The Game Archaeologist: Dragon Ball Online, the MMO that never made it to the west


It was back in 1986 that Toei Animation, a Japanese company, brought a new series called Dragon Ball into the world. The initial run of the series proved successful, spawning film adaptations and then, in 1989, the even more popular Dragon Ball Z.

As Dragon Ball became a mammoth franchise in Japan and then globally, video games were an inevitability. The first of these began with in the 8-bit era in 1986 and continue to come out even today. So why not an MMORPG? Believe it or not, one actually was made — although sad turn of events would keep western Dragon Ball fans from joining in the fun.

While Dragon Ball was a Japanese product, it would be a South Korean studio that would tackle the MMO. Korea’s NTL began work on Dragon Ball Online in the mid-2000s, bringing a beta to the scene in 2007 along with Bandai Namco. At the time, NTL kept talking about how Dragon Ball Online would be rolled out globally, with visions of fanboys flocking to it no doubt dancing in marketer’s heads.

Dragon Ball Online launched in Korea in 2010, with a Hong Kong and Taiwan release happening the next year. In the cel-shaded game, players would be thrust into time travel exploits as they punched and kicked a distorted timeline back into place. This time travel mechanic allowed the game to touch upon many of Dragon Ball’s popular stories and eras without unnecessarily polluting any of them.

Classes were tied to the races that players picked. Earthlings could be Martial Artists or Spiritualists, Namekians took up as Dragon Clans or Warriors, and Majins became either Wonder Majins or Mighty Majins. By all reports, the game was super-grindy in the way that old Korean MMOs used to be while also not being quite as hyperkinetic as anime or contemporary video games.

While initially successful in Korea, Dragon Ball Online fell short of long-term expectations and never did push into other markets. Instead, all of the versions of the game were shuttered in fall 2013 after only a few years online.

The obvious “what if?” hypothetical here is what might have happened if Dragon Ball Online got that talked-about global release. After all, there were legions of Dragon Ball Z fans in the world, and the potential to draw them into this title was there.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the end of the MMO dream. The studio repurposed its basic storyline to make Dragon Ball Xenoverse, which was a lobby-based RPG, in 2015. Fans across the globe who fell in love with the actual MMO took up the cause of turning it into an accessible emulator. One of these projects that emerged was DBO Global.

According to the rogue server project, “In 2015, a group of ambitious people got together to start Dragon Ball Online Global, a private server project created for purpose of reviving an old, but not forgotten, cherished game. After a lot of hard work and several test phases, a great amount of progress was made to the game’s broken coding and translations. March 1st of 2018 marked DBOG’s open beta release.”

Believe it or not, MMOs did exist prior to 2004! Every two weeks, The Game Archaeologist looks back at classic online games and their history to learn a thing or two about where the industry came from… and where it might be heading.
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