In the West, during the 90s and early 2000s, when Dragon Ball Z was the undisputed king of Toonami, there was one thing that its legions of fans wanted more than anything else: a video game based on their favorite show.
Unbeknownst to those thousands of kids, teens and adults, there were actually A LOT of Dragon Ball games, and not just ones based on Z.
Even as far back as the Famicom (the original Japanese version of the Nintendo Entertainment System) there were games following the story of Dragon Ball and Z, and that tradition would continue on to the Super Famicom, Sega Mega Drive, PlayStation, Saturn and even oddities like Bandai’s Playdia.
Sadly, very few of these games made it to our shores, but that doesn’t mean that many of them aren’t worth tracking down and playing today.
With our list of 25 Classic 90s Dragon Ball Z Games That Only Super Fans Knew About, we’ll be discussing the many Dragon Ball games we missed out on (and a few we didn’t,) almost all of which have fallen by the wayside during the ensuing years.
Some are absolutely awesome, some are terrible, and a few are somewhere in between, but we’ll be giving each other them a little time in the spotlight, even if it’s long overdue. And while we are focusing almost exclusively on Dragon Ball Z games, we will have a few that deviate from that rule, such as GT or original Dragon Ball entries.
Let’s get started!
25 Daimao Fukkatsu
While 1988 isn’t quite the 90s,it’s close enough that we decided to give this Famicom exclusive a pass.
Taking place during the Piccolo Daimao saga of the original Dragon Ball, it featured unique gameplay that was closer to a board game than anything else, despite some RPG and trading card elements.
While it’s nice to see a Dragon Ball game that strays from the seemingly default genre of fighter, this particular entry in the franchise isn’t that great… unless you’re looking at it from a historical perspective.
24 Dragon Ball 3: Gokuden
Containing the entirety of the Dragon Ball saga up until the battle against Majunior (otherwise known as Piccolo,) players control Goku as both a child and adult, along with Krillin and Yamcha at certain points.
Its gameplay is similar to that of its predecessor, but with a few minor improvements to the mechanics and graphics.
This game also boasts a remake for the WonderSwan Color in 2002 (of all things,) which is an intriguingly weird bit of trivia and at least one thing going for it.
23 Dragon Power
“Dragon Power,” as it was known in the USA, was actually a dramatically retooled Dragon Ball game in disguise.
Originally known as “Dragon Ball: Shenlong no Nazo,” the game follows the earliest of Goku’s adventures, but was completely altered for the United States.
Gone were familiar characters and music, instead replaced with more stereotypical “Kung Fu” masters and martial artists, along with a slew of name and plot changes.
The whole situation is incredibly bizarre, considering that a good chunk of people were playing a Dragon Ball game without even knowing it!
22 Dragon Ball Z: Kyoshu! Saiyan
The very first Dragon Ball Z game (as opposed to plain old Dragon Ball) to be released, Dragon Ball Z: Kyoshu! Saiyan is an embellished retelling of the famous Saiyan Saga with Dead Zone thrown in for padding.
Following similar (but not identical) gameplay to its Dragon Ball predecessors, this game features an overworld, RPG elements and a card based (but tactical) battle system.
Its best feature is its graphics, though. Big, detailed sprites carry out dramatic and exciting battles. It’s truly something to behold, especially if you’ve discovered its fan translation out in the wild.
21 Dragon Ball Z II: Gekishin Freeza
The sequel to Kyoshu! Saiyan, Dragon Ball Z: Gekishin Freeza is more of the same in terms of RPG battles with trading card elements and a board game-esque overworld.
Moving on to the Namek arc in terms of plot, the title (which translates to “Freeza the Planet Destroyer”) gives you a pretty good idea of what you’ll be doing for the majority of the gameplay.
One oddity about this particular entry is that Chaozu, Tien, and Yamcha are alive, well and one hundred percent playable, which is a stark contrast from the source material. (Though a necessary one to give players a full party.)
20 Super Saiya Densetsu
The year is 1992 and the Famicom has given way to its almighty successor, the Super Famicom (“Super Nintendo,” to those of us in other territories.)
Super Saiya Densetsu, or “Legend of the Super Saiyan,” isn’t exactly an original game. Instead, it fuses Gekishin Frieza and Kyoshu! Saiyan into one, remade product, letting Japanese fans re-experience the classics in a new way.
The jump in sound, graphics, and overall quality is as dramatic as expected, but Super Saiya Densetsu doesn’t exactly push the system to its limits as much as maybe it should have.
19 Dragon Ball Z III: Ressen Jinzoningen
In something of a bizarre move, the next entry in the long-running boardgame/RPG/trading card hybrid didn’t come to the Super Famicom, but instead landed on the comparably obsolete plain old Famicom.
Worse yet, it doesn’t even tell a whole story.
