Like many others around my age, I was first exposed to Dragon Ball through the wonders of the Toonami block airing on Cartoon Network back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. It was an interesting time in my life, as I shifted from hobbies I was more involved with as a child to new ones as I started middle school, and the new experiences that came along with it. Anime in general was a new and unknown quantity to me, a huge world of stories from another place that I really knew nothing about. But the 90’s anime wave was accompanied by the Internet, and I can remember searching for Dragon Ball Z information literally within hours of having a computer capable of going online. Today it seems silly, but back in 1999 it was unbelievable to me that so much Dragon Ball content existed when in the U.S. we had only received the first few dubbed (and heavily altered) seasons of DBZ. Entire story arcs, characters, even whole series had come and gone already in Japan, and the idea that there were even video games released on so many different consoles simply blew my mind. It was very much like being exposed to a whole new world.
I used to go to a local store that sold anime fansubs on VHS tapes, before broadband internet this was one of the only ways to see new content, especially uncut versions, not yet available on television. So I would buy tapes of DBZ episodes, or different OVA’s, even Dragon Ball GT episodes in order to try to see a little bit of everything. Eventually, I realized that the store was able to order some import video games, and that’s how I got my hands on my first ever game from Japan: Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout for the original PlayStation. There’s nothing inherently special about the game, it’s simply not very good, but just the fact that I was able to play with some of my new favorite characters made it worth it.
Final Bout was released in Japan in the summer of 1997, some two years before I ever played it, but it was still very new to me. The animations in the game are poor, the controls are abysmal and most of the characters in the game are different iterations of Goku, but it still appealed to me as something unique and different. I had to get a boot disc for my PlayStation in order to play it, which I thought was pretty cool at the time, too. But easily the best part of Final Bout is the opening cinematic, “Biggest Fight”, which has our heroes battling past foes in a fully animated clip. It was Dragon Ball action on PlayStation, and it was awesome.
Back then, Dragon Ball merchandise was tough to come across. Occasionally, figures from Bandai’s original Japanese “Super Battle Collection” run would pop up in import stores or similar places, but some of these figures were already nearing a decade old and didn’t match the quality or detail of many toys released for properties in the U.S. But with DBZ becoming a surprise success on Toonami, companies raced to get merchandise to market, and that involved Irwin acquiring the license and repacking those early Bandai figures on new cards to reach the new American demand. These figures weren’t always the greatest, with limited articulation and sometimes nonsensical accessories. But I still wanted to collect them and they still hold some real nostalgia value for me, imperfect as they may be.
Today, it’s amazing to look back 15 years and see how things of changed. There’s no more need to hop on dial-up internet to read plots of future episodes, instead all episodes are streaming and of course Dragon Ball Super is airing right now, available for viewing at practically anytime. A new Dragon Ball game is set to be released on the most powerful console generation of all time – no more boot discs or need to import niche titles from overseas. You can walk into any Barnes and Noble bookstore and find a huge manga aisle, and modern Dragon Ball figures are crafted by some of the best toy makers in the business. So while Final Bout isn’t a great game by any stretch, and Dragon Ball GT itself is mixed at best, it does hold an important place as something that helped introduce me to the wider world of Dragon Ball and import gaming in general. It was fun having to put the pieces together for yourself back then, and that game reminds me of those times, but things are certainly easier in 2016, with the ability to instantly stream every episode on a computer you can fit in your pocket.
Thanks for reading Game and Toy. You can reach me on twitter @ringman_. Check out my other articles on retroware if you enjoyed this one.
Tape photo from kanzenshuu.com