I will only deal with the four SNES fighting games.
Click on the various pictures to get a better view when needed.
The first game was released in March 1993: neither the anime nor the manga had finished the Cell arc at this point. It sets elements later used by subsequent games of the series, from the commands to the overall fighting system including health and energy, as well as free movement away from the opponent via split screen and "2nd floor" flight.
Modes include a story mode which lets you go through various fights retracing the scenario of the original material (with a few liberties taken like a fight against C-16). The principle is fairly simple: a paper roll shows you a full screen of text to retrace the scenario, then a short dialogue between your fighter and the opponent leads to the battle. If you lose, you get to retry the battle, while winning leads you to the next paper roll. You may choose characters that are different from the original events if you want, with the selection of available fighters varying for each story fight (from two to six). The ending presentation and length of the mode may vary depending on the difficulty you selected and your choices of fighters.
Other modes include free battle (against another player or the A.I.) and the Tenkaichi Budokai tournament mode for eight fighters (players or A.I.).
Son Goku: Son Goku has his normal form, being able to use the Kaioken and the Genki Dama. With the story starting with the fight against Piccolo, it makes sense to have the normal form as the default character.
Son Goku (Super Saiyan): With the story going beyond Freezer to retrace most of the Cell arc, it's only natural that the Super Saiyan form is included. Having him as a separate character is nothing new in video games, it was already the case back then. He is exclusive to the story mode though and you won't get to play as him on free battles if you don't enter the secret code... The base roster doesn't include any Super Saiyan, they are all extra fighters you'll have only by paying extra money for a magazine that gives you the cheat code back in those days without Internet. This was already a form of "pay extras to expand your game with other forms of existing characters"... unless friends at school were willing to share the secret code for free!
Vegeta: Vegeta appears in his base form and with his Cell arc armor even if he is supposed to have a different armor in some story instances. It was the best choice, it sticks out less than other armors when out of context and it fits with most characters being taken from the Cell arc.
Vegeta (Super Saiyan): As with Goku and as with today's Fighterz, he is a separate characters despite being partly based on the base form. He's also exclusive to the story mode, unless you know the code...
Trunks (Super Saiyan): With his long hair and battle armor, it's not the appearance you see the most in games. Back then though, he was the latest update and sort of the "ultimate version" of the character since the Cell Game wasn't over, so the developers opted for the Trunks that made a strong impression fighting Cell lately and that witnesses the Cell Game. Like all Super Saiyans, he is not on the base roster, being exclusive to the story mode. If you want to play as him freely, enter the secret code...
Son Gohan (Super Saiyan): This is not the Cell Game Gohan we're used to see. Again, the Cell Game wasn't finished. The developers knew about Gohan removing his cape to fight Cell as a Super Saiyan and worked him into the game in that form. But development was likely too advanced when he came to be a phenomenon and the most striking "Cell Game" Gohan incarnation as a Super Saiyan 2. They would catch up for it in the next game. Like all Super Saiyan, he is not included in the base roster, so enter the secret code or else...!
Piccolo: No surprise there, Piccolo has his battle appearance (no cape) and is among the roster since he played a part in so many events up until the Cell Game. He's a stapple of video games.
C-16: With the series still being in the Cell arc, this was the latest craze in the franchise at that point. So the game is mostly based on that arc and was likely to feature all cyborgs as we'll see later. C-16 is included in that regard, but strangely misused at one point of the story mode if you consider the original scenario: instead of having to fight Cell's first form (who is one of the characters in the game), he is an opponent to you, that you fight as one of the heroes.
C-18: With her battle against Vegeta, C-18 clearly earned a spot and has her iconic appearance from that moment (which you can see again in Fighterz). Not to mention that including at least one girl was probably the developers' preference at the time, and just one seemed to be enough (remember Chun-Li in the first iterations of Street Fighter II).
C-20: Now that's one you don't get to see all the time in video games. Gero joins the fight, bringing with him his absorption ability for a few unique gameplay assets. For a game mostly based on the Cell arc, he is the "red herring" that is believed to be the main enemy for a little while. His inclusion makes sense.
Cell (1st form): All forms of Cell were likely to be featured but when it turned out to be impossible, it was apparently chosen to keep his first and last forms, just skipping the middle one. His creepy insect form and the ability to use his tail to attack give him something unique in the roster.
Cell (Perfect form): The Cell Game wasn't finished, but Cell had already reached his perfect form, making him the eventful final boss for fans back then, on his Cell Game ring. To hype the player, you could fight him in the story mode, but he wasn't part of the base roster... unless you knew the secret code as always!
