The History Of Dragon Ball Video Games
By Kallie Plagge on
From Dragon Ball A To Dragon Ball Z
Even for the most passionate of Dragon Ball fans, there's a lot to keep track of. Outside of the manga and the anime and Funimation re-dubs and knowing what's canon, there are more video games based on Dragon Ball than most die-hard fans can probably even play. The upcoming Dragon Ball FighterZ is by Arc System Works, for example, but did you know that the developer made a few other Dragon Ball fighting games in the past?
The original Dragon Ball manga began in 1984, and though the series wouldn't become popular in the West until the late 1990s, a few Dragon Ball games made their way outside Japan in the meantime. By the time the 2000s hit, Dragon Ball games came from every direction, sometimes multiple per year. This is the history of every Dragon Ball game released in the West in English.
For more on Dragon Ball FighterZ, check out the full list of every confirmed fighter and the characters we hope to see come to the roster. Dragon Ball FighterZ releases for PS4, Xbox One, and PC on January 26.
If you picked up Dragon Ball FighterZ, be sure to check out our beginner's guide to help you grasp the game's fundamentals. You can also check out the video version with the best tips to know before starting. And for specifics on how to unlock some of the game's secret characters, check out our guide detailing how to unlock Android 21, SSGSS Goku, and SSGSS Vegeta.
Though, if you'd rather see all the cool references the game makes to the series, you can view our gallery highlighting all of the game's Easter eggs and references. Otherwise, check out our Dragon Ball FighterZ review and our in-depth feature containing gameplay videos, essential news, and everything else you need to know.
That's Not Goku!
Dragon Power (NES, 1988)
The first Dragon Ball game released in North America came out in 1988, though you probably wouldn't know it. Looking at the cover, you'd think Dragon Power is a generic kung fu-inspired game, but it's really a stripped-down version of the Japanese action-adventure game Dragon Ball: Shenron no Nazo. The characters' names as well as the music were changed for the NA release, and certain sexual references--mostly ones about panties, in keeping with the original Dragon Ball style of humor--were censored.
While the original game loosely covered the first few volumes of the manga, in Dragon Power, the levels with the Kung-fu Tournament (the Tenkaichi Budokai) were removed. Unsurprisingly, the game was not very well-received.
Every other Dragon Ball game made in the '80s was Japan-only, though not because of Dragon Power's missteps; it would be another decade before the West really began to care about Dragon Ball.
The Early 1990s Arrive...Decades Later
Dragon Ball Z: Super Butoden 2 (SNES, 1993; released in NA on 3DS Virtual Console in 2015)
Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22 (PlayStation, 1995; released in NA in 2003)
Skipping forward to the early '90s, Dragon Ball still hadn't made its way westward. Only two games from the first half of the decade, both fighting games, were localized in the West--albeit years later. Dragon Ball Z: Super Butoden 2 was originally released on the Super Famicom in 1993 and came to the North American 3DS Virtual Console 22 years later, in 2015. Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22 released on PlayStation in 1995 and arrived in NA in 2003.
Dragon Ball's Rise In North America
Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout (PlayStation, 1997)
The first 3D Dragon Ball game, Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout, came out in 1997. It was also the last game based on the franchise to be released on the PlayStation. Every other Dragon Ball game from the '90s was either Japan-only or came to France and Spain, but not to the West in English (aside from the late releases mentioned earlier).
In 1997, the Dragon Ball franchise was still relatively new to North America. The original Dragon Ball anime based on the earlier chapters of the manga had a few failed runs--an original "Lost Dub" in '89 and another dub in '95, both of which were canceled due to low popularity--before Funimation's re-dubbed version began airing in 2001. The first run of Dragon Ball Z, which was more popular and covers the later manga chapters, premiered on American TV in '96, came to Toonami in '98, and was re-dubbed by Funimation in 2005. Strangely, GT, the non-canon series on which Final Bout is based, didn't air in NA until 2003.
After Final Bout, there wouldn't be another Dragon Ball game released on consoles until 2002. Since then, there has been at least one new Dragon Ball game every single year except for 2013.
Budokai Series Part 1
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai (PlayStation 2, 2002; GameCube, 2003)
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2 (PlayStation 2, 2003; GameCube, 2004)
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 (PlayStation 2, 2004)
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai HD Collection (PS3 and Xbox 360, 2012)
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai released on PS2 in 2002, marking the beginning of an avalanche of Dragon Ball games. The Budokai fighting games are typical 3D fighters and follow the general Dragon Ball Z story. They include the ability to shoot Ki Blasts, and 3 introduced "Beam Struggles" (clashes of energy, like with a Kamehameha) between two characters. An HD collection including Budokai 1 and 3, but not 2, was released in 2012. The developer, Dimps, later worked on the Dragon Ball Xenoverse series.
