Dragon Ball Z: Franchise Player

We introduce the main characters, ideas and relationships in Dragon Ball Z, one of the most complex space sagas ever to unfold on a page, in an episode, or throughout a game.

283 Comments

To the layperson, Dragon Ball Z is an old anime about people with big hair and little noses who scream a lot and punch each other into mountains. But to the learned nerd, Dragon Ball Z is part of a complex saga in which selfless defenders of humanity give up their lives to thwart the forces of evil. Don't let the simple animation style fool you; there's much more to Dragon Ball Z than meets the eye. That's why Franchise Player is here to show you what you've been missing.

Though this primer will largely focus on the overall story, terms, and characters as they relate to the upcoming Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit, it's essential to point out that no new spiky-haired fighting game would be possible without Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball. Toriyama has produced nearly 10,000 pages of intergalactic action and suspense. Whether or not you appreciate the games, movies, and Web site features that have bloomed from his overwhelming creations, you have to give the guy credit; he has created a monster that would kick Frankenstein's patchwork butt into orbit.

No Caption Provided

Dragon Ball Z is not the beginning of the Dragon Ball saga. Rather, it tells the story of a powerful warrior named Goku, who is attempting to save the world and bring up his sons, Gohan and Goten. Goku is not a native earthling, himself. Rather, he fell to earth and, suffering a bad case of amnesia, was brought up to be good and virtuous throughout the original Dragon Ball. Though many trials and enemies beset his path to adulthood, his mysterious past hadn't quite caught up with him...until the beginning of Dragon Ball Z.

Cue Raditz, Goku's genocidal brother. Goku and Raditz are two of only a few remaining members of the Saiyans, a violent race of ultimate warriors. Raditz wants to thrash Goku's adopted home, but Goku stands in his way until the two are killed by Goku's rival Piccolo. But don't think too much about it. Death isn't a big deal in the Dragon Ball Z universe. More pressing is what Raditz reveals: More Saiyans are coming, and they mean trouble. Mountains around the world no doubt tremble at the very thought.

After the Saiyans come, there's trouble with the warlord who exterminated most of the Saiyan race and a super-duper android that wants to kill the world. But what the entire plot almost always boils down to is Dragon Balls. These can grant wishes--and everyone is after them. The bad guys want them so that they can kill more people and never die, while the heroes want them so they can resurrect the ones killed by the bad guys. That is the story of Dragon Ball Z--the efforts of heroes to heal the wounds inflicted on the planet by crazy people, androids, and sometimes genies.

Characters

Goku
No Caption Provided Power Level: Off the charts
Role: Fearless Hero
Bed Head Club for Men: He's not just the founder, he's also a client.

Despite the fact that he was sent to Earth to destroy it, Goku becomes the planet's most ardent defender. He never lacks the heart or will to protect his home, which he proves by dying over and over and over again. He dies right off the bat in Dragon Ball Z, getting obliterated by Piccolo in order to prevent Raditz from harming his beloved blue-green orb. He doesn't stop there; he gives every life he has, and boy, does he have a lot of them. If you pick him and lose a match in a video game, at least you can say "I did it...for planet...Earth!"


Krillin
No Caption Provided Power: He has tough friends?
Role: Punching Bag
Upside: Out of the three women in the entire universe, he gets the coolest one.

Krillin is the only character in the saga with an interesting girlfriend. Say what you want about Chichi (Goku's wife) and Bulma (Vegeta's wife); Android 18 could beat one to death with the body of the other. She is hellacious, yet Krillin is short, bald, and mostly harmless. What gives him the confidence to make little robots with a dangerous she-slayer like her and get in fights he can't possibly win? There's only one explanation: The dude swings a heavy pipe. While there's no hard evidence, there are two intriguing rumors. One is that Krillin's mysterious source of power actually shows itself in a manga issue but is mistaken for Chaozu. Another is that Toriyama toyed with the notion of letting Krillin use it like a pogo stick to escape from battle, but then he realized that was ridiculous; Krillin never runs from a fight.


Vegeta
No Caption Provided Job: Warrior Prince
Role: Tragic Foil
What's he so mad about: He's probably no Krillin...

Vegeta is the opposite of Goku, even though they're both Saiyans. He is the worst kind of jerk and the model for everything cast as "Wrong" in the Dragon Ball Z saga. He's greedy, jealous, selfish, emotional, and, worst of all, genocidal. He'd wipe out the planet just so he could be the strongest person on it. If you're angry and feeling destructive, vent with Vegeta. Otherwise, he should be your favorite character to whip up on.


Frieza
No Caption Provided Likes: Killing
Dislikes: Dying
Commits Genocide: That's what they saiyan.

Unlike Vegeta, Frieza is not torn between his sense of greed and his desire to see himself as a hero. No, Frieza just wants to see everyone in his way dead and smoldering. There are many other villains in the Dragon Ball Z series that are equally steadfast in their commitment to evil, but none that have accomplished quite as much as this guy. You know the Saiyans? Big strong warrior race? They were his errand boys, and when they got uppity, he killed them all, destroying their entire planet. That is some rare evil he's got going there, and it brings a weight to his confrontations with the Z Fighters that few other epic showdowns can boast.


