Here Are Some Good Dragon Ball Games

Hey, guess what, I like Dragon Ball a whole lot. I mean, I'm sitting in front of a makeshift Dragon Ball shrine with my complete sets of manga and DVDs, a collection of rather large Goku statues, and a replica set of the Dragon Balls. To say it's an important series to me would be a gross understatement.

Taking that into consideration, then, it would make sense that I've played my fair share of games from the series. I like video games, I like Dragon Ball, what could go wrong? As it turns out, plenty. While I disagree with the entry-level assessment that all Dragon Ball games are bad, there sure are a lot of shitty ones out there.

Next month, though, it looks like we may be getting the best one yet. Dragon Ball FighterZ is being handled by some of the top minds in the fighting genre, and everything shown off from it so far looks pretty tops. Outside of the season pass bullshit. Can we just not?

Anyway. In celebration of what could be the Dragon Ball game to end all Dragon Ball games, I wanted to take a look back at what I think the best ones are. I've played almost every one in some way, shape, or form at this point, but my opinion is by no means factual. Because, y'know, it's my opinion and all. Also, I'm doing in this order of release date, not of actual ranking. Just so you know.

Dragon Ball Z: Super Butoden 2 (Super Famicom)

A fun fact about this game is that it played a hand in me discovering emulation. Some kid in my high school was using the computer lab to play this, I asked what it was, and he directed me to his SNES emulator of choice and told me what ROMs were. Neat, right?

Anyway, I think this game is pretty excellent, considering it's a licensed anime game from the early 90's. Most of those are pretty terrible, with the godawful Ranma 1/2 immediately coming to mind. But I think this one managed to more or less nail what made Dragon Ball fights so compelling, while still being solidly rooted in post-Street Fighter II mechanics. It gave players freedom to fly around and pull off super moves, but it had enough distinct playstyles between characters to make it all feel pretty balanced and competitive. I have what is probably a deeply unpopular opinion that any Dragon Ball game made before the SNES era is pretty awful, and I think Super Butoden 2 is the first one that I could fairly call a pretty great game, all around. Oh, and it has branching paths depending on different fight outcomes, which is neat considering when it came out.

Anyway, time to skip the whole PlayStation and Saturn era, because all but one (which I haven't played, so I can't fairly call) of those are basically fucking terrible.

Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku 2 (Game Boy Advance)

The Legacy of Goku is a shoe-in for one of the absolute worst games in the franchise, all told, so it's nice that I didn't actually try playing it until after the sequel. If I'd played the first one first, I would've never picked the second up, even if someone paid me. Which would've been a shame, because Legacy of Goku 2 is a pretty excellent ARPG, and I might say one of the best in that genre on the platform. No, seriously!

Legacy of Goku 2 takes players from the Android Saga through the Cell Games. It gives players access to a solid roster of characters to plow through armies of miscellaneous NPCs with, which range from robots to giant fucking snakes. While the combat is pretty simple, all told, it's reliable and satisfying enough to not get stale. It helps that the game does an admirable job of condensing a whole load of episodes of Dragon Ball Z into a compact, compelling yarn without sacrificing too much detail. Which, considering the convoluted bullshit Toriyama managed to throw into that collection of arcs, is no easy feat.

While the follow-up, Buu's Fury, would prove to be largely mediocre in comparison, Legacy of Goku 2 was the one good thing to come out of Webfoot Technology's handling of the series. Yeah, one good thing out of five mediocre to fucking incompetent things is a pretty awful batting average, but hey.

Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 (PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3)

The Budokai series is remembered fondly by a lot of Dragon Ball fans, and honestly, there's a pretty good reason for that. When they were coming out, 3D fighters were in their heyday, with Virtua FighterTekken and Soul Calibur being the toasts of the fighting game community. With the Budokai franchise, series fans got to experience a 3D fighter tailor-made for them, complete with above-average gameplay and nice (for the time) visuals. Yes, it's basically a dime-store version of the competition, but with competition as good as it was at the time, a pale imitator was still pretty great, especially for people who suffered through Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout.

Out of them all, I would say Budokai 3 is the high point, despite being on fewer systems than its predecessors. There are a whole load of modes to mess around with, content that ranges from the original Dragon Ball through GT, and an art direction that would dictate how Dragon Ball games would look for quite a while to come.

Dragon Ball Advanced Adventure (Game Boy Advance)

In 2006, the Game Boy Advance was one year past its last batch of notable releases and was becoming a graveyard of licensed game and shovelware hell, outside of your occasional Rhythm Heaven and Yggdra Union. Advanced Adventure was a rare gem in that trash heap - a genuinely great platformer in a series that didn't really fuck around with that genre. There were a ton of modes, a really replayable central campaign, and plenty of unlockables to keep you busy. Advanced Adventure sort of changed my perspective on what a Dragon Ball game could be.

Dragon Ball Budokai Tenkaichi 3 (PS2, Wii)

This is such a popular pick that many Dragon Ball fans think it's an overrated game. I don't. I think it's the most complete, content-wise, of any Dragon Ball title up until Xenoverse 2. Practically every fucking character, including ones that didn't even matter, were in this thing. The weird open-world hub of Tenkachi 2 was replaced with colorful, splashy menus. The gameplay was an insane improvement on Tenkaichi, a game I sunk around 50-60 hours into despite it kind of sucking. The Wii version had fun motion controls. Every saga was accounted for. Every movie was accounted for, if I recall correctly. Goku had an ultimate that literally destroyed whatever level you were in and loaded in a new one. It was fun, crazy, and filled to the brim with content, all of which was good.

