As a kid, there were few things more exciting than going to the local game store, and finding out that one of my favorite anime or cartoon series would be getting a brand new video game. At the time, it didn’t really matter that most of those games were clones and reskins of more popular franchises, or licensed purely to make a quick buck; I could play as my favorite characters--what more could possibly matter?! So, when the day arrived, and I excitedly popped the cartridge of Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku into my GBA, younger me immediately learned a valuable lesson: Sometimes licensed games can be bad. Sometimes licensed games can be very, very, bad.
So, in the following year of 2003 when a sequel was released, I pointedly ignored its existence, entirely certain that the game would be just like the first: clunky, awkward, a chore, difficult to control; downright terrible in every single way. But, eventually, years later, whilst scrolling through a list of games on my Supercard, I saw the game innocently sitting there, begging to be played. Cynically, I selected it--I’d play it just for a bit, if only to see how horrible it would be. At the very least, it couldn’t possibly be worse than the first, right?
The game kicks off with a horrendously pixelated intro, looking every single bit of its 16-year-old age, with all the hallmarks of an early-2000’s Game Boy Advance title, rife with a bit-crunched guitar riff from Bruce Falconer’s western Funimation dub soundtrack and exceptionally short GIF-like animations of all the main cast, ripped straight from the anime. When it reaches the title screen, with the background laden by even more pixelated versions of character art, slapped all across the frame in an attempt to look cool, again, taken right from the show, it’s entirely fair if your expectations hit rock bottom. And really--with a predecessor like the original Legacy of Goku, coupled with the fact that this game was made by an American developer, likely aiming to capitalize on peak DBZ-mania at the time, it would come as no surprise that this game would be as awful as you could imagine. And that's when I learned another lesson: sometimes, developers can actually learn and improve, and realizing that just requires you to take a chance.
So, it's a surprise that, despite everything seemingly against its favor, Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku II is actually a pretty fun game.
A simple game, for certain, and one with many odd or laughable quirks, but even so, it’s charming and definitely enjoyable for Dragon Ball fans, and even perhaps even good enough to pique the interest those looking for an oddball game to try out of the GBA’s massive library. In this entry of GBAtemp Recommends, we'll be ignoring The Legacy of Goku I, and instead will be focusing on the games that followed it.
For those completely new to anything Dragon Ball related, you won’t really miss too much in terms of story by doing this. Some characters and their relationship dynamics might be unclear, but for the most part, the second game tries to fill you in on all the bare-minimum level details. Legacy of Goku II follows the tail-end of the movie The History of Trunks, and ends off at the end of the Cell Saga, (alternatively, about 100 chapters worth of story from the manga) with added movie content interspersed here and there for padding. Being able to play through definitive moments in DBZ-history is always exciting, and all of the major story beats are covered in all of their glory, from the multiple battles against the Androids, to the final climactic duel with Cell.
As with most RPG’s, LoG2 has tons of sidequests and hidden collectibles to find; fans both new and old won’t recognize a good chunk of the game’s story, as it constantly divulges towards filler content whenever things need to be stretched out further. Don’t you remember the time that Vegeta had to cradle dinosaur eggs carefully around a group of angry robots, so that he could move a mother dinosaur away and blow up a generator powering a random man’s house, in order to look for information about the android threat? Me neither, but Legacy of Goku II delivers on this and other such pulse-pounding filler misadventures.
As we mentioned before with the game's intro, its visuals are something to behold, as nearly every character has awkward-looking profile art. They're off-model, and sometimes look as if they were badly traced in Microsoft Paint. Weirdly enough, despite the horrifying portraits, the rest of the game's graphics look great! They're nothing amazing, but the sprite-work is reminiscent of classic Super Nintendo RPG's. If you happen to speak Japanese, you can play the game's International version, which features slightly improved character portraits, too!
Rather than stick with Goku for the entirety of the game, like the previous game did, LoG2 actually lets you play as all of the main cast: Goku, Vegeta, Piccolo, Trunks, and Gohan. In fact, Legacy of Goku II is pretty much an improvement in every way, compared to its predecessor. Gameplay mechanics have been changed to better suit the Secret of Mana clone that it was trying to be, by giving you more attacks to work with along with actual feedback for your moves, making every hit feel like an earth-shattering punch, just like it is in the show.