Freeza: If the game includes even just a bit of that arc, you can't go past Freeza. The unusual thing here is that he is represented in his 100%, bulky form. It was how he was thought of as the strongest form back then, it was still fresh from the last arc, while later games down in history would prefer his subtler form due to it perhaps becoming more iconic and being more remembered as time went by.
Mister Satan: Only available in the story mode and actually unplayable. He does have fight sprites like a regular fighter (albeit just a handful), but you just don't control him, the fight plays pretty much like a short cutscene. This would carry over to the next game.
Unused character portraits imply that more characters were meant to be available: in the story mode, characters speak only when about to fight, there is no dialogue (and therefore no portrait) for characters if they are not loaded into battle. Portraits were likely done first, then sprites were developped. Unused characters were given up before developping their battle sprites and a selection was apparently done to see who to keep in priority (= not those who look like someone already present and are not major steps of the story).
We can infer that:
- Gohan and Trunks were supposed to have untransformed playable versions just like their fathers. But when it proved impossible, the Super Saiyan versions made the cut without the base versions.
- C-17 and C-19 were supposed to complete the cyborgs roster. But when it proved impossible and only half of them could be kept, C-17 was discarded in favor of C-18 (similar, but brings a girl, and C-17's shield idea was transfered to C-18) and C-19 was discarded in favor of C-20 (similar, but C-20 had a more major role).
- 2nd form Cell was supposed to complete the Cell roster. But when it proved impossible, the first and last forms were kept.
- Kame Sennin appears, but his portrait is very different from the rest and oriented towards the camera, probably addressing the player. He was obviously not supposed to be playable (he was much less likely to take on the role of a fighter back then than nowadays), being probably used for a menu (I'd say the continue screen, which is basic in the final release).
The game contains 9 stages (plus one of them having a "limited height" variation that prevents flying).
For a visual effect of depth, they use multiple layers to lead to the horizon, layers that move at different speed so that elements supposed to be far move slower than those supposed to be at close proximity.
It's seems like something unsurprising, but not every subsequent game cared about doing that for an effect of depth.
Stages also have an unusual height for a fight game since you can fly up to fight on the "2nd floor", which is pretty much the sky with a few clouds without trying to make it detailed at this point of the franchise.
Grasslands: This becomes a staple and is present in all sequels and even in today's games. Plains with grass and a few rocks and cliffs.
Namek: An island on Namek with a view on the planet's ocean and smaller islands. Uncaracteristically, the island on which you stand seems to be made up more of the brown dirt than of the typical blue grass. We're more used to seeing a lot of blue grass with a few patches of brown rock, not a lot of brown rock with just a little bit of blue grass patches... Having Namek among the stages is nothing unusual as long as the game includes the early arcs.
Island: It looks a lot like the Namek setting, but made so that it's on Earth this time. The principle and the proportions are almost identical: you're on the edge of an island with a big view on the sea and other islands. This time though, the grass is more present than the rest. We've seen island settings more than once even in recent games.
Cliff road: This is where Vegeta and C-18 fight. The road itself takes half of the view, but you can still see the ground below, leading to a water stream and to the mountains wayback. This stage would reappear in some Tenkaichi Budokai (Sparking) games, but it's far from being constant.
Destroyed city: An unusual stage, this is where Cell killed everyone in his first form and Piccolo subsequently felt free to blow up the entire city. You can see debris of it and the square outline of dirt where the city used to be, with view on the untouched nature further to the horizon.
Tenkaichi Budokai arena: A staple in a lot of games (perhaps even all of the fighting games) since then. When you have a tournament mode, you'd better have this arena available anyway.
Rocks: The dry rocks where Goku and Vegeta fight. We saw them again in various games, so there's no surprise there.
Room of Spirit and Time: Here's one that's a very unique place that players like to see. But it wouldn't reappear for a while after this game. In modern games, it reappeared in various series, but more often than not with additional colourful effects to the room's sky.
Cell Game arena: Ideal for the final boss of a game that focuses on the Cell arc. It exists in two versions, with one of them having limited height and the inability to fly for some story mode battles. This arena has become extremely frequent in recent games, but it didn't reappear in the SNES games. You'll recognize graphical assets from the grassland stage, which seems like a logical programming shortcut since Cell basically placed his ring in the middle of such a "rocky grassland".