See, while it follows the plot of the Android Saga, the game ends after Cell reaches his first form.
We have a lot of problems today with incomplete games being released and then publishers/developers expecting us to pay for what we should have had in the first place, but this game shipped without any intention of telling a conclusive tale.
18 Gekito Tenkaichi Budokai
Another NES title, Gekito Tenkaichi Budokai doesn’t pick up where Dragon Ball Z III left off, and instead goes off on a bizarre but genuinely interesting tangent.
Less of an RPG and more of a fighting game, the game has decent graphics and sound, but its truly standout feature was the real-life gimmick of switching out physical character cards using an external device.
We’re not exactly sure why that gimmick was developed or why it was used for this unusual fighting game experience, but it’s interesting nonetheless.
17 Super Butoden
Dragon Ball Z: Super Butoden is probably familiar to longtime Western DBZ fans.
During the height of DBZ’s Western popularity, we so badly craved for a video game adaptation of the series that we might as well have been junkies, and the worse part was that we knew these games existed, thanks to unofficial DBZ fan magazines, such as “Pojo’s Dragonball.”
In particular, we’d see this intriguing-but-clunky fighting game, Super Butoden, along with its sequels, being ruthlessly advertised in screenshots, with captions mockingly telling us that it was a Japanese exclusive and we weren’t getting it.
16 DBZ Gaiden: Saiyajin Zetsumetsu Keikaku
Fans of DBZ III were probably waiting with bated breath for the sequel so they could finally conclude the abruptly ended Cell Saga, but they got Dragon Ball Z Gaiden: Saiyajin Zetsumetsu Keikaku instead.
The story, known these days as the elusive “Plan to Eradicate the Saiyans,” is about a surviving Tuffle who wants vengeance against the Saiyans (not unlike the Baby Saga in GT.) Heck, there are even malevolent ghosts of Turles, Cooler, and others thrown in for good measure.
Once again, this game uses a card-based battle system, which was still fun, but certainly showing its age.
15 Super Butoden 2
As the sequel to the first Super Butoden fighting game, Super Butoden 2 came with what you’d expect from a fighting game sequel.
There were additional characters, a new, non-linear story (covering the Cell Saga along with a few movie villains) and an extremely impressive intro for its time.
The unique gameplay of its predecessor was preserved, but Super Butoden 2 has one black spot on its record: you need a code to unlock Goku.
That’s right, the main (and most beloved) character isn’t available from the start. That’s pretty bold, if we do say so ourselves.
14 Buyu Retsuden
The first Dragon Ball entry on Sega’s Mega Drive / Genesis, Dragon Ball Z: Buyu Retsuden is yet another fighting game, and it’s one that doesn’t steer too far away from the Super Butoden style and mechanics.
Right off the bat, it’s clear that this is an impressive looking and sounding Mega Drive title (especially the surprisingly clear voice samples!) and the gameplay is about as tight as you might expect from a licensed fighter at the time.
Also like the Butoden series, Buyu Retsuden received a European release, leaving the US in the cold once again.
13 Super Butoden 3
The third installment in the Super Butoden series, number 3 is an odd duck.
While sonically and graphically impressive (particularly its pseudo-3D intro,) Super Butoden 3 bucks the trends of its predecessor by completely abandoning a story mode, which is a tremendous bummer. The non-linear story was an incredible element of Super Butoden 2, and it’s really a shame to see it go.
Another strike against the third entry is its lackluster character selection. Considering that there is no plot to speak of, why bother sticking exclusively with Buu Saga characters?
12 Idainaru Son Goku Densetsu
Translated as “The Greatest Son Goku Legend,” this PC Engine title has Gohan telling the titular the legends of the dearly departed Goku to an eager Goten.
Like most PC Engine titles, this game features incredible anime-styled cutscenes with extensive voice acting that holds up even to this day.
The gameplay itself is hard to describe. It’s a fighter, but one that focuses on depth, with characters coming going deep into the background or duking it out right in front of the camera.
All in all, this is a unique experience that only the PC Engine was capable of.
11 DBZ Gaiden: Shin Saiyajin Zenmetsu Keikaku - Chikyu-Hen
Appearing on Bandai’s ill-fated Playdia home console, “Dragon Ball Z Side Story: True Plan To Eradicate The Saiyans: Earth Edition” isn’t really that much of a game. In actuality, it’s considered to be the “Official Visual Guide” to the Famicom retelling of the “Plan to Eradicate the Saiyans” OVA.
In fact, it’s totally comprised of pretty much nothing but animated sequences from the OVA, and your only real input is picking what to do next like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book.
10 Shin Saiyajin Zenmetsu Keikaku - Uchu-Hen
The original DBZ Gaiden: Shin Saiyajin Zenmetsu Keikaku seemed like an exercise in pointlessness, offering nothing more than an abysmal “interactive” collection of animated sequences and little else.
