‘Dragon, Dragon! Rock the Dragon! Dragon Ball Z! Dragon, Dragon! Rock the Dragon! Come get me!’
Alright, so lyrically speaking it’s not exactly William Blake, but this was the theme song of a generation. It’s the year 2000, it’s 5:30pm, you’ve just come home from a long day at school learning about Vikings, and now you’re tuned into Cartoon Network. Of course, you are; you don’t want to miss the next exciting episode of Dragon Ball Z!
Along the way, Goku met a number of allies and enemies (and, in the case of Vegeta, both at the same time) as we saw him grow and develop from a naïve monkey child into a naïve monkey man. Taking a drastic sci-fi turn (resulting in the familiar ‘Z’ appendage) mid-way through its run, the franchise became astonishingly popular as both a manga and anime series. But chances are you don’t need me to summarise Dragon Ball Z for you. Chances are you’ve already got your favourite characters, scenes, sagas, moments, lines, and fights. And chances are you’ve played as these characters and recreated these moments in many a Dragon Ball Z video game. But there was a time when that wasn’t possible. As a kid I had to make do pretending to be Goku in the playground and going up against Freeza/Frieza in the form of my mate James. It could take up to one whole play time to charge a Spirit Bomb. And turning Super Saiyan meant rushing inside to the water fountain, sticking your hair up, and rushing back outside to recommence the fight. But I’d always longed to play a Dragon Ball video game and sometime after 1997, with the North American release of Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout for the PlayStation and with the magic of importation, I finally got my wish. (And I didn’t even need to collect the Dragon Balls.)
And… I was disappointed. The controls were fairly horrendous, some of the playable characters were unfamiliar (seeing as Dragon Ball GT was years away from airing in the UK), and even as a tiny child with all the youthful enthusiasm in the world, I knew that this was not what a Dragon Ball game should have been like.
The game was entirely in Japanese with accompanying subtitles, something which doesn’t bother me at all now, but which, as a kid, I found slightly alienating. This doesn’t take anything away from the gameplay though and I still look back on this game as the first example of a Dragon Ball Z game that felt like it captured the spirit of the show. Another thing this game didn’t feature was any trace of the Buu Saga. But not to worry, Budokai 2 would see to that.
Budokai 3 followed a year later to greater critical acclaim. Many critics felt it did more to improve its gameplay. Its story mode was also praised, as it allowed players the freedom to roam the Dragon Universe, something which had been lacking in the previous two games. It also had greater replay value, as certain choices made by a player could affect the story in various subtle ways. The playable roster was once again expanded, this time including characters from Dragon Ball GT and the movies. There was even a rumour that Bulma was available as a playable character, but although a model of her was made and some lines were recorded by her voice actress, ultimately she didn’t end up in the game. A new battle ranking mode was also added, wherein the player had to defeat one hundred characters in a row in order to prove themselves as the number one fighter in the world.
Come on Shenlong, do us a favour.
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