The opening was very well thought and faithful to the original material: with text recapping the story of Goku's youth up until the fight with Piccolo's reincarnation that starts the story mode, pages taken straight from the manga's title pages appear (they are not even colored). Then, more classically, it's the dialogue from the beginning of the fight, but the title and main menu appear over the characters and stage before the fight initiates (note that it starts without transition if you click on the story mode, since the intro has already played).
The presentation of fights itself is well made for the intro dialogue that show portraits made specifically for those (and also used for the selection). Then, we have short intro animations, although there is nothing special or too creative or outstanding about them (Goku stretching his legs, the Super Saiyans transforming...). There is no victory pose though, the character will simply give up his fighting stance and stand still, while the screen reshapes as small windows to make way for the victory dialogue (without any portrait this time).
The ending varies depending on conditions met. Special pictures have been crafted for the various endings, the text is not the same, the credits themselves might change appearances (sometimes mimicking the "Z in the ball" from the anime opening) and a final picture covering one of the famous artworks can be seen at the end. Of note is the fact that the Japanese voice actors are mentionned along with the characters' portraits before the actual credits in the true ending.
With the Cell arc not being finished, the ending remains pretty generic, saying Dende revived everyone with the Dragon Balls and the heroes won again and must be ready for the next battle. It doesn't imply that Goku died as this was not known at the time, and he is featured with the rest of the team in the picture of the true ending saying everyone has to prepare for the next threat.
This second game was released in December 1993: by this time, the Cell arc had ended and the developers knew how it unfolded. Movies 8 and 9 were on the spotlight. With the previous game having explored things from the very beginning of the Dragon Ball Z series (and even the very end of the Dragon Ball series) and gone properly through events up to the Cell Game, this game was free to focus on the climax of the Cell arc and the newest movies at the time.
Graphics went for a less cartoonish and approximate look to a better respect of proportions for the characters, at the cost of face details. The technical aspect was improved, with full body portraits, giant energy waves, multi-layered landscapes for a maximum sense of depth, lighting effetcs bringing up to 4 or 5 palette variations for characters depending on the scenery and the most complete story mode of all past and subsequent SNES games, with victories and defeats leading to lots of story branches and various chapters.
Son Gohan (Super Saiyan 2): With better knowledge of how the Cell Game would unfold, it makes sense that developers would choose the most amazing form of Gohan to date, the one who played a key role in the whole finale fight. He even becomes the star of the cover and the title screen, with Goku disappearing from the base character roster.
Vegeta (Super Saiyan): Classic Vegeta with his armor used for the whole Cell arc and his Super Saiyan form.
Trunks (Super Saiyan): Quite unusually, his attire his taken from the "second ending" to the Cell arc, when Trunks gets back to the future. This means he has short hair but ditched his blue jean jacket, keeping his black sleeveless tank top.
Piccolo: Piccolo makes it to the roster despite not being one of the main star of the Cell arc climax. But if you had to add a good guy to the three Saiyans, that would be him! He is the most powerful warrior of the Dragon Team aside from Saiyans.
Cell: In his perfect form, since the game focuses on the Cell Game.
Cell Junior: An unusual choice, but it's the only opponent from the Cell Game aside from Cell himself, and he brings his very small size to the table. Also, quite useful for story branches focusing on the Cell Game.
Zangya: From the then-recent movie 9. Brings a girl to the roster, helping to flesh out an invented Bojack arc that doesn't relate to the actual movie she's from.
Bojack: Main villain from the then-recent movie 9. He was also an enemy of Gohan, who is the main star of this game, so it makes sense. He appears on his transformed state.
Son Goku (Super Saiyan): He is only fought and seen in action in the story mode, but he is an extra character for those who know the code by paying magazines or knowing people who are in on the secret. Made a regular character in the European version.
Broly (Legendary Super Saiyan): Memorable villain from a recent movie back then. Quite popular, he's been in a lot of games since the "DB games revival" that happened later. He's also an extra character that's not part of the base roster, being a secret boss, but he was made a base character in the European version.
Mister Satan: Just like in the previous game, Mister Satan serves as an in-game joke and goes through an automated process in battle that does not include control by the player. Once again, he only appears in the Story mode, to get smashed away into the rocks by Cell.
The game also includes the following characters for the sake of the story and presentation, but they are not playable in any way and do not appear in battles: Bulma, Dr. Brief, Chichi, Kaio, Dende, Mister Popo, Kame Sennin, Krilin and Victim killed by the androids.
