While there were some animes that made their way to the US long ago, such as Astro Boy, the first series to truly cross over and become an absolute phenomenon was Dragon Ball Z. Based on a long-running manga series, the series grew to popularity in the US in the second half of the 90s, especially amongst teenage boys. I still remember lunch periods back in middle school where we did nothing but discuss the previous days episodes of Dragon Ball Z and what we thought was going to happen next.
Disappointingly at the time, most every Dragon Ball related video game did not make its way to the US, outside of a stray release of Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout in 1997. However, that all changed in 2002 when Dragon Ball Z: Budokai debuted for the PlayStation 2. After that, the series went on a streak of at least one major game until 2013, where no Dragon Ball Z games were released in the US. Now, with the release of Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z in the US, which we will have a review up for very soon, it seems like a perfect time to relive the past and look at the top five console games in the series. This list will only contain games that were released in the US, so the many releases on the Super Famicom in the 90s will not be included.
5. Dragon Ball Z: Budokai (PlayStation 2/Gamecube)
The first game in the string of releases from Dimps, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai was the first DBZ game that I ever owned. Nearing the end of the Majin Buu saga in the US, Budokai was cut off at the end of the Cell Saga, which was a huge disappointment for me as a kid. However, what stands out to me in this game is something that has been missing in the series in way too many games, cel-shaded cutscenes. I was jumping up and down the first time I got to play the game and see all the cutscenes between each fight. This was removed from many future games, which took a lot out of the experience. The included what-if episodes were a nice touch to add to the experience, along with solid gameplay.
4. Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit (Xbox 360/PlayStation 3)
The first venture into the HD era of gaming for Dragon Ball Z, Burst Limit looks absolutely gorgeous even today. Thanks to the Z Chronicles story mode and drama pieces, this game had one of the best story modes since the original Budokai. However, it does come at the cost of a shortened story mode, as this game only covers up to the end of the Cell Saga, almost like Budokai. For those that preferred the gameplay from the Budokai series over Budokai Tenkaichi, this may be the HD era game for you. A lack of content is really this game’s main drawback, which seems to happen way too often with the first games on a new generation of consoles. Hopefully the first one on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 will avoid this trend in gaming.
3. Dragon Ball: Raging Blast
After Burst Limit, Dragon Ball: Raging Blast was the second try at the brand in the HD era. Extending through the Majin Buu saga, Raging Blast feels more like a follow-up to the Budokai Tenkaichi line of games due to the similarities in gameplay. With a long story mode, this one will keep you busy for awhile, especially if you are a completionist. It was really nice to see a ton of characters with over 120 of them when you include the various transformations. It also was pretty awesome that the game let you use Super Saiyan 3 Broly and Super Saiyan 3 Vegeta, something that had not previously existed in an official capacity.
2. Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 (PlayStation 2)
Not only is this game one of the best of the Budokai games, this is one of the best Dragon Ball Z games period. Moving away from the really strange board game format of its predecessor, Budokai 3 has some of the most authentic gameplay to the anime that you will find in a game. This was a huge upgrade in quality of gameplay from the first two games, which sadly was completely changed in the follow-up Budokai Tenkaichi series. The series expanded beyond the first two by adding characters from Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball GT and some of the movies for the first time. However, the character roster is still pretty limited beyond Dragon Ball Z itself.
1. Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 (Wii/PlayStation 2)
This one was just about the last major Dragon Ball Z game release to be released on a non-HD console, coming to the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo Wii. Boasting 161 playable characters, this game has the largest number of playable characters in a DBZ game, and really has one of the largest for a fighter period to date. With a story mode that reaches across the multiple series and movies, Budokai Tenkaichi 3 will keep you occupied for a long time. The Wii version of this game actually was the first DBZ game to add online play, but sadly it was very laggy and I eventually gave up with using it. However, the game itself was so solid otherwise, that it is one of the best options for fans of the series to check out.
As you can tell from this list, there has been far from a perfect Dragon Ball Z game, as each as had its faults over the years. However, these are still a lot of fun to play even today. Games like Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 are pretty rare today, so if you have any interest, you may wish to pick them up sooner rather than later. How will Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z turn out? Stay tuned for our review soon to find out what we thought.