Dragon Ball Z: Legacy of Goku 1, or LoG1, is a top-down Action RPG for the Game Boy Advance– based off of the anime: Dragon Ball Z– and was released in 2002. In LoG1, you control the eponymous Goku as he navigates the events from the show’s first couple of seasons, starting with the beginning of Dragon Ball Z. The game starts with Goku reuniting with all of his old friends from Dragon Ball on Master Roshi’s Island. Shortly after collecting Master Roshi’s nude magazines– in order to get some experience and healing items, no less– Goku’s son, Gohan, gets kidnapped by your space alien brother, Raditz, whom Goku did not know existed.
I think the game really set the wrong first impression by having you collect magazines instead of actually doing meaningful actions. I think the game would have benefitted greatly by using a movie as a quick tutorial– like LoG2 did with the History of Trunks (Bardock: the Father of Goku would’ve been a terrific lead in). Then again this game has no real tutorial, as it never tells you how to play the game. This is especially pertinent because of the young target demographic.
The gameplay is relatively simple. You walk, very slowly, with the D-pad. You can enter a flying mode using R. During which you move faster, but can not attack. B uses your currently selected energy attack, which are switched between using the L button. Holding B will charge your energy attack while consuming energy. A is your melee punch.
A bevy of problems are immediately apparent from the beginning. Goku’s arthritic walking speed makes the game feel sluggish. This combined with how long it takes to kill single enemies effectively destroys the game’s pacing. While flying can ease this to a degree thanks to increased movement speed and the ability to fly at any time, there are so many problems with flying that it only ever feels suffocating. Flying is limited by flying points, or FP. If you run out of FP, you can not fly. To restore FP you must pick up instant consume items throughout the environment. The problem with this is that the placement of said items are often far and between. And even when they are nearby, you walk so slowly that gathering them feels like a nuisance.
If you run out of FP while flying, then one of two things happen. If you are able to land where you are then that is what happens. However, if you can not land where you are at, then you are teleported to where you started flying. This is not only jarring, but can also be frustrating or abusable in combat scenarios. FP feel like an abstract, arbitrary number because it is nearly impossible to gauge how far x FP will get you in the game world. To make matters worse, the game never correctly communicates to you where you can and can not fly. For instance, you can almost never fly left or right over the side of the platform you are currently standing on, but you can– most times– fly up a cliff side. Sadly the game is unforgiving about this. If you think you can fly to the left, only to bound into an invisible barrier, your FP will still be swiftly consumed despite not actually moving (Note: FP is not consumed while you are not pressing a direction). As you level up, your total FP does increase, which mitigates some of these problems, but for a good chunk of the game these problems are prevalent because of how little total FP you have. Still, higher max FP only masks the problems that are clearly there.
Combat is also extremely unsatisfying. Your melee attacks have extremely small hitboxes, and without any sort of knockback or invincibility frames, melee brawls end with each character’s sprite standing on top of one another while trading blows. You will usually lose these fights because you are squishy and enemies are damage sponges. This means that most fights boil down to slowly ki blasting your foes to death from afar (Death by 1,000 ki blasts!). Most enemies do not seem to have the initiative to even attack you when you are hitting them with ki blasts, so this strategy is effective despite being boring. There is one exception to this, however, and that is the wolf… Wolves are vicious killing machines; present from the start of the game. They will ruthlessly chase you down and attack you. And they will catch you, because they are faster than you. This results in cheap deaths, all of which are early in the game.
This game also started a general series wide trend: unsatisfying boss battles, which is odd since the emotional and fantastical highpoints, and the main spots where these games are tied to the anime, are based around these battles. For this game, the problem was just more of the same: the base gameplay sucked so bad that there was nothing the boss fights could do to make it better. The extremely long boss fights are only made worse by the fact that, except for the first boss encounter, you are stuck fighting multiple people in a row. The second boss encounter has two people in a row, the third has 4 or 5 people in a row (technically there is a small break between all of these fights, but hardly any) and the 4th and final encounter has 4 forms in a row. It can be extremely difficult to get through these bouts with the limited amount of healing supplies you are allowed to carry, and starting over is nightmarish because of how boring and slow the fights are.