Stages have gone through an evolution taking the best of the Super Nintendo layer capabilities. Stages are comprised of the main area, a background layer that moves at a different speed and is richely detailed for aerial views if players fly up, and an extra foreground layer for rocks that would be right in front of the camera (sometimes replaced by weather effects such as sandstorms or snowstorms). Also, the "dual floor" is used creatively to include a stage that starts above the water and takes you down under the water. All of the stages include variations of weather or time of day.
Rocks: The rocks are back as an iconic battleground from the franchise. Less cartoonish than in the previous game, this is the only stage that has a third variation (for night), when stages usually have only daylight and sunset.
Grasslands: The grasslands with bits of rocks here and there are back and serve as the main setting of the Cell Game, considering the ring has already been blown up at that moment.
Ocean: Unusually, this stage makes you start on the upper "floor", floating slightly above the water surface. You can dive into the lower floor, being submerged in water, with movements being slowed down as a side effect.
Forest: Unusual setting that's used for God's sanctuary and the Room of Spirit and Time, but also more appropriately for the surroundings of the Sons' house.
Sand desert: Quite unusal to have a desert setting in the franchise. This stage exist with a foreground layer of dunes (see picture), but also with a sandstorm blowing on the screen and reducing visibility (this version sacrifices the foreground dunes, as the layer is used for the sandstorm instead). Such weather conditions are unusual in DB games, even nowadays.
Snow desert: Snow is still not a given in DB games today. Following the model of the sand desert, this stage exists with a foreground layer of icy rocks, or with a snowstorm effect instead.
Cliffs above the city: This is quite original too, you fight on the edge of cliff with a view from afar on cities and villages, which doesn't seem to be big, made of colourful houses more than anything and just a handful of buildings.
Tenkaichi Budokai arena: As usual, this is a staple of the franchise and needed for the tournament mode. The colors are quite unusual though, extremely brown.
Landscapes are also represented as "portraits" in the interface for dialogues, with stages appearing that are not playable and only serve their purpose in the story mode.
"Portrait" stages, used in the interface during dialogues.
Examples of views from the alternate floor, going far beyond just a plain "sky" background in comparison to the first game.
The presentation had quite a major overhaul: full body character portraits for dialogues, "stage portraits" too (including for unplayable places that just serve the story)...
The intro uses the SNES Mode 7 to show you Gohan approaching the Sanctuary from his point of view, the title screen has an animated illustration of its own showing Gohan and his flying cape there.
Finally, the Cell arc climax even has the luxury of having a cutscene with exclusive sprites for a cinematic effect that's far beyond what gameplay graphics offer!
The third game was released by the end of September 1994, at a time when Vegeta had just sacrificed himself against Boo a month ago on TV. With the time necessary to develop elements, the maximum point developers could reach was seemingly the battle between Goku and Vegeta - as shown in the intro and the final track of the OST disc - along with the release of Majin Boo.
Signs point to this third game being extremely rushed: various technical shortcuts and sacrifices were made for the game to be released on schedule, with the most simplistic handling of landscapes to date, an extremely limited number of them if you exclude "time of day" variations, some characters having no secret moves (or rather not implemented in time) and no ending portraits, a more simplistic overall presentation, the sacrifice of any kind of story mode (leaving Free battle and Tournament as the only modes left, with ending credits being placed at the end of the tournament mode), a secret character that was a quick tweaked rehash of a character from the previous game and downgraded effects (auras and beam struggles are only shown in small forms now).
The team was so rushed that they built the game on the debug menu and assets of the previous game. The debug menu being meant for Super Butoden 2 finds a lot of its content void (especially since the second game had a lot more content). Technically, the third game is a hugely tweaked version of the second game, using the same engine and partly-irrelevant-now debug menu to replace assets and simplify the overall presentation.
Even the music is reduced to one track for the title screen, one for the selection, one for the ending credits and only six actual battle tracks (when there are up to ten characters, and those tracks don't have a name in-game, being called "Battle 1", "Battle 2"...), with the soundtrack disc having to feature several versions of the few existing tracks to have a decent OST length.
On the upside, there were some improvements: with energy taking a lot of time to gather in the previous games, immobilizing players for a while if they want to charge up a decent amount of energy, the Ki-charging process has now become extremely fast, adding to the dynamic of fights since players don't have to stay stuck for long when needing energy. Flying up or down to change floors can now be done at any distance from the opponent, without needing to split the screen first. A "mutual rush" system was implemented so that if both players rush towards each other, they will lock hands and the first one to enter the right command will damage the other. Finally, secret ultimate attacks have become longer, more detailed and adapted to each character, even involving exclusive sprites.
