The Dragon Ball franchise has a long history with video games. Almost every Nintendo console has seen a Dragon Ball title adorn its hardware. From card-based JRPGs to traditional fighting games, there’s no shortage of Dragon Ball in the middle. While the average licensed game stumbles more often, Dragon Ball still translates well in video games.
There have been some great Dragon Ball games since the NES, and they haven’t slowed down since. The series thrives in an interactive format, not only because of the high-octane action that runs through its veins, but also the character-driven storytelling that lends itself well to video games.
The Famicom housed several Dragon Ball JRPGs. In fact, it’s in the RPG genre that Dragon Ball really stretched its legs when it comes to video games. While none have ever been traced internationally, Dragon Ball’s Famicom RPGs adapted the anime from the very beginning of the series until Imperfect Cell’s first appearance.
The best game of the bunch is Gekishin Freeza, an adaptation of the Namek arc that ends just before Goku becomes Super Saiyan. Despite this bizarre ending point, Gekishin Freeza features the best maps in the series, surprisingly excellent sprite work, and a clever take on the Namek arc that keeps Earthlings alive for the intergalactic adventure.
Hyper Dimension on the SNES actually saw an international release, but only in Europe. Loosely covering the end of the Frieza arc through to the rest of Dragon Ball Z, Hyper Dimension is an incredibly unique fighting game that features Health & Ki as a singular mechanic while allowing players to dynamically strike each other in other stages. during the fight. The gameplay in Hyper Dimension is as frantic as it is strategic, and the fact that characters have access to Desperation Moves while in critical health means that the tide of battle can be altered even in a desperate situation.
Game Boy: Goku Gekitoden
Dragon Ball Z: Goku Hishoden and Goku Gekitoden have never been released outside of Japan, but are two of the most creative games on Game Boy. Covering the events of the 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai up to the Namek Arc as a duology, the two titles blend action game sensibility with RPG combat.
Goku Hishoden is the more accessible title in the bunch, but Gekitoden generally improves its predecessor in every way by improving the quality of the presentation and refining the combat. It’s a shame neither of the games have been released internationally or seen a sequel spanning the Cell arc – both are fascinating versions of a Dragon Ball game.
Game Boy Color: Legendary Super Warriors
Most Dragon Ball RPGs come with a card tilt, but Legendary Super Warriors is the first to implement deep deckbuilding and strategic gameplay elements. LSW is quite difficult compared to other Dragon Ball games, but it makes its fight more rewarding. The story also covers the entirety of Dragon Ball Z, making it the first entry in the series to do so.
As a result, Legendary Super Warriors is mostly told from Gohan’s perspective while allowing players to tweak the course of the plot slightly at key points and unlock new stages down the line. Legendary Super Warriors notably released around the same time as The Legacy of Goku in the US, blowing up this latest GBA game in every way.
Game Boy Advance: Advanced Adventure
There aren’t many classic Dragon Ball games out there, but the ones that do tend to outperform their Dragon Ball Z competition due to the series’ early penchant for adventure. Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure is a platformer / beat ’em up game that adapts the original anime from the start of the series until the demon king Piccolo was defeated. Advanced Adventure has a great level design, great bosses, and a post-game that allows the plates to unlock every enemy in the game as a playable character.
The GameCube unfortunately only had the first two Budokai games, missing the cream of the crop, but the original Budokai is still a great fighter and an even better Dragon Ball game. Styling himself like the anime (with episode title cards in the story mode), Budokai has a level of love and care for the series comparable to Fighterz (more on that later.)
Budokai’s roster is small and combat is relatively limited compared to later entries in the franchise, but the capsule customization works wonders in giving depth to the gameplay and the amount of content to unlock and see that makes the game is worth investing hours in it. The GameCube version is also better than the original PS2 as an added bonus.
DS: Ultimate Butoden
Ultimate Butoden is yet another Dragon Ball game that hasn’t left Japanese, which is particularly a shame considering the DS fighter released at a time when the series was quite popular internationally (and Dragon Ball Kai was already A throwback to the old-time Butoden Super Sub-Series, Ultimate Butoden has a massive roster, fits any Dragon Ball Z, and offers cosmetic customization for each character via an accessory system. It’s downright criminal Ultimate Butoden ever in the west.
Wii: Budokai Tenkaichi 2
The Wii suffered the opposite fate of the GameCube when it came to Budokai Tenkaichi: the sub-series missed its first installment, but 2 and 3 came out on the system. That said, the best Budokai Tenkaichi game has always been the second. BT2 might not have as big a roster as BT3, but its story mode is second to none and the character customization is much improved over the original.
While both Budokai Tenkaichi games have light motion controls on the Wii, it is possible to play with GameCube or Classic controllers. Back then, BT3 was arguably the better of the two games since it was online, but with the Wii servers disbanded, there is little reason to play the third rather than the second.
Dragon Ball Fusions is one of the most creative games in the franchise, taking a Pokemon-esque approach to the RPG genre that had defined the series’ time in the midst. Players recruit different Dragon Ball characters, add them to their team, and merge them into new martial artists. The creativity in Fusions is at its peak, and the combat itself has an addictive quality that will keep you invested once the story begins.
Juggling some of the tightest fights in the genre, a roster that pays homage to how the characters actually fought in the anime and manga, and incredible care put into recreating Dragon Ball as authentically as possible, Dragon Ball Fighterz might just be the best game in the franchise. With Fighterz still backed up in the form of DLC characters, the fighter has enjoyed a healthy lifecycle that doesn’t seem to end anytime soon.
Next: Dragon Ball: Every Main Villain, Ranked By How Far They Almost Won
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