The Legacy of Goku Series And More
Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku (Game Boy Advance, 2002)
Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku II (Game Boy Advance, 2003)
Dragon Ball Z: Taiketsu (Game Boy Advance, 2003)
Dragon Ball Z: Buu's Fury (Game Boy Advance, 2004)
Dragon Ball GT: Transformation (Game Boy Advance, 2005)
Around the same time as the debut of the Budokai series, developer Webfoot Technologies came out with Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku on Game Boy Advance. The action-RPG series, which also includes The Legacy of Goku 2 and Buu's Fury, received lukewarm reviews. Webfoot also made the fighting game Dragon Ball Z: Taiketsu and beat-'em-up Dragon Ball GT: Transformation, which was later bundled with Buu's Fury on the same cartridge.
Non-Fighting Handheld Games Part 1: GBC and GBA
Dragon Ball Z: Collectible Card Game (Game Boy Advance, 2002)
Dragon Ball Z: Legendary Super Warriors (Game Boy Color, 2002)
Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure (Game Boy Advance, 2006)
While console was dominated by the Budokai fighter series, the early 2000s saw an assortment of non-fighting Dragon Ball games on handheld. On top of The Legacy of Goku games, there was a version of the Dragon Ball CCG on the Game Boy Advance in 2002 (and of course there was a Dragon Ball CCG in 2002, when Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh cards were really taking off). There was also the turn-based Dragon Ball Z: Legendary Super Warriors on Game Boy Color in 2002, which used in-game cards for attacks and items, and Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure, a beat-'em-up, in 2006.
Arc System Works' Supersonic Warriors Series
Dragon Ball Z: Supersonic Warriors (Game Boy Advance, 2003)
Dragon Ball Z: Supersonic Warriors 2 (DS, 2005)
Arc System Works, best known for BlazBlue and Guilty Gear (and now Dragon Ball FighterZ), first made Dragon Ball fighting games in the early 2000s. Like Arc System Works' other games, the Supersonic Warriors series are 2D fighters, and they were received relatively well when they launched. In the games' story modes, you can play through individual characters' general story arcs from DBZ as well as what-if scenarios.
Like Dragon Ball FighterZ, Supersonic Warriors features team fighting, where you can swap between two or three characters with their own health bars during the course of a fight.
The First American-Made Dragon Ball Game
Dragon Ball Z: Sagas (PS2, Xbox, and GameCube, 2005)
In 2005, Dragon Ball Z: Sagas became the first and only Dragon Ball game to be released on the original Xbox. It was also the first American-made Dragon Ball game. Unfortunately, critics didn't particularly like it; GameSpot's review calls it "a short, ugly, slightly buggy, and brain-dead beat-'em-up that all but nullifies the good work of the Budokai games." Oops.
Super Dragon Ball Z
Super Dragon Ball Z (PlayStation 2, 2006)
A year later, Super Dragon Ball Z released on PS2. Not to be confused with Dragon Ball Super, Super Dragon Ball Z is a cel-shaded 2.5D fighter that draws more heavily from the manga in its art direction. It was better received than Sagas and plays more like a '90s Capcom fighter than the Budokai series.
Budokai Tenkaichi Series Part 1
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi (PlayStation 2, 2005)
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2 (PlayStation 2 and Wii, 2006)
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 (PlayStation 2 and Wii, 2007)
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi released on PS2 in 2005, but the name is a bit misleading. The Budokai Tenkaichi series of fighting games is actually very different from the Budokai series; it uses a completely different engine and an over-the-shoulder camera perspective, and different forms (Super Saiyan versus Super Saiyan 2, for example) are treated as separate characters with distinct stats and movesets. And while the Budokai games were developed by Dimps, the Budokai Tenkaichi games are by Spike Chunsoft.
The name "Budokai Tenkaichi" is a rearranged version of "Tenkaichi Budokai," a martial arts tournament in the Dragon Ball series. For some reason, they switched around "Tenkaichi Budokai" as if it were a Japanese name, even though it's not a name. It roughly translates to "Strongest Under the Heavens Martial Arts Tournament." In Japan, the series is called Dragon Ball Z: Sparking.
The first Budokai Tenkaichi game is now a Greatest Hits title for PlayStation. Budokai Tenkaichi 2 and 3 are two of only three Dragon Ball games released on the Wii in North America.
Budokai Series Part 2
Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai (PSP, 2006)
Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai - Another Road (PSP, 2007)
Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit (PS3 and Xbox 360, 2008)
Dragon Ball Z: Infinite World (PlayStation 2, 2008)
The Budokai series continued into the late 2000s. It made its way to handheld for the first time with Shin Budokai and Shin Budokai - Another Road. Burst Limit dropped the Beam Struggles mechanic introduced in Budokai 3, and Infinite World included Dragon Ball GT characters, since GT had been fully localized and released in North America for a few years. Infinite World was also the last Dragon Ball game released on the PS2.
