The Dragon Ball franchise has had numerous hit video games, many of which have capitalized on the series’ high-flying fight scenes. These games have helped maintain a healthy fanbase in the storied anime, even when there weren’t any new episodes of the anime to watch. Unfortunately, the first proper Dragon Ball game to come to the West was a complete and total flop.
Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout was a game with an immensely confusing title, considering it was released just as GT’s predecessor Dragon Ball Z was hitting the states. Named after the least popular part of the franchise, Final Bout failed to gain any traction with fans even as Dragon Ball Z‘s popularity grew. Though Dragon Ball as a whole has gone on to bigger and much better things, the way in which Western gamers were exposed to it was anything but a grand tour.
The First Western Dragon Ball Game Was Named After the Series’ Worst Entry
Dragon Ball: Final Bout was developed by Tose, a company known for working more in the background on video games than headlining major hits. The studio previously worked on Dragon Ball‘s true first western entry, Dragon Ball: Daimaou Fukkatsu, which was released on the NES as Dragon Power. However, Tose’s biggest claim to fame today would be their work on the Nintendo Switch port of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Dragon Ball: Final Bout would be rechristened Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout when it was localized for a Western release in August 1996. Due to timing, however, Western gamers would have absolutely no clue as to what the title even meant or how it reflected its supposed place in the series. Dragon Ball Z had only begun its run under Funimation a year earlier, with previous attempts to localize the series falling by the wayside. The sequel Dragon Ball GT wouldn’t receive an English translation for several years, making the rename particularly baffling.
Dragon Ball GT was the most recent entry in the anime in Japan, but Westerners had no knowledge of its existence yet. To make matters worse, several characters and gameplay elements are from later episodes of Dragon Ball Z that hadn’t aired yet, further confusing things. Still, the game makes a heroic effort to catch its audience. The gameplay itself consists of a 2D fighting game with 3D environments and is broken into 3 gameplay modes – Tournament, Battle and Build Up. The game includes over 15 characters from Z and GT, and would have been an American audience’s first look at the powerful Super Saiyan 4 transformation. A 15-fighter roster wasn’t a bad amount of content for a fighting game in that era, especially for one based around a massively popular anime franchise.
Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout Wasn’t a Big Hit In the West
Though other games in the series are known for their quality, that wasn’t the case with Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout. Many critics found the gameplay to be too slow, with the control responses having the same problem. Likewise, the camera was a big issue, furthering the sluggishness of the fights. Since these scuffles were supposed to recreate the fast-paced battles of Dragon Ball, fans worldwide were let down by the quality. Of course, the reviews weren’t much of a factor for Westerners anyway since the game was barely made available on the Sony PlayStation.
Only around 10,000 copies of Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout were brought to the North American market in 1997. This was due to the fact that Dragon Ball had yet to become the massive pop culture juggernaut that it would turn into just a few years later. With such a low stock, sales obviously weren’t good, keeping the title from being a massive international hit. At the same time, it has had the effect of making a rather mediocre game into a highly sought-after collector’s item, with some fans and enthusiasts paying several thousands of dollars to obtain it. Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout didn’t exactly lay the red carpet out for other titles, such as the Budokai game series, to hit it big on the sales charts, but given that it was the first foray for the franchise on American consoles, it’s proof that every success story has to start somewhere.