Although the Budokai Tenkaichi games are fresher in everyone’s minds, the Budokai sub-series still holds a special place in the hearts of Dragon Ball fans everywhere. For many, the first Budokai is still home to one of the best story modes in a Dragon Ball Z game, covering the events from Raditz to Cell as if its players were controlling the anime themselves.
The Budokai games notably came to a dismal end with Infinite World’s horrible reception, allowing the unrelated Budokai Tenkaichi games to take center stage. Looking back, though, the Budokai series stands out as the last time fans would have anything resembling a traditional Dragon Ball fighting game for some time. The Budokai series has had its ups and downs, but it’s a part of Dragon Ball history worth revisiting.
It’s bad enough that Dragon Ball Evolution got a cross-promotion video game for the PSP, but it’s even worse that said game is technically a part of the Budokai sub-series, more or less playing like the other games in the series. It’s frankly shocking to see and gives Dragon Ball Evolution a gross layer of legitimacy.
As expected, it’s not that great a game. There’s only so much that can be done with a fighting game meant to promote a horrible live-action adaptation of a manga. If nothing else, Dragon Ball Evolution’s core gameplay is similar enough to Budokai where it’s not impossible to sit down and have a decent time playing it. Though why anyone would do that when both Shin Budokai games are on the PSP is anyone’s guess.
6 Budokai 2
Budokai 2 isn’t a bad game by any means– it’s significantly better than Evolution if nothing else– but it fumbles hard when it comes to single-player content. Budokai went from adapting the anime fairly well to turning into Mario Party for no reason and for zero benefit. In hindsight, it’s a unique approach to a Dragon Ball campaign, but it’s still incredibly tedious, with or without a friend.
It’s a shame too, considering Budokai 2 could have easily picked up where Budokai 1 left off and covered the Buu arc. It’s unfortunate it didn’t since Budokai 2 probably has the best visual style of the three mainline Budokai games. Its core gameplay is also improved from Budokai 1 and it’s home to some fairly eclectic stages. It’s a weird game overall, for better and for worse.
The game that started it all, Budokai is a comfortable game that’s neither that great nor bad. It’s fine, gets the job done, and can gladly eat up anyone’s afternoon. Its story mode adapts Dragon Ball Z from Raditz’ introduction to the end of the Cell Games, even structuring itself as if a series of episodes. There are bonus episodes to unlock and even What-If scenarios.
The roster’s on the small side, but Budokai has so much charm and style that it’s hard not to love it even today. It was re-released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 alongside Budokai 3, but both games feature altered soundtracks. Due to its cleaner and smoother visuals, the GameCube version remains the best way to play the first Budokai.
4 Shin Budokai
Both Shin Budokai games are incredibly interesting, but the first stands out in particular for serving as a Buu arc sequel that makes no attempt at trying to outdo the original series in terms of scope. It loosely adapts Fusion Reborn, keeps things self-contained, and wraps everything up in a nice, clean way. As far as original stories go, it’s one of Dragon Ball’s best.
Budokai’s core gameplay ends up translating rather nicely to the PSP as well. Shin Budokai feels no different from other titles and even has its own charm. While it would be improved upon by its sequel in just about every way, Shin Budokai is still one of the most fun Dragon Ball games to just sit down and sink a few hours into.
3 Infinite World
Infinite World was released to almost universal criticism, derided for essentially being a clone of Budokai 3 with a worse story mode. Which it is, but… maybe we’ve all been a bit too hard on Infinite World. Its minigames are horrible and kill the pace of what was a perfectly fine story mode, but the removal of Dragon Rush does mean that combat plays out like a more traditional fighting game.
For those that like Budokai, but don’t really care for the Dragon Ball experience, Infinite World is the best choice available. It has the most varied roster, the cleanest gameplay, and good music. Its story mode really could be better and those minigames have not aged well at all, but Infinite World is one Dragon Ball game in desperate need of reevaluation.
2 Shin Budokai: Another Road
Shin Budokai’s direct sequel, Another Road continues the original story trend by focusing on Future Trunks’ conflict against Majin Buu. Unable to handle the Djinn himself, Trunks goes back in time to enlist the main cast. From there, the story meanders into hard fan-service, but it’s still a very enjoyable attempt at explaining how Trunks got around Buu long before Super gave a concrete answer.
It’s also home to a larger roster and the same great gameplay. Shin Budokai: Another Road is often overlooked since it’s on the PSP, but it’s one of the best games in the sub-series. The story is a mess, but it’s the entertaining kind that never stops being engaging.
1 Budokai 3
Dragon Rush is a hit or miss mechanic, but it’s one that feels appropriately Dragon Ball, throwing a chaotic wrench into the action. Fighting game traditionalists will hate it, but it’s a fun mechanic that can change the tide in a dynamic way. Besides, the core combat is more than strong enough to make up for any Dragon Rush related problems.At the heart of the experience, though, is Dragon World: an RPG story mode where every Z-Fighters has the story told from their perspective. It’s one of the coolest story modes in the franchise and ends up giving Budokai 3 hours upon hours of replayability. It’s the definitive Budokai experience.