Dragon Ball Z fighting games tend to be all over the place when it comes to timeline placement. Here’s a guide on how to navigate the timeline.
Dragon Ball Z’s timeline continues to expand, having taken fans of the Akira Toriyama title through the life of Goku from his days as a little boy traveling with Bulma to his adulthood. Numerous movies, OVAs, and video games have taken liberties with this growing timeline of Dragon Ball history, placing themselves either in the midst of things or in a separate timeline entirely with events that have no way of happening in the main storyline. Dragon Ball Z fighting games are no exception.
The Dragon Ball Z universe has its own journey through time to navigate. During the Android Saga, the character Trunks is introduced, having come from the future to save the past from falling, creating a split in the timeline of the series. The original thirteen movies of Dragon Ball Z also exist in their own timelines, as their events cannot be reconciled with the occurrences of the original anime and manga, yet the powers and ages of the characters allow for approximate placement.
Dragon Ball Super and Dragon Ball GT added further to the series’ lengthy history, and the many fighting games set in the Dragon Ball Z universe make use of the extensive timeline for their rosters and their narratives.
DBZ’s Story Is Told Through The Ages
Most of the Dragon Ball Z fighting games would find themselves based on the main timeline of the franchise while accommodating characters from the movies and GT. The Dragon Ball Z: Budokai and Budokai Tenkaichi series followed this formula, taking players from the start of Dragon Ball Z up through a predetermined part of the series. The first DB-based fighting game to be released worldwide, however, was Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout in 1997. This game primarily took place in the era of Dragon Ball GT despite how this series hadn’t aired in North America. All of the characters in the game were based on their GT versions, while Frieza, Cell, and Kid Buu represented the Z Era. To cap it off, the final boss (Golden Oozaru Baby Vegeta) represented the end of GT’s first major arc. It would be the only Dragon Ball fighting game released worldwide until the release of Dragon Ball Z: Budokai in 2002.
The first Budokai game follows the series up until the defeat of Cell, while the later games in the series would go on to the Majin Buu Saga and into GT. The rosters would also begin to showcase characters from the various movies and specials. Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit exists primarily as a re-telling of Budokai 1, ending the game at the Cell Saga with the addition of Bardock and Broly to the roster and the game’s Z Chronicles story mode. Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 and the Budokai Tenkaichi series also introduce elements of the original Dragon Ball series, with characters from Goku’s early adventures making appearances in the roster. DBZ: Infinite World, the final game of the Budokai series, tells the story of Dragon Ball Z and GT through its Dragon Mission Mode, with the movies and specials being compiled into the game’s Extra Saga.
Dragon Ball: Raging Blast, the following set of console games, would release in 2009 and focus exclusively on the Z Era, loading the roster with characters from the various movies and specials from Dragon Ball Z while cutting characters and references made to the original series and GT. Raging Blast 2 would even bring with it a newly restored and remade version of a Japan-only special called The Plan to Eradicate the Super Saiyans, marking its first release in North America and Europe. Games like Ultimate Battle 22 and Super Dragon Ball Z released in a similar fashion, with rosters focused on the Z era while pulling a character or two up from the original DB series.
DBZ Fighting Games: Making The Old New Again
With the introduction of Dragon Ball Super, fighting games based on the long-running franchise would begin to take characters and inspiration from the newly-created spot on the timeline, with Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z leading the charge worldwide. Arc System Works’s take on the Dragon Ball series would carve a spot into the existing Super timeline as Dragon Ball FighterZ would take place during the events of Super with a brand new story told exclusively through the game.
While the game itself doesn’t state exactly where Dragon Ball FighterZ takes place, evidence points to the game’s Story Mode taking place slightly after Frieza’s return in Resurrection: F and just before the Zamasu Arc, with a reference made to Frieza’s return as well as Buu falling asleep during the Tournament of Destroyers. The game’s roster seemingly ignores this, with characters that otherwise don’t fit the timeline of the game’s Story Mode, and with DLC only adding to the disparity.
While most Dragon Ball fighters are content with a retelling of series events with hypothetical scenarios thrown in, Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai would take a unique path with its series. The first Shin Budokai title would place its Story Mode’s narrative a brief time after Majin Buu’s defeat, telling a new story inspired by the events of the twelfth DBZ movie, Fusion Reborn. The sequel, Shin Budokai Another Road, takes a more adventurous leap with its narrative by confronting a lingering question for fans of the series. This game’s Story Mode places players in the timeline of Future Trunks as Majin Buu is brought to life in his timeline, forcing Trunks to travel back in time for assistance once again, arriving after the events of the previous game to bring Goku and the others to the future.
Bridging The Gap To DBZ’s Alternate Reality
Perhaps the strangest game to try and place in the timeline is Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden for the Nintendo 3DS. While the roster of playable characters draws strictly from Dragon Ball Z and Super, the game’s Z-Assist characters draw from a wider range of references in Dragon Ball history. The game’s Z-Assist characters come from every part of Dragon Ball history, from the original series through to GT and Super, as well as the various movies and specials. The game even includes characters that existed only in manga form at the time of its release, such as Gine from Dragon Ball Minus.
Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden also takes inspiration from the defunct MMO, Dragon Ball Online, and its spiritual successor Dragon Ball: Xenoverse. The XV series’s antagonists, Mira and Towa, appear as Z-Assists added post-launch through an update. In a later update, Extreme Butoden would draw from one last piece of the franchise’s history, taking the hypothetical Super Saiyan 4 forms of both Broly and Gohan from Japan’s Dragon Ball Heroes along with XV’s own Chronoa, the Supreme Kai of Time. The game’s Adventure Mode also squarely places it in its own space, charging Goku with undoing the damage that Omega Shenron had done by releasing negative energy through Earth and resurrecting some of Goku’s deadliest enemies.
The world of Dragon Ball continues to grow with each new release. The anime series has shown this with the Battle of Gods and Resurrection: F movies being retold as arcs within Super. The latest movie, Dragon Ball Super: Broly, expands the DBZ lore beyond the end of the Tournament of Power yet still before the End of Z. As the series’s lore continues to expand, the fighting game history of Dragon Ball continues to grow with it. Whether it’s pulling from the various forms of media, creating new hypothetical events, or even telling brand-new stories that fit neatly within the series itself, there will always be a new battle taking place for the seven Dragon Balls.