginning and could have got away with less fights by working the "consumable" character cards more. Still, there's no choices to be made in developing any character. Everyone comes with their own set of ki techniques which doesn't change throughout the game, except for Goku who gets a bunch more after his training with King Kai. One interesting aspect of the leveling system is that characters don't increase in power just whenever they gain a level; it's based off the BP (i.e. XP) itself, which is quite unusual for an RPG. Again, this is how it works in the show, so here's even more props to the developers.
The special character cards are quite diverse in their effects and the game is very generous with them (I didn't need to hoard them like I did in the first chapter). Some are clearly better than others (e.g. full healing Shenron instead of partial healing Bulma), but it's still fun to collect them all and trade with your friends. In the third chapter, I raced towards the boss fairly quickly with undeveloped characters and relied heavily on these cards to sustain myself during the fight. I burnt through most of my cards, but it made for quite the intense battle. 6/20
Combat & Monsters
A mixed bag with combat as the earlier stages require good card management due to the inherent weakness of the beginning characters, but gets pretty stale later after everyone teams up and all the cards have to be used up every round. However, all the boss fights are a gas, even the finale where the non-Goku/Piccolo characters could barely hurt Vegeta at all (again, staying true to its roots). While the special ki attacks consistently turned my nipples into diamonds, they mostly all just did damage of varying degrees. I'm also kinda pissed off that I didn't manage to get Gohan to go all Oozaru on Veggie's punk ass — that would been hella cool.
There's not a lot of variation amongst the minions fought, visually or otherwise. They will occasionally employ a ki attack but, just like most ki attacks, this just does more damage. No, it's all about the major opponents here... who still just punch, kick, and ki, albeit much harder. Even my fanboy-tinted glasses can't hide the fact that under the glitz and glamour of DBZ lies a set of uninspired and predictable enemies. 5/20
Graphics & Sound
The variation in combat animations stands out as one of the most pleasing aspects of the game. It does get tiresome in the end due to their length, but for the first few chapters, it was great to see all the characters whooshing around each other combined with much face punching and groin kicking. The ki animations are even more impressive and may just have brought a single tear to this grizzled old curmudgeon's eye.
The music was okay but didn't feel DBZish. I know that's a pretty nebulous statement but I guess I can say that is does sound action-y enough. Sound effects are kinda on the sad side but I suppose there's no possible way the NES hardware could actually impress me here. 12/20
A game like this is really focused on pleasing its target audience; players outside the DBZ fandom will probably find little merit in the game other than the oddity of the card mechanics. Due to its accurate modeling of the show, there is little gameplay balance which, again, will probably please fans but no one else. Without a turbo function, watching the lengthy animations from hundreds of fights would grind the gears of even the most staunch players. Even without turbo, the game would still be fairly short, so it may be tolerable for certain player types. Perhaps the tournament mode would add some extra value, but I'm fairly certain it would always result in Goku always winning and Piccolo coming in second. 10/20
Final Ranking: 50/100