Non-Fighting Handheld Games Part 2: DS
Dragon Ball Z: Harukanaru Densetsu (DS, 2007)
Dragon Ball: Origins (DS, 2008)
Dragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans (DS, 2009)
Dragon Ball: Origins 2 (DS, 2010)
Continuing the trend of the early 2000s, while Dragon Ball fighting games dominated consoles, the Nintendo DS had some genre variety. Harukanaru Densetsu and Attack of the Saiyans are RPGs, while the Origins games are action-adventures. Most notably, the Origins series is based on the early manga chapters and Dragon Ball anime, whereas most Dragon Ball games in the West adhere more closely to Dragon Ball Z.
Dragonball Evolution (PSP, 2009)
Dragonball Evolution, a 2009 PSP game based on the widely disliked live-action film, is technically part of the Budokai series. Like the movie, the game was universally panned; GameSpot's review calls it "a cheap cash-in attempt that does a disservice to Dragon Ball fans everywhere." On the bright side, it's also the first Dragon Ball game to offer Bulma as a playable character.
Budokai Tenkaichi Series Part 2
Dragon Ball: Raging Blast (PS3 and Xbox 360, 2009)
Dragon Ball: Raging Blast 2 (PS3 and Xbox 360, 2010)
Dragon Ball Z: Tenkaichi Tag Team (PSP, 2010)
Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi (PS3 and Xbox 360, 2011)
Spike Chunsoft continued its Budokai Tenkaichi series into the early 2010s, though with different (and probably less confusing) titles. The Raging Blast games, which include Ultimate Tenkaichi (okay, so this is still kind of confusing) were the first on the seventh-generation consoles. It was around this time, however, that the Dragon Ball fighting game fatigue really set in; GameSpot's review of Tenkaichi Tag Team quips, "This fighting system is almost as tired as references to 'It's over 9000!'"
The Only Wii-Exclusive One
Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo (Wii, 2009)
The only Wii-exclusive Dragon Ball game, Revenge of King Piccolo, is an arcade-style beat-'em-up and platformer. It retells the Red Ribbon Army and early Piccolo Daimao story arcs from the kid-Goku era of the manga, and it was considered a kids' game with little to offer outside of an introduction to Dragon Ball and beat-'em-up basics.
Dragon Ball Z: For Kinect (Xbox 360, 2012)
Just as Dragonball Evolution was a sour note on the Budokai series, Dragon Ball Z: For Kinect was a poor addition to the Budokai Tenkaichi series. Specifically, GameSpot's review notes the "sheer mind-numbing repetitiveness of the game" and "erratic motion sensing." RIP Kinect.
Battle of the Gods Promotion
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z (PS3, Xbox 360, and Vita, 2014)
Action game Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z released in 2014 as a tie-in with the film Battle of the Gods. It marked the first video game appearance of Goku's Super Saiyan God form as well as the characters Beerus and Whis. And, like quite a few Dragon Ball games in the early 2010s, Battle of Z was critically panned. GameSpot's review is particularly negative: "Every moment in Battle of Z is a struggle--not to overcome challenges, but simply to enjoy the game."
Dragon Ball...On Mobile!
Dragon Ball Z: Dokkan Battle (Mobile, 2015)
While Japan got quite a few Dragon Ball games on mobile, North America got only one: Dragon Ball Z: Dokkan Battle. It's a free-to-play, card-based puzzle fighter that reached 15 million downloads in three months in Japan alone.
Dragon Ball Xenoverse (PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC, 2015)
Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 (PS4, Xbox One, and PC, 2016; Switch, 2017)
After the Budokai series, developer Dimps worked on the Xenoverse games. While Xenoverse didn't get the highest review scores, GameSpot's review calls it "the most interesting and involved Dragon Ball game in years." Maybe that was a low bar in 2015, but it was also a turning point for Dragon Ball games leading into the next few years, and in 2016 our Xenoverse 2 review said it it is "among the best games to emerge from this beloved franchise." (It was rated "good" on GameSpot's scale.)
Arc System Works' Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden
Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden (3DS, 2015)
Arc System Works returned to the Dragon Ball fighting game scene in 2015 with Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden on 3DS. It coincided with the 3DS Virtual Console release of 1993's Super Butoden 2 and otherwise isn't that notable.
Dragon Ball Fusions
Dragon Ball Fusions (3DS, 2016)
Unlike a lot of Dragon Ball games, 2016 RPG Dragon Ball Fusions follows a customizable protagonist. Like many of the games before it, Fusions received mixed-to-average reviews. GameSpot's review says: "If the progression felt a bit less stilted and fights weren't drawn out, repetitive affairs, this would be one of the strongest Dragon Ball games out there. Alas, just like Hercule in the series, Dragon Ball Fusions postures and promises more than it actually delivers."
Dragon Ball FighterZ
Dragon Ball FighterZ (PS4, Xbox One, and PC, 2018)
44 games later, the next Dragon Ball game is almost here: Arc System Works' Dragon Ball FighterZ. The 2D fighter follows a 3v3 format similar to more recent Marvel vs. Capcom games. It will feature a new story mode that seems to take place sometime after the Universe 6 Saga, and it also introduces a brand new character, Android 21.