Android 18
No Caption Provided Job: Killer Cyborg
Role: Girl
Likes: Little bald guys.

Considering the number of more interesting characters in the DBZ universe, along with the fact that we've already indirectly talked about her via Krillin, you might be surprised to see Android 18 listed here. But if you think about it, Dragon Ball Z is about men and boys fighting; training and improving each other while saving the world. Of the three main female characters, one is a housewife, one is a useless ditz, and one is a psycho-killer android who has almost no personality but has a gigantic forehead. Therefore, even though she doesn't seem as important as Cell or Piccolo or even Tien, you could argue that, as the only empowered female in the series, Android 18 is one of the most significant characters of all.

Terms

Dragon Ball Z is full of esoteric jargon, but if you master these terms, you'll be passably fluent in Dragon Ball-ese:

Dragon Balls

Dragon Balls are MacGuffins. No, that doesn't mean they're high-fat breakfast sandwiches; they're plot devices that drive the motives of both the heroes and the villains in the Dragon Ball universe. If you get all the Dragon Balls together, you can summon a dragon that will grant you wishes. The villains are always trying to get these things so they can wish for immortality. However, because no one actually dies in Dragon Ball, they'd be better off wishing for a ham sandwich--or the return of Crystal Pepsi. Heroes, on the other hand, are always using the Dragon Balls to resurrect friends and loved ones from death. Death, by the way, is kind of like a 24-hour fitness center in space, but more on that later.

Saiyans

Saiyans, no lie, are a warrior-race of were-monkeys. If they look at the moon, they transform into giant oozarus (or were-monkeys) and go bananas. Unless you cut off their tails. But don't let that fool you, they're also capable of turning into Super Saiyans, which are the powerful dudes with the big yellow hairdos for which the series is famous.

Saiyan-ism, naturally, is a result of Saiyan genes, which are the Dragon Ball equivalent of gamma radiation; Saiyan genes explain everything. When Goku wakes up from a good nap and is suddenly a hundred times stronger, it's his Saiyan genes acting up. These are basically an excuse for the writers to suddenly make the main characters much, much stronger than they were before.

Z Fighters

Nearly every good guy in Dragon Ball Z can be counted as a Z Fighter at some point or other. However, the true Z Fighters are guys like Krillin, Tien, Chaozu, and Yamcha. These brave souls serve two main purposes: They either use their feeble powers to distract a superenemy long enough for a real hero to vanquish it, or they get mutilated so violently by said enemy that their death inspires a hero to raise his power level enough to beat the bad guy.

Death

Death, in Dragon Ball Z, is essentially prison; if you go there, you work out a lot until your release or your escape. You can also get days off of being dead as long as you reserve them early enough in advance.

Chi

Chi is the magical power that heroes and villains use when they attack. It is related to character's power level, which basically states the size of his or her Chi. Some characters can use techniques to multiply the force of said Chi, but they have to be careful because overuse of this technique can make their Chi explode. For instance, at the beginning of Dragon Ball Z, Goku has a power level of 300. Later on, though, he gets it all the way up to 540,000. A normal human, by comparison, is supposed to have a power level of, like 4, except for Tom Cruise, who is only a couple points from turning into a straight-up Super Saiyan.

Other Media to Consider

There is a ton of Dragon Ball Z content out there, including the mangas, animes, movies, and TV series, but that doesn't even include the original Dragon Ball saga. Rather than go into all of that here, you should take a look at these two pieces because they'll make sense of two of the unusual characters included in Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit, Bardock and Broly.

Bardock--The Father of Goku

This television special tells the story of Bardock, aka Goku's dad. Bardock was a happy warrior, going around and destroying all the life on various planets until one of his many victims showed him that his boss, Frieza, was going to wipe out Vegeta, the Saiyan home world. Not only does this TV special teach valuable lessons (don't do anything to a planet you wouldn't want done to your own), it also adds gravitas to the eventual showdown between Goku and Frieza.

Broly--The Legendary Super Saiyan

There are actually three Dragon Ball Z movies that focus on Broly, this one being the first. As legend has it, there is such a thing as a Legendary Super Saiyan, which is the toughest guy in the whole universe; that's Broly. The good news is that he's as strong as advertised. The bad news is that he's about as emotionally mature as an eight year old. His dad tries to control him with a device (the Dragon Ball Z equivalent of Ritalin), but when Broly stops taking his mind-control meds, the Z Fighters have to step in and calm him down permanently. Or at least until Broly--Second Coming.

As you can see, the world of Dragon Ball Z is a very rich, complex place. But to further help you find your way in it and get the most out of such games as Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit, we cobbled together the simple flowchart on the next page to show you how each of the 21 playable characters in this upcoming fighting game relate to each other. Enjoy!

Are you excited about Burst Limit? Or just excited to be here? Let us know!
No Caption Provided

No Caption Provided

Still confused? See the light? Leave us a comment and let us know what you think.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

Join the conversation
There are 283 comments about this story