Just like with the previous game, we're up to ten characters when you include the secret one(s). In this third game, nine of them are available on the base roster, and one of them is accessed through the same secret code as in the previous game. The base roster is themed around the beginning of the Majin Boo arc up to Vegeta facing Goku and Boo being released.
Son Goku (Super Saiyan): With Goku being an active part of the on-going events in the beginning of this arc, it makes sense that he's back as the main character. His Super Saiyan form was still all that he had back then.
Son Gohan (Super Saiyan): Gohan was back in the light back then and had a whole bunch of episodes showing him train. He appears in that outfit, as a Super Saiyan. With the events of the tournament and Majin Boo's revival making him stuck in part of his Great Saiyaman costume, maybe the developers assumed it was just circumstancial and that his new default costume in the future would still be the one he used in training, being a classic gi.
Son Goten (Super Saiyan): With this new arc, the kids were the latest craze and meant to appeal to the audience now that Gohan was all grown up. Plus, they were - shockingly back then - Super Saiyans despite their very young age! They were even featured on the cover. It was to be expected that they would be included, especially that new "mini Goku" in his Super Saiyan form.
Trunks (Kid, Super Saiyan): Trunks is back, but as a new kid version, just like in the show and manga! Just like for Goten, the kids are stars of their own in that new saga, so it makes sense that he would be included, and in his Super Saiyan form.
Vegeta (Majin): He appears as the latest shocking form at the time, the one reviving a classic conflict with Goku: possessed by Babibi, with the "M" on his forehead. Vegeta going back to his evil roots was quite a turn of events and he was quite emphasized, having his very own musical theme, appearing in a big way during the intro, on the intro screen and during the ending credits, and even being the final track of the OST CD.
C-18: A pretty strong warrior who is now part of the team, brings a woman to the cast and was the winner of the Tenkaichi Budokai. But not a priority apparently since with time constraints, she was one of the two members of the cast who had their ultimate move eliminated from the equation as well as any ending portrait. Expectedly, she wears her clothes from the tournament.
Shin: A surprising inclusion, but if you think about it, back then he was the one who made a mysterious strong impression on the warriors, the one that made Piccolo instantly give up in front of him, who was still part of the team when others were turned into stone and who faced Majin Boo with special technics such as the "eyes strike". However, he was one of the two last priorities of the cast, since he was one of the warriors whose ultimate move and ending portraits were ditched in times of development rush, just like for C-18.
Dabra: Considering this game is all about the beginning of the Boo arc, Dabra is the toughest enemy there aside from Boo himself and held his own until the Boo's revival, making a tough opponent for Gohan. His special abilities such as the spit bring a plus to the gameplay (though it only tires the opponent in the game).
Majin Boo (Fat): The main enemy was probably there just in time for him to make it into the game. So of course you want the main, dreaded enemy to be featured if you can. Babidi even appears shortly during his intro to teleport Majin Boo into the battle stage.
Future Trunks (Super Saiyan): The secret character that's not part of the base roster. It's easy to see why, since he has nothing to do with the Boo saga. Perhaps brought back because he was a missed popular character now that the new arc had started, it mostly seems like an opportunity to have a quick secret character for the rushed game: he was basically copy-pasted from the second game and tweaked a little to fit with the improved game system (for example with a unique ultimate attack or the "mutual rush" system). That made for a quickly made secret character, who didn't even have time to have the planned "normal form" sprite implemented as the victory pose due to not having time to create a palette swap for a different shade of hair. In the Japanese version, he is distinguished from his kid version by being the only name written in western letters rather than in Japanese.
A sprite from C-18's secret ultimate move that was discarded due to time contraints, as well as an example of a toss-aside move that every character was supposed to have for energy balls (here, you can see it with Goku). You can also see the sprite of the untransformed Trunks whick lacks an untransformed palette (the picture next to it has been edited to mimic what a correct color palette might have looked like).
All in all, you've got 4 stages in this game, with the rest being "time of day" variations mostly based on simple palettes swaps. One of them is a more complex variation as we'll see, but still a variation that was a technical shortcut rather than creating the stage from scratch. Still as a shortcut, stages no longer use any layer and are just one background picture behind the characters, with all elements moving at the same speed. With no layers anymore, going up or down one floor was simplified by simply making the character appear on a totally different background picture (with the camera not following the character upwards or downwards, but the screen simply cutting to the next floor with the next picture).
