So, You Want To Get Into The Dragon Ball Video Games?

Dragon Ball is one of the most recognizable IPs on the planet. The battle manga created by the late great Akira Toriyama has garnered tens of millions of fans across the globe, and publisher Shueisha continues to tell the story of Goku and the Z Warriors even after nearly forty years since the manga’s first chapter. The popularity of the IP has allowed it to jump across various mediums, including an equally decades-spanning anime series, dozens of feature films, and dozens more video games. It’s a particularly exciting time for fans of the Dragon Ball video games as last month’s Summer Game Fest showcased a new official release trailer for Bandai Namco’s upcoming entry into the long-running fighting game franchise, Dragon Ball: Sparking Zero. Originally teased as a new entry into the Tenkaichi games, Sparking Zero is effectively a spiritual successor to the immensely popular series, taking fans back to the mid-late 2000s when the Tenkaichi games were at their apex in popularity.

Much like One Piece and other long-running animes, however, Dragon Ball as a franchise can be a bit intimidating for someone who never grew up with either the Toei anime or original manga. If you’re a newcomer to the franchise or have always had an outside curiosity about these spiky-haired heroes and their catalogue of frenetic and high-octane video games, but always felt it too daunting a task to penetrate the colossus that is Dragon Ball, then allow this to act as a short but effective guide to the world of Dragon Ball video games to help you choose your next adventure based on what you’re looking for in a video game under this sprawling IP.

If you want the story

dbz kakarot
This game is everything any true DBZ fan would have dreamt of as a kid

Though either reading the manga or watching the anime would obviously be the best way to consume this grand story, most of the video games do a somewhat decent job of retelling Goku and Co’s adventures, albeit cutting out much of the needed fat that gives the anime and manga its charm and emotion. If you want the best example of a game that feels like essentially playing the anime, then there’s really only one option: Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot. This is easily the best way to experience the full Dragon Ball Z story and all of its iconic moments through a video game. Kakarot separates itself from other games as it isn’t a fighting game, but a full-fledged action RPG. You’ll go through the entirety of the Z series, from the Saiyan Saga to the end of the Buu Saga. Bandai Namco has also done well to continue supporting the game with several DLCs that go through some of the series’ tangential stories like those of Future Trunks and Bardock, Goku’s father. The DLCs also add the arcs from the more recent Super series, as well as the 23rd World Tournament arc from the end of the original Dragon Ball (pre “Z”) from when Goku and friends were still youngsters.

The game itself looks quite great – especially the next-gen updates for the PS5 and Series X|S – and its gameplay, though can get repetitive, has an addictive quality that isn’t dissimilar to that flow state you get into while playing other fast-paced ARPGs like Kingdom Hearts. I was also pleasantly surprised by how much there was to explore and do in the open world. From simple but quirky side quests for some of the smaller side characters, to collecting all seven dragon balls to make a wish, to visiting the many iconic locations from the anime; it all makes Kakarot a dream come true for my ten-year-old self. It’s still not going to capture the gravitas and emotion of the anime or manga, but if you’re looking for the absolute best and complete way to experience this story through a video game, then Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is absolutely the best way to do so.

If you want a great 2D fighter

Arc System Works doing what they do best

Arc System Works aren’t new to making impeccably designed 2D fighters, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that all of their experience in the space resulted in them creating arguably the best 2D Dragon Ball fighting game, Dragon Ball FighterZ. A fighting game so good that it became the first in the franchise to be played on a competitive level at EVO. Aside from its incredibly tight mechanics, the game looks phenomenal and still stands as one of, if not the, greatest-looking Dragon Ball game to date–at least as far as the character models and animations go.

An honourable mention should be given to Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3, which was one of the highest-rated games in the franchise when it was released for the PS2 and still stands as one of the series’ best; with a legitimately great story mode that I wouldn’t be surprised if it inspired some aspects of Kakarot. Still, for as good as it was, it pales in comparison to FighterZ if what you’re looking for is the most mechanically robust 2D fighter.

If you want a great 3D arena fighter

DBZ Tenkaichi 3
Still one of the Wii’s greatest games, and I’ll die on that hill.

3D arena fighters have been synonymous with anime games for the better part of a decade. From Naruto’s Ultimate Ninja Storm series to Jujutsu Kaisen to, of course, Dragon Ball. Though these games rarely meet the level of quality in terms of gameplay compared to the 2D titles, they are still an immensely popular sub-genre due to them genuinely giving players a taste of how it would feel to duke it out as their favourite characters within dynamic 3D spaces. For Dragon Ball, Budokai Tenkaichi 3 did exactly that and was all the rage for us back in 2007. A game that allows you to play as one of the staggering 161 characters. Are they all balanced well? Of course not, but that isn’t the point. The point is you can play as Fat Janemba and battle against Arale. Though future games like the first Raging Blast, and more comprehensive ones like the Xenoverse series that brought some interesting plot twists and RPG mechanics were good, there will always be something special about Budokai Tenkaichi 3.

If you want retro action RPGs

Legacy of Goku
These games were real gems for the GBA.

Personally, I’ve always considered Dragon Ball to lend itself better to single-player experiences rather than proper fighting games. Hence why I’m such a big fan of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot and why I consider Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure, Dragon Ball Z: Legacy of Goku 1 & 2, as well as Buu’s Fury to be some of the best experiences of not only the Dragon Ball IP but of the Gameboy Advance in general. Advanced Adventure plays like a classic beat-’em-up and takes you through the story of Dragon Ball from when Goku was a kid. The Legacy of Goku series is a top-down RPG akin to Chrono Trigger, though the battles play out in real-time; the same goes for Buu’s Fury. From their vibrant sprite work, to their music, to their surprising complexities in both gameplay and RPG mechanics, these games are terrific in their own right, even if they didn’t have a Dragon Ball coat of paint over them.

If you want to hate Dragon Ball

DBZ Ultimate Battle 22
Terrible…just terrible.

If for some reason you clicked on this article with an active abhorrence towards Toriyama’s life’s work, then don’t worry, I’ve got you covered to help you fuel that cold, dead heart of yours. With so many games under its obi, there are bound to be some duds; none more infamous than Dragon Ball Z: Sagas and Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22. With the latter receiving a laughable 1.2/10 from GameSpot and the former a 4/10 from IGN, it’s safe to say these are a couple of the worst games to bear the Dragon Ball name. Games that even I, as a diehard fan of the IP, had trouble playing more than a couple hours of. So if you for some reason want to hate Dragon Ball video games, then these two games will have you well on your way.

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