Unfortunately, that was only part one of this torturous experience, and the beleaguered Playdia would be saddled with part two of this “adventure” in the form of Uchu-Hen.
Once again, the “game” is nothing but animated sequences based on the second half the OVA, but it does feature at least a little more depth this time.
9 Super Gokuden Totsugeki-Hen
Abandoning DBZ for the original Dragon Ball (despite the title screen proudly displaying the DBZ logo,) the first thing you’ll notice about this Super Famicom game is that it’s graphically gorgeous.
That said, the thing that sets this game apart from the majority of the others on this list is that it’s more of a visual novel than a game.
Even so, Super Gokuden Totsugeki-Hen manages to incorporate a unique twist with its combat engine, in that it’s a mix of the traditional turn based style but with a slew of real-time inputs and elements.
8 Ultimate Battle 22
Earlier, we described in excruciating detail just how badly Western DBZ fans wanted a game based on their beloved series. Well, they got one alright.
Originally releasing in Japan in 1995 and taking until 2003 to reach North America, Ultimate Battle 22 is an infamously bad title that repels players with its horrible content, while simultaneously making them want to play (and suffer) even more.
As a fighting game, it’s one of the worst in existence. Unresponsive controls, special moves that all look and feel the same, bland backgrounds do a disservice to the Toei-animated characters.
7 Super Gokuden - Kakusei-Hen
The second Super Gokuden game, Kakusei-Hen follows the interactive visual novel style of its predecessor pretty closely, but the major change comes in the form of the battle system.
Playing less like an RPG and more like rock-paper-scissors, the battles are almost entirely luck based.
Despite this, the visual presentation is still wonderful, and the “what if?” content of the Dragon Ball Z story is fun to get into if you’re a fan. That said, if you don’t consider yourself to be a major connoisseur of DBZ, you might be better off avoiding this one.
6 Shin Butoden
The fourth entry in the Super Butoden series made its appearance on the Sega Saturn, leaving the Super Famicom in the dust.
Using the same, gorgeous hand-animated sprites from Ultimate Battle 22, Shin Butoden actually does them justice by featuring them in a game that’s not a rotting turd.
With 27 characters, a story mode and even a strange gambling mode where Mr. Satan places bets on AI characters (or helps them cheat,) Shin Butoden is a fantastic game that sadly never got the exposure it deserved.
5 Hyper Dimension
While Super Famicom owners missed out on Shin Butoden, they did get one last hurrah in the form of Dragon Ball Z: Hyper Dimension.
With new (but not necessarily better) graphics and a dramatically different combat system, Hyper Dimension is certainly its own beast when compared to the Butoden series.
Levels are multi-tiered and allow for mid-fight switches, which is a cool feature on its own, but you can also regenerate your health at any time, which is an intriguing gimmick that shakes up the entire genre.
4 Dragon Ball Z: The Legend
While Dragon Ball Z: The Legend is yet another fighting game, it follows the tradition of Hyper Dimension by having unique gameplay and genre-shaking concepts.
You control a team of three (comprised of sprites in a polygonal world) and struggle to increase your share of the “Power Balance” meter.
While characters do have other status bars, maintaining the Power Balance is the true goal. In action, the game is a chaotic sight to behold, perfectly mirroring the frantic action of the anime with a hefty and truly unique cinematic presentation.
3 Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout
While Westerners pined over the Butoden series, or made due with the awful Ultimate Battle 22, there was another Dragon Ball game that everyone wanted, going so far as to treat it like the holy grail, despite its mediocre quality.
That game was Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout.
Released in the West well before GT itself, this 3D fighter is practically just as bad as Ultimate Battle 22, with truly horrible controls and input lag.
Still, the low quality didn’t stop DBZ fans from desperately wanting it as part of their collection.
2 DBZ: The Anime Adventure Game
DBZ: The Anime Adventure Game is actually a tabletop RPG in the style of Dungeons & Dragons and, for what it’s worth, it’s actually really cool.
Unlike the majority of this list, this clearly isn’t a video game, but that’s okay, because it’s a unique product that’s worth your time.
Even aside from the actual mechanics and gameplay, the core rule-book is a must-own thanks to the incredible amount of lore within its pages, including a map of the Dragon World!
1 DBZ Collectible Card Game
Closing both this list (and the 90s) out, the original DBZ Collectible Card Game is a fantastic way to experience the series’ explosive battles.
Using a unique series of combat systems and special mechanics that genuinely make you feel like you’re powering up for real, this game is a superb addition to any DBZ collection.
Sadly the game is underrated and underappreciated, particularly when compared with Pokémon or Yu-Gi-Oh!’s card games, but now that the cards are easy to pick up on online, it might be time to discover just how awesome this game is for yourself.