For a strange reason (would it be related to a more vivid framerate or a smoother picture?), two layers display the whole stage at the same time and blink in completion of each other. For one frame, layer 1 displays the stage while layer 2 displays nothing, while in the next frame, layer 1 displays nothing and layer 2 displays the stage, and the two layers exchange their roles at every single frame.
Tenkaichi Budokai arena: A classic, but it was even more needed here given how it plays a big role during the beginning of the Boo arc. It is also used for the title screen as Goku and Vegeta face each other there. The stage has been reworked and not just copy-pasted from the second episode, displaying colors that feel much more natural now and having a layout that reflects the new tournament arena of this arc. Exists as a dusk variation.
Clouds: An original stage that makes you float regardless of the "floor" since you're in the sky anyway. Aside from a simple dusk variation, there is a more complex variation of it to make the ambiance stormier: aside from a darker palette, the upper floor and lower floor were switched and vertically inverted, and for that new lower floor, the cloudy flat surface (which was originally featured on the upper floor) was mirrored to give the impression of a "tunnel" of clouds. Plus, an animation with thunder sometimes lighting the whole area was implemented, as the icing on the cake for a shivering, heavy ambiance.
Grasslands: The usual stapple exists in three variations: daylight, dusk and starry night (with just the stars added in aside from the new palette). The developers planned a variation including the statue of Piccolo that was discarded and unused. The fact that the statue doesn't appear in the stage variations can be due to the stage being given up early (before making variations) or because Piccolo would logically be released by the time of dusk and night. With no trace of any bit of story mode, chances are this statue was not meant for it as such a mode was given up early, if not from the start. Piccolo was available in the previous game, and his statue was likely supposed to be a nod to his justified absence in this game (explaining why there's no Krilin statue to go with it), similar to how Sonya and Kano appeared chained in a stage in Mortal Kombat II as a nod to their absence from the roster compared to the previous game. This is all the more likely that they thought about doing such a nod when Piccolo is the only character not coming back from SB2 when he could have, with the rest of the good fighters being back and all bad guys from the previous game having been killed.
Babidi's ship: The only inside stage. It doesn't allow flight, so there is no upper level. Was it truly a choice since it's a closed area and there wouldn't be much to show up there, plus it brings something special to this stage... or was it simply because they didn't have time to design an extra background picture for the upper floor given the rushed nature of this game? We will never know.
The second floor of various stages, using a totally different, separate picture than the one for the first floor.
The two pictures at the bottom show the animation for the stormy clouds (the only animated stage), with lightnings popping up sometimes.
The unused stage with Piccolo's statue, completely inaccessible in the game's natural routine.
If there's something the developers didn't cut efforts on, it's the intro. With impressive close-ups of Majin Vegeta and Goku facing each other in a sepia tone (though with stunning colorful eyes), followed by an animated shot of the camera panning down on Goku who shoots said camera with a Kame Hame Ha, you can't say the intro was a rushed job!
Then, the title screen brings you back to the first Super Butoden, a step down from the second game, since instead of sprites meant for that title screen, we're back to a usual battle stage with battle sprites for the main menu. Was it because of the rushed nature of this game or was it a nod to the first game (who featured Goku facing Piccolo in the same way, with battle sprites in the Tenkaichi Budokai battle stage)? No clear answer there, everything is possible.
The downgrade can also be felt in the dialogues: no more portraits of stages and full body sprites for characters designed for the dialogues. Instead, the battle stage and character sprites are used just before the battle.
The only portrait are very small close-ups of the characters on the selection screen, which also appear for the dialogues, and which obviously represented much less work that the bigger, full body portraits of Super Butoden 2.
On the plus side, the portraits - small as they may be - landed up on the selection screen (unlike SB2 which only featured the characters' sprites). The third game therefore features both characters sprites (like SB2) and portraits (like SB1).
Finally, the ending credits does have special portraits meant for it, but ending credits is all you get, placed right after the end of the tournament. A little comment for the end of the tournament and bam - credits roll. There's no real "ending", it's just the credits after the tournament mode.
Initially on a sepia tone, the portraits get colorized at the end. But if it's understandable that the secret character doesn't appear there, two base characters did not have special portraits due to lack of time, using their regular, very small dialogue portraits instead (the same characters that were denied a special move due to time constraint again).