In the Dragon Ball FighterZ issue of the magazine you can find a separate feature about the history of the franchise and its myriad video game adaptations. As part of that look back, we were able to speak with Daisuke Uchiyama, who served as the producer on the three Budokai games, as well as a few other Dragon Ball games. Uchiyama spoke to us about how the Dragon Ball video games have evolved over the the last few years, what it was like to meet the creator of Dragon Ball, Akira Toriyama, and whether or not a future Dragon Ball game would explore a genre other than fighting.
Game Informer: What is your history with making Dragon Ball games? What was your first Dragon Ball game?
Daisuke Uchiyama: I first joined Bandai, and became a part of the Game Department – that was in 1994, so it was a long time ago. The game that I first worked on in the department, was actually Dragon Ball! At that time, I was working on the SNES’ Dragon Ball Z: Super Butōden 3 as the producer’s assistant – from creating the instruction manual, debugging; basically I did everything. Around the end of my freshmen year in the company, it was the time when the original PlayStation was about to be released and my senior manager told me, “You’ll be in charge of the next Dragon Ball game for PlayStation!” Come to think of it now, it was unthinkable to let a freshman work on a new platform [laughs] but I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity. Thus, my first work as a main producer was for PS1’s Dragon Ball Z Ultimate Battle 22. So, basically, I’ve been doing projects surrounding the Dragon Ball franchise for almost my entire career.
How has the atmosphere of the studio changed since the earlier days of Dragon Ball games?
When it was my first time working on Dragon Ball projects, it was the time when the manga and the TV anime were still running on different media; so commercially it was marketed as an ordinary character game. However, as time went by, I realized that despite both the manga and the anime series having ended, Dragon Ball games continued to perform well and had gained popularity worldwide. Unlike in the past – when, as a producer, you would think like, “I alone can make that Dragon Ball game!”, now we have a new generation of Dragon Ball game fans. As a producer I feel that fans of past Dragon Ball games have also contributed to the development of the newer games. These things happen because of the timely relationship between the fans and the franchise – which are hard to find in other games. Not only for the fans, but we also have cases where developers reach us and say, “Let us make the next Dragon Ball Game!” From a perspective of a producer, I think I’m really flattered by how Dragon Ball games have impacted the industry and the lives of its fans.
Which game was the most difficult or stressful to make?
There are two games. The first one was PS2’s Dragon Ball Z Budokai. We planned for this game to be a nostalgic game. We were working with Dimps, which, at the time, was entering their first time developing a Dragon Ball game. We put so much time and effort to have the same vision about Dragon Ball and its capabilities (e.g., Goku’s strength/charm, etc.). Also, the supervision/licensing process was so difficult that one time we had to recreate an almost-finished model from scratch. Despite all of those difficulties, the results were unbelievable and I still can’t believe it to this day how much impact this game brought to people. It turned out to be not just a nostalgic game, but also a game where people can really utilize the powers of their beloved Dragon Ball characters. Plus, I was more surprised that it performed well outside of Japan, and since that pivotal point, I think this game has changed the perspective of how a game should be produced, and how business is conducted in the gaming industry in general.
The other one was PS3/Xbox360’s Dragon Ball Xenoverse. It was me and [Masayuki] Hirano-san (who served as the main producer) who came up with the idea, and it was a huge challenge to drift from the “recreation” elements of past Dragon Ball games, and create a whole new game style. Both of us thought that, “If we keep recreating stuff from the past, there will be no future for Dragon Ball games.” That’s why we decided to completely go on a new path. We had anticipated negative comments coming from Dragon Ball game fans from all over the world – we prepared for the worst. Throughout the course of Xenoverse’s development, Hirano-san was in charge of the general production of the game, and my part was to include the features of Dragon Ball Online to the Xenoverse world and explain the game concept to the licensor. This process took quite some time, but we finally got a green-light to proceed with the idea, exactly one year after we first pitched it. As a result, to see people enjoying Mira and Towa as the Supreme Kai of Time; and the whole Xenoverse experience is still one of the best feelings I have gotten from a project. On top of that, I’m proud to say that the Xenoverse game has stood out to be the best selling Dragon Ball game of all time – and it was all worth the time and effort.
What game are you the most proud of?
That will be the last Dragon Ball game that I produced by myself, PS2’s Dragon Ball Z Budokai 3. I have my own policy (for game series) which is the following: Create the first from scratch; Evolve the second; Complete the series by the third; Don’t make a fourth. With that policy, I put in my heart and soul to complete the Budokai series with improved game designs, art direction, shading, and volume; this all went into Budokai 3. The opening song of the game was recorded in Los Angeles – and I thought it was super cool! When I added the animation to that song, it got even more cool! Oh, and about the fourth point of my policy – Don’t make a fourth – the reason I have it like that is because if I make a fourth, then the series will never end at the end of the day along with the gameplay. That’s why I wanted to end the Budokai series with a bang with Budokai 3. At that time, I talked to my junior [Ryo] Mito-san, “Let’s make a new Dragon Ball game,” and that conversation turned into the Budokai Tenkaichi series – which performed really well too!
Dragon Ball Z Budokai was a landmark entry in the library of Dragon Ball games. Why did that game elevate the series as much as it did?
Hmm… I’m not really sure. What do you think? [Laughs] as I mentioned in my previous answers, this game was not supposed to be the game to “elevate Dragon Ball games” by any means. However, because we mainly focused on giving the best of both worlds: original story recreation and original scenarios; the game become more in-depth with the charms of Dragon Ball – and people loved it. And with that I’m very pleased [laughs].
For more from Uchiyama, including whether we will ever see more Dragon Ball RPG games, head to page two.