As a sidebar: I've heard tell that Super Dragon Ball is another great PS2 game, but I've barely played enough of it to make a judgment call on that one. However, the people who've spoken highly of it are people whose tastes I trust almost 100%, so maybe check that one out too.

Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit (PS3, Xbox 360)

Honestly, it's a shame that we never got a second one of these. At the same time, it makes sense, because Burst Limit marks the beginning of non-Nintendo platform Dragon Ball games losing a sense of identity. Burst Limit itself is an expansion on the original Budokai idea - make a 3D fighter, but with Dragon Ball characters. And in that, it does a fantastic job, with tight gameplay, a lot of varied characters to play as, and a really pretty visual style. Plus, the soundtrack is one of the best in all the games. However, it's a stark difference from the open-arena combat of Budokai Tenkaichi 3, whose developers went on to make the thoroughly middling Infinite World. While I kind of thought Burst Limit would be and deserved to be the beginning of a new trend, I was dead wrong. Different developers threw themselves at the wall on PlayStation and Xbox for over half a decade after this, to varying degrees of success. None of the subsequent titles up until 2014, though, came close to matching the heights of the one-two punch of Burst Limit and Budokai Tenkaichi 3, which made the most of their platforms and of the Dragon Ball license. It's kind of shame that Burst Limit now feels like a failed experiment instead of a fresh start, in retrospect, but it's one hell of an experiment nevertheless.

Dragon Ball Origins (1&2) (DS)

A little-known fact - if I had to pick my favorite Dragon Ball stories, the early ones would make up a lot of the list. I have an undying love of Dragon Ball Z, GT, Super, but to me, Akira Toriyama's artistic peak can be found in the original sixteen volumes of Dragon Ball. It's when the story was the tightest, the art was the most detailed, the characterization the most believable. And while there are some great adaptations of those original 16 volumes (including Advanced Adventure and one other game on this list,) both Origins stand head-and-shoulders above all of them. Because much like Legacy of Goku 2, the Origins titles aren't just great Dragon Ball games. They're fantastic games in general, a duo of top-down action games that make the most of the DS' touch screen and also work just fine with the surface buttons. They also do a stellar job of recreating Toriyama's art with limited tech and lend a cartoony style to it that, I would imagine, was incredibly difficult to pull off. If you want to experience the beginning of Dragon Ball right up through the Red Ribbon arc, this is the best way to do it.

Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo (Wii)

With the first two Origins titles taking players through the first two major arcs of Dragon Ball, that leaves Revenge of King Piccolo to pick up the slack. And honestly, it does a pretty admirable job. It's a side-scrolling beat 'em up with some light fighting game elements, held together by a really nice visual style and a decent runtime. I definitely don't think it's quite on the level that the Origins titles are, but on a system that was host to a fair number of terrible anime games, Revenge of King Piccolo stands as a really fun, unique entry in the franchise and a decent platformer/brawler in general.

Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2

I played a lot of Dragon Ball Xenoverse. It was a good game, no doubt about it, and the bit of course correction that the games desperately needed after half a decade of middling to bad entries. At the same time, something was missing. There were a lot of half-measures made, I felt, from a hub world that didn't feel fully realized to a mission structure that was oddly disjointed to multiplayer that needed to be more fleshed out. My fear for Xenoverse 2 was that it would follow the trend later Dragon Ball games did, in that it would just repeat the previous game with not nearly enough iteration. I was overjoyed, then, when I was totally fucking wrong. Xenoverse 2 is probably my favorite Dragon Ball Z game to date. It has a novel, original story that adds a lot to the overall lore of the franchise. The hub world gives players the sense that they really have their own place to eke out in the series. The missions are fun and varied. Multiplayer raids are a total blast. The developers keep adding new content to it, including arcs from Super and the last two films. And if that wasn't enough, the Switch version not only removes the weird visual filter present in the initial release, but brings over all the story stuff from the first Xenoverse. After Budokai Tenkaichi 3 hit, what I felt, was a golden standard for how these ought to be, Xenoverse 2 improved on it a decade later in virtually every way. The fact there's new content I'm looking forward to next year is the cherry on top.

Dragon Ball Fusions 

Dragon Ball and Pokemon sounds, on paper, like a really dumb combination. Turns out, it's the good kind of dumb - a giant bit of franchise fan service backed up by a really solid role-playing experience. The whole gimmick here is built on the idea of fusing characters, and allows players to go batshit crazy with that. Characters who have no right being together can be fused into well-designed, super-deformed warriors that you can collect and put to work in a really novel combat system. Plus, the narrative is surprisingly thorough, and puts fan favorite Pan in arguably her most vital role in the franchise yet. It's a weird, charming little thing with tons of depth, and honestly, one of my favorite titles that came out in 2016.

And that just about does it! While there are other Dragon Ball titles that some people are super attached to, and even some others like Harukaneru Densetsu and Attack of the Saiyans that I personally had an okay time with, these are what I consider to be the high points of the series. The stigma that all Dragon Ball games are the same and also bad is a pretty lackluster take, and I think picking these games up would prove that to a lot of people. That said, there are still plenty of bad Dragon Ball games, and I think before FighterZ drops, I'm interested in plumbing those depths.

Next time on Dragon Ball Z? Shitty video games, I guess.


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