Say what you like about the nineties, from rampant corruption to ozone eating chemicals messing around with our fragile ecosystem, at least there were some damn good games around. And one of those games would of course be based on the legendary japanimation itself, Dragonball Z. Yup, long before the DBZ franchise was churning out more fighting games than a Tiger Woods golfing franchise, we actually had a great game that just blew our young, impressionable minds.
Its the start of 1992 and the Japanese gaming industry has released a DBZ game. But the genre they’ve chosen? RPG, which might sound like an odd fit for a cartoon that is essentially two grown men shouting at each other for ten straight episodes before the first punch is even thrown.
But believe it or not, by copying the then massively popular Final Fantasy formula and throwing in a few tweaks, developer TOSE actually created a ridiculously polished game with addictive gameplay mechanics.
While somewhat confusing at first, the core gameplay was rather easy and simple to use once understood. Instead of a generic menu with various commands, players would instead get a set of five cards at the start of battle, each one corresponding to a different attack.
Each card had two symbols on it, one for attack and one for defence. The higher the attack, the more damage you would do, while the higher the defence, the less damage you would receive when enemies attacked you.
In addition, ki cards allowed you to perform energy and signature attacks, depending on how much energy your characters had in reserve. Certain in game items allowed you to alter cards to better suit you in battle, while power up items could be combined with stat boosting abilities to increase your power level even more.
While the standard grinding mechanics were there, such as beat monster A to receive EXP in order to level up, the bonuses characters received upon gaining a level were kept simple. Health and energy received marginal upgrades every new level, while the bulk of your ability was solely dependent on your power level, which was raised in increments thanks to levelling up and training segments.
Battles would consist of a party of characters that were limited to five, maximum, using a turn based strategy to attack. What made this game so interesting however, was the lengths that the developers went to import the cinematic and high stakes of the DBZ franchise into the game. Animations such as massive attacks, flying characters and combat that would destroy the environment were typical of any fight. The animations may seem primitive now, but back in the early nineties, this just blew our minds completely.
Story wise, this version of a DBZ game started from the beginning and ran until the end of the Frieza saga. Despite taking a few liberties with enemies and missions, the storyline was kept intact and deviated very little from the main plot in the end.
The game even went so far as to tailor combat around the storyline specifically, with party characters dying when they were supposed to, or certain attacks being far more powerful than they normally were. It was a massive amount of fan service that was thrown into the game, something that just isn’t seen anymore in today’s titles.
Exploration was an almost carbon copy of Final Fantasy however, with enough random encounters to drive even the most seasoned RPG fan insane. Maps were also littered with cameos and shops, with training venues available to increase your power level, ki and even earn some coin.
In the end, although only the Japanese got to play this, a few dedicated fans did manage to port the title over for emulation, even adding in some english translation for those of us with little knowledge of eastern languages.
It was fun, difficult and ahead of its time with its in game cinematics, but ultimately forgotten in the end thanks to the slew of mediocre Dragonball Z fighting games that came afterwards. A sad fate, but for those of us who played, we’ll always have the memories of good times in our heads. And that damn battle theme tune as well.
Last Updated: June 27, 2011