For the most part, these characters don’t feel too different to each other and control very similarly, so it’s just a case of grinding everyone up so that you’ll be prepared for their respective fights throughout the narrative. They do each get unique special attacks, learned through leveling up, so those minute differences might make one character better to play as over another, depending on your personal playstyle. The base combat is simple, yet satisfying enough to get away with making the cast control relatively same-y.
So, as developer Webfoot realized, with a bit of fine-tuning and effort, it was possible to create a Dragon Ball Z RPG that managed to be creative enough to stand on its own as an actual game, rather than a cash-in for fans of the franchise. Right after the release of Legacy of Goku II, and its at-the-time passable or even positive reviews, they got to work on yet another game.
Releasing in fall of 2004, was Dragon Ball Z: Buu's Fury. It dropped the Legacy of Goku moniker that originally left people with a bad taste in their mouth, and was a further refinement to their formula that had proven successful. It was, in every way, the opposite to the first Legacy of Goku game. Going back through the series in order of release was interesting, just to see how Webfoot managed to improve with each game. Over the course of the three years that they had worked on their games, they not only polished the gameplay into something actually enjoyable, but took care to add small details and fun easter eggs that make Buu's Fury feel like an actual Dragon Ball game, and not just an action-RPG clone anymore.
Present in both LoG2 and Buu's Fury is the world map, which allows you to fly around, reaching different locales within mere seconds. This is all represented by a Mode 7-esque map that really lends to the feeling of being a Super Saiyan, seeing the world from a sky-high view, traveling freely to places like Kami's Lookout, Goku's House in the wilderness, West City, and all the places familiar to those that have seen Dragon Ball Z. It's not only cool, but it's an especially nice treat to see where iconic locations are, giving a feeling of exploration that few DBZ games manage to pull off.
Buu's Fury is where the game really begins to capture the essence of being an RPG. Where LoG2 would let you find random health-restoring turkey legs inside of walls, ala Castlevania, this game adds in items, tons of items, in fact. You not only have health and mana restoring items that you can buy and keep on your person for tough fights, but also equipment slots, for an insane amount of new equipable objects. Each character can have an item for their head, arms, hands, legs, feet, and a bonus accessory.
In your adventures throughout the DBZ series' final arc, you will find endless equipment, each with different traits. These can range from slowing your character down in order to boost XP gain, armor that increases your defense massively, but takes away from your energy attack power, fishing gear, to increase your chances of catching rare fish, or even a random kazoo that does absolutely nothing, and exists only as a gag item drop. These items are complimented by yet another addition to Buu's Fury: customizing your stats. Upon each level up for each of your characters, you'll be able to add skill points to your stats. You've got STR for regular physical attacks, POW for skills like the Kamehameha, END for defense, and SPD for movement speed. That means that this time around, you can make each character entirely different from one another, turning Gohan into a special attack powerhouse, Vegeta into a punching fiend, and Goku an undefeatable tank. These changes make everything feel so much more fleshed out, and give your characters that extra bit of differentially that was missing in previous games.
Of course, even with these welcome improvements...it's still a very flawed game. In adding all these new attacks and features, the core game remains mostly the same, and if you're even remotely aware of how to play an RPG, you'll quickly become overpowered after just a few level ups. Pumping up all your stats with skill points and equipment makes you ridiculously overpowered, and brings the game's difficulty level down immensely. Even so, I can't help but still enjoy playing as Vegeta, and venturing around the world, annihilating anything I come across with ease. There's a sense of fun to finding new items, exploring fleshed out locations from the anime, and finding secrets hidden throughout the world. This was the exact game that I wanted, back when The Legacy of Goku 1 first came out; pure, undeniable Dragon Ball Z action-filled fun.
Hopefully, those who didn’t grow up with this series won’t know it for its infamously bad first game, but for the second and third titles, where developer Webfoot took the groundwork they built, and earnestly tried to create a Dragon Ball Z RPG that fans could truly appreciate. A Dragon Ball action RPG who's popularity might just have paved the way for Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot's existence. It may not be perfect, but if you’re a Dragon Ball fan, or just someone who likes to try out random retro games, next time you’re playing a GBA, give The Legacy of Goku II or Buu’s Fury a shot!
If you enjoyed this week's edition of GBAtemp Recommends, please leave a comment in the thread. This helps us monitor feedback and ensures we keep posting these articles in the future! For those who are interested in viewing previous entries, you can see them below!
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