The level design is also predictably nonsensical and bad. Whenever you enter and leave an area all the enemies and items are back again. You need those items back though because the enemies come back. This is not a problem in and of itself. Rather the larger problem is that you feel like you have no impact on the game world; you just play each screen the same way each time you reenter it. In Legacy of Goku 2, this was handled by instead having enemies drop instantly used consumables. In Buu’s Fury, enemies dropped items you could pick up and use later, as well as there being stores where you could buy items with the money you gained from killing enemies. Items, like chests, could only be opened once. Moreover, both sequels restored all of your HP when you leveled up, giving you natural reprieves as you explored. Also, unlike the sequels, each screen is large, so you are bringing back a ton of enemies, which can be a drag when all you want to do is explore a house.
The game also has a bevy of odd problems. There are screen rate hiccups in larger areas where there are multiple enemies on the screen, such as the first area in the game where you encounter several snakes at once. There are really odd wall textures, which cut and clip together oddly. You can save at any time. Loading acts as a rough checkpoint by taking you back to a screen entrance and not exactly where you saved. It works pretty well and is actually a relatively modern saving system, except for the fact that the game is based around your ability to survive by taking as little damage as possible and carefully managing your herbs and senzu beans (restorative items), but loading a game circumvents this by restoring all of your HP. There is also an exploit that allows you to become invincible by getting hit by a ki blast midflight. All bosses use ki blasts, as well as the foot soldiers present in the last level of the game. So, despite having played this game on numerous occasions as a young child, I had never actually fought any of the bosses the proper way until I decided to review this game.
Lastly, the game covers the storyline poorly, largely because of the fact that you only play as Goku and show up to some of the largest events late. You show up to help defend the earth against the saiyan invasion late, because you died against your brother. During this period of time you miss out on many characters’ important moments, like training, gathering dragon balls and fighting against the saiyans. You show up to Namek late, because you are recovering from your fight with the Saiyans. During this point in time you miss gathering Namek’s dragon balls, various battles Vegeta– one of the saiyans you fought against earlier– participated in, as well as Gohan and Krillin’s struggles against the Ginyu force. Then you missed most on the battle against Frieza because you were recovering from your battle with the Ginyu Force. When watching the anime you are not locked to one character’s perspective, so you get the whole story, but here you only get Goku’s part of the story and the game never makes an effort to fill you in on what has happened in your absence. The only time you are really ever caught up is at the beginning when you are tracking down your brother.
So, what is there to like about this game? First, I like the music. Some of it can be a little weird, but I think that most of it is at least decent. And some of the pieces are actually really good, like the somber music played when you arrive on planet Namek (above) to see the native population largely slaughtered and displaced. This music combined with the scenery of destroyed buildings and disheveled survivors actually created a really somber atmosphere, that is not only hard to pull off on the GBA, but is extremely unexpected from a game that is otherwise lacking much quality. I also think that some sections of the game do a good job of encapsulating and reinforcing a theme. For instance, during the first section of the game, where you are trying to hunt down your new found brother and save your son, there are many side quests where you actually help other people in a similar situation. You help a mother pterodactyl get back her stolen egg, you help a parent find their daughter whom got lost adventuring, and you help an old man find his cat, which he treats like a child. Now this is how you use “doing” instead of “showing”! All of these things helped you empathize with the individual characters, as well as hammering home Goku’s own predicament. These are both amazing feats in their own right made all the more impressive because of the limitations of the technology and the fact that it is based off of an anime which is so rooted in using spectacle to sell you on things.
I also like some of the ideas present. Flying really stunk, but it was at least interesting to see. And the missions in this game, albeit that they are mostly fetch quests, are still better than the relative lack of missions in the sequels. Moreover, when you kill enemies, instead of them just disappearing into a poof of smoke, their dead bodies actually just fall to the ground and stay there. Sure, this almost always looked really weird, since it was a squashed mess of pixels, but I like the idea behind it nonetheless. Lastly, I like the game’s use of images and videos from the actual show. There are some moments that are just not really inferred very well from the text blurbs alone and I think these moments are highlighted best by this extra media. On one hand, I understand the sequels’ reluctance to use these images and videos, but on the other hand, LoG1’s use of them was effective. It was powerful seeing Gohan saved by his father, or Goku turning super saiyan and eventually escaping an imploding Namek.
All in all I would recommend that you never play this game. The Two sequels, which I have reviewed here and here, are both fun games in their own right, but the only time I ever managed to have fun with this game was when I was overtly abusing exploits. I give this game a 3 out of 10, because it was playable– which is admittedly a low bar to hit– has decent music, and delivers on some emotional moments and themes which even some better games do not pull off.