Whether you are a fan of the spiky-haired, yelling combatants of the Dragon Ball universe or not, you would have to realise that the staying power of the series over the years has been impressive. Dragon Ball Xenoverse marks the first foray for the series onto the newest generation of consoles, and while there are some problems here and there, it gets more right than wrong.
I will preface this by saying the Budokai games are my favourite Dragon Ball games. When the HD Collection came out a few years ago, I played it like crazy. The RPG elements and relatively crisp fighting system outweighed the monotony of flying around the world repeatedly while trying to make sure you do not miss anything important or interesting to interact with. Then there was Dragon Ball Z: The Battle For Z that Matt reviewed some time ago. That title did not resonate with him on any level and made me worry about the course the franchise was on.
Dragon Ball Xenoverse falls somewhere between those two games on the scale for me. It is clearly a title made for fans of the series, as it briefly touches on so many different important points in the storyline from over the years. The tale is often viewed as someone nonsensical, and Dragon Ball Xenoverse had the potential to make that far worse by its approach to this game, but thankfully what could have been a disaster turns out to be one of the game’s greatest strengths.
One of the biggest issues with the Dragon Ball video games is that the story is already very well known. It has been told through games so many times now over the years, that really the developers have fallen into the habit of trying to rejig the gameplay while narrating the same tale over and over again. Dragon Ball Xenoverse has a clever take on that by infusing a storyline where another entity has begun to alter the timeline as we know it.
The first example is really one of the best as a scene from the beginning of the Dragon Ball Z television show plays out. In this scene, Goku and Piccolo are in over their heads fighting Raditz. Goku offers to sacrifice himself by holding Raditz in place from behind as Piccolo prepares a single powerful blast of concentrated energy that will cut through both men. The plan works and both Goku and Raditz are slain in the show. Yