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Dragon Ball: Final Bout

If I have a flaw, it’s the tendency to fall dramatically in love with frenetic, brightly coloured and loud Japanese cartoons. My flat is littered with the relics of 18 years of Mangaphilia, from the original Akira comics through to Hello Kitty and Pokemon. My most expensive discovery yet was Dragon Ball Z, a show that started airing regularly on the UK Cartoon Network about a year ago. After experiencing one of their all-day marathon showings (the entire Cell games saga) I made it my goal to find out all about this cool series and start buying up all and any stuff I could find related to it.

Is that guy on the left in the foreground, or is he in the background but really, really big?

Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball GT all sprang from a comic book series that began in 1984 which told the story of a little monkey tailed boy called Goku who joins up with a feisty teenage girl called Bulma to find the seven Dragon Balls. When bought together, these balls will summon a dragon who can grant any wish. As the series went on Goku grew up and had children (Gohan and Goten), we also find out he was actually part of an alien race and we meet the evil hearted Vegeta and Piccolo; both aliens who became good after prolonged exposure to Goku’s good nature. Goku and Vegeta were both super Saiyens, which meant they could power up into super beings with great power; Gohan, Goten and Trunks (Vegeta’s son) also shared this ability, despite being half-human. During the massively long Dragon Ball Z series, three major villains were pitted against the good guys. Freiza, enemy of the Saiyen race, Cell a super android and Majin Bu a magical monster. All these characters can be found in the psx game Dragon Ball: Final Bout.

Dragon Ball: Final Bout was released in the UK in 1997. It was actually fairly rare for a long time, but a reissue in 2002 made it cheaper and easy to find and, even though many people had warned me off it, I purchased it anyway! As a huge fan of both fighting games and Dragon Ball I thought there would probably be something here that would interest me. Despite it being a hugely flawed game, I still found a lot to like about it, mainly because it tickled the fangirl in me quite severely.

The actual fighting engine has some interesting features that set it apart from other fighting games and give it a very “DragonBally” flavour. Each character has the standard moves, punch, kick and block. But in addition to the standard health bar, underneath is a power bar that is used to activate special projectile/energy attacks. This bar will deplete each time an energy blast is released, but will slowly recover. If you try and perform too many energy attacks one after another, your character will become out of breath and you will temporality lose control of them as they puff and pant. By pressing triangle you can power up, but your character is vulnerable while doing so, so you have to use it tactically.

Oh c’mon, how can you ask someone to caption a pic like this?

Pressing L1 or R1 will allow your character to take off and fly through the air. Pressing R2 will allow the character to perform a special move called a “smash meteor”. This gives you a window to input various button presses and also give your opponent a chance to try and deflect them. Special attacks by characters can also be deflected and countered, so no character or attack can be guaranteed to work against a quick thinking opponent.

There are ten characters to choose from initially (with Super Saiyen versions of the characters unlocked as you play). Goku, Pan, Chibi Goku (young Goku), Future Trunks, Super Saiyen Vegeta, Gohan, Perfect Cell, Majin Bu (spelt Boo in the hilariously japlish manual), Freiza and Piccolo. All have retained their signature attacks from the Dragon Ball cartoon. For example both versions of Goku can launch the spectacular “Kamehameha” (a massive energy blast). Vegeta can fire off multiple energy bolts. Majin Bu can extend his arms for long distance slappings, and Freiza can be devastating with his powerful tail.

The characters are pretty well balanced (although the monsters – Cell, Freiza and Bu – tend to be “cheaper” to use than the humans). Vegeta’s raw power is offset by his relatively short attacking range. Cell is strong but slow, Chibi Goku and Pan both make up for small size with great speed. Of course Goku and Gohan are probably the best fighters of the lot, but the differences in style between the various fighters makes playing with all of them an interesting experience.

Hi, I’m looking for another pair of shoes like these…

As well as the obligatory Tournament/Arcade mode and Versus Mode, there is an interesting mode called “Build Up”. Here you choose a character and build them up during a series of battles. By concentrating on each area of attack and defence you can make your chosen fighter gradually gain more strength, endurance and prowess in special attacks. There is even an option to take characters from the previous PSX Dragon Ball game “Ultimate Battle 22” and build them up as well. If you have a friend who has also built up a character you can plug both memory cards in and take each other on. Again this is a nice idea, as two people may have very different approaches to fighting and these can really become obvious when you have created a character that matches your own strengths.

Graphically it looks quite nice considering the age of the game. The characters are all recognisable and move well (but slowly), they are built from fairly crude polygons, but look quite chunky and pleasing to the eye. The arenas are rather bland though and the fighting is strictly 2D, even though they have the ability to fly around. Sound wise it’s a bit of a let down. For some reason this UK release uses the voices from the Japanese version of the cartoon and all the speech is in Japanese as well. This does sound a bit odd when you are used to the American dubs of the cartoon, Goku in particular sounds rather weird and squeaky.

My hair is bigger than yours! Fight!

So this game has good characters, a fighting engine with some clever twists and looks reasonably authentic. Unfortunately there is one thing that really lets the whole game down and makes it a real chore rather than a pleasure to play. The controls suck and it’s too damn slow!

When most people think of Dragon Ball probably the image that springs to mind most is high speed, frenetic battling (well after they have spent ten episodes shouting at each other and explaining the plot!). So it boggles the mind why this game is just so sluggish. There are delays of several seconds between you pressing a button and the command registering on screen. For some bizarre reason it’s incredibly hard to make the characters move backwards and forwards, and when they fly in the air the collision detection is terrible! The characters seem to hover in the air and move in super-sloooooooow motion, and if they aren’t lined up perfectly it makes connecting an attack on opponent impossible.

This is from a cut scene. Surely.

It’s hard to describe just how slow the game is, it can be painful waiting for a special move to activate. It also makes it very easy to wipe out a lot of your opponents health using a fast projectile attack. By the time your opponents recoil animation has finished, you will have hit them with another, and another, and another. Only the depletion of the power bar prevents you from winning the whole match in this way.

Sadly this basic gameplay flaw (most likely exacerbated in the PAL version due to the 17.5% drop in speed that affects poorly done NTSC to PAL conversions) ruins what could have been a decent attempt to bring the Dragon Ball mythos to the PSOne in 3D. Sadly it took many years and a few misteps on the way to finally bring us worthy 3D Dragonball Z games in the form of the Budokai series on the PS2. This is one you’ll want to get if you find it dirt cheap and fancy plugging a gap in your DBZ collection, otherwise, forget it.

3 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2003.

Gentle persuasion

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