Early in the life of the original Sony Playstation Bandai saw fit to give incredibly limited UK releases to two beat-em-up titles based on the animé franchise Dragonball, which at the time was pretty much unknown over here. Of course as awareness of the series rose the games became highly sought after, particularly Dragonball: Final Bout, which dragged the Z warriors kicking and screaming into 3D. Unfortunately those people who spent large amounts of money to pick up the game second hand must have been kicking themselves for two reasons - firstly, because Bandai eventually noticed the popularity of the series and re-released the game at a lower price, and secondly because it wasn't actually that good.
Starting off from a purely presentation point of view things look pretty impressive. There is an action packed animé intro sequence featuring several Dragonball Z characters kicking seven shades of crap out of each other, the menus are nicely laid out, and there are a decent selection of fighters to choose from culled from both Dragonball Z and Dragonball GT. To start with there are ten characters - Goku, Little Goku, Super Saiyan Vegeta, Trunks, Gohan, Pan, Piccolo, Frieza, Cell and Kid Buu - but as the game progresses you can unlock seven more, including Saiyan equivalents for Goku, Trunks and Little Goku as well as the immensely powerful Vegetto and Super Saiyan 4 Goku. There are plenty of moves for each character too, and several game modes including one that allows you to 'build up' your fighter to create even more powerful versions of your favourite characters, and then pit them against friends and the computer in versus and story mode.
So all sounds good so far. The problems begin to kick in when you actually play the game, and the first thing you notice are the graphics.
I know this game was originally released in 1996 but even by the standards of the day the in-game graphics are shoddy, with shockingly clunky 3D sprites lurching around in front of some of the most drab and uninteresting backgrounds you have ever seen - the Hyperbolic Time Chamber stage has one single mass of polygonal shapes which is supposed to be a building and absolutely no other background features. It's shocking. Also, many of the characters have similar moves which allows for the lazy reuse of graphics, and the same is true of the sprites themselves, especially considering that the hidden characters are all just tweaked versions of existing ones.
Sound wise the game isn't too bad, with some nice enough music and speech effects, although oddly the original Japanese voices (the release was too low key to warrant dubbing) seem strangely wrong because we are not used to hearing the original dub in the UK. Some of the in-game sound effects do leave a lot to be desired though, and the music does get a bit repetitive after a while. However, it is gameplay where Final Bout falls down big time.
It just isn't that fun to play, the controls are ropey at the best of times and the lack of variety between the characters is a real drawback (there are seven versions of Goku alone, which is nearly half of the available roster). There are some nice touches - executing a fireball at the same time as an opponent leads to a frantic button mashing session as both parties try to overpower each other, whilst the camera pans around them in bullet-time - and the build-up mode isn't bad, but as a whole the game is painfully average for all but the most die-hard of fans.
Although Dragonball: Final Bout is interesting as the foundation of the Dragonball Z: Budokai series, it has just dated too badly. There is some limited fun to be had, and fans will no doubt like the ability to build up their fighters, but Budokai does every aspect better and leaves Final Bout as little more than a curio with a nice intro sequence. Consign to the past and buy one of the next gen updates.