Written by Paul Monopoli
System: Bandai Wonderswan
What the… I though this was a retro review? 2003? That was only 7 years ago, what’s going on?
OK, calm down people! This is actually a remake of Dragonball 3 for the Famicom which came out in 1989. Better now? Phew… Also, I’ve chosen to use “dub names” for this review. I figured everyone will know what I’m talking about that way, as even “sub only” fans know “Dub-isms” as they’re sometimes called.
Dragonball games are a dime a dozen. The SNES had 7 games alone, with most other systems getting at least 1 game during their lifetime. From the Famicom to the Playdia, SNES, Megadrive, Playstations 1, 2 & 3 & beyond, Dragonball has done the rounds several times over during the life of the franchise. Even today the Wii, Xbox 360 & PS3 all have Dragonball games, from Raging Blast to The Revenge of King Piccolo. What about this one though?
Dragonball starts off with a fancy introduction screen that really shows that this game means business. It uses the full power of the Wonderswan colour & looks amazing on the later Swancrystal (3rd Generation Wonderswan). The Wonderswan was released during the Gameboy Advance & Neo Geo Pocket era. Unfortunately like the latter machine it was little known outside of Japan, which is a shame as both consoles had their strengths. I’ve mentioned before that the Neo Geo Pocket was probably the finest handheld for fighting games ever made. The Wonderswan’s strengths lay in RPGs, & as such it received some brilliant Final Fantasy conversions & this game, which the console is perfectly suited for.
The game starts off at the beginning of Dragonball where Goku meets Bulma for the first time & takes you through to the final battle with Piccolo Jr at the 23rd Tournament. Along the way you get to also play as Yamcha & Krillin, though you control Goku throughout most of the game.
The text is in Japanese, but if you know the story of Dragonball you can happily skip it, because you know what’s happening. The game is effectively a card based RPG. You are given 5 cards on the bottom of the screen that you use to move around the map screen & to battle.
On the map screen the card you choose will determine how many steps you are allowed to take. This all depends on how many stars are on the Dragonball on the card. Choose a card with a 6 star ball & you can move 6 steps, etc… Each map may give you an option of various paths to take. If you take the wrong path earlier on you may have to backtrack, which can be frustrating as the game has random encounters, though they aren’t as frequent as some RPGs I could name.
Sometimes the map screen can be confusing being that it is viewed in a 3D perspective. Given the option of left or up you may choose the wrong direction & waste a couple of moves. Even when you know which way is which it is still easy to push the wrong direction when you’re distracted. However if you go one way & then turn back on the same turn you will get those backtracked steps back. The map has various coloured spots which will take you to little minigames that make little sense to the non English speaker. Key locations & bosses are also clearly visible on the map screen.
Don’t worry about Yamcha, he puts up a fight now, but he becomes useless in Dragonball Z. I call it karma…
When battling you first choose how many cards are going to be used in this round. You then have to choose a card that has a Dragonball with the highest amount of stars on it. If you have more stars than your opponent then you get to attack, if not then you have to defend. Your defence is measured by the number in the right hand corner of the card. Know your Japanese numbers, I cannot stress this enough, as the higher the defence the less likely you are to incur much or any damage from an attack. It’s a balancing act & a game of luck.
Like most RPGs, after a battle you earn experience. Once you earn enough experience you go up a level. Each level you get 5 points you can put towards your abilities.
Special attacks are all here including the Janken Punch:
Wolf Fang Fist:
& of course the legendary Kamehameha:
Though the game covers 153 episodes of Dragonball it still takes liberties with the storyline. One of the early quests is to find the Power Pole & to do this you must navigate a maze, find a key, open the door, defeat the enemy & there it is.
Some events in the game must be unlocked before you can proceed to others, such as the Ox King on Fire Mountain. He will not even speak to you unless you have found Master Roshi & obtained the Flying Nimbus.
As it so happens you need Roshi anyway to:
a) Put out the fire on Fire Mountain
b) Enable Goku to perform the Kamehameha
The cut scenes in the game are nothing short of spectacular. For those who don’t know, the Wonderswan operates on a single double A battery which lasts for hours, even when it’s doing stuff like this. One thing that does let the game down however is the pallette swapped sprites. This is typical of a lot of 8 & 16-bit RPGs, & was present in the NES version. The other thing that annoyed me was the fact that yes there are pallette swapped boss sprites, but they appear before the bosses themselves do!
There’s a Murasaki clone & I’m not even up to the Red Ribbon Army saga which is when he shows up. Metallitron is another one from the Red Ribbon Army saga who you encounter well before he is due to appear.
As I mentioned earlier, the game does take some liberties with the storyline, but it does follow the manga / anime very closely. Key events happen as they are meant to, though you do have options, such not to not take Turtle to Master Roshi. That won’t get you anywhere though as without him you can’t get all the Dragonballs, can’t put out Fire Mountain & won’t get your training for the 21st Tournament. Therefore it’s best to just follow the storyline verbatim.
The music in the game is a bit tinny though that’s to be expected. The title screen has a wonderful rendition of the Dragonball theme song, “Makufushigi Adventure”. The attacks are your standard fuzzy type POW noises. Most of the sound effects serve their purpose & aren’t going to wow you.
I suppose the final mention should go to the minigames. I don’t understand a lot of them, but then again I haven’t fully read the FAQ on Gamefaqs.com. If you get this game & want a good understanding of what’s going on I seriously suggest giving that FAQ a readthrough. Some of the minigames are essential to the storyline, others are there to give you items or power you up. Which does which I don’t know. Some of the games require you to choose a card higher than the one shown on the screen, one of the games is a simple game of “Pairs” where you try to find the 2 of the same cards:
Well I got the first 2 right… Oh well… One of the early on minigames gives you 5 cards & requires you to choose the correct one for Master Roshi. The correct card has a pair of pink panties on it, the wrong ones all have grey panties. If you get it wrong you have to take them back to Roshi, then go back & start again. This can get annoying as it takes a few turns to get from Roshi’s Island to the minigame & then back again, which means random encounters, the possible landing on minigame spots which at this stage you can’t be bothered with. I got the right pair of panties on the 3rd go, but any longer & it would have gotten very frustrating.
Reviewing RPGs is a tricky one. Obviously all of these screens are from very early on in the game, but to get you shots from later on would require hours of gameplay, which I have done on the actual cartridge itself. However I don’t think it’s any secret that these screens are not taken from the actual Wonderswan.
With that out of the way, I have to say that inspite of the language barrier I really enjoyed this game, though it’s not for everyone. If you don’t have a lot of patience then look elsewhere. If you’re a Dragonball fan & think you can handle the problems a non Japanese speaker would have then by all means give it a go. I give this game 78%. I enjoyed it, but I can see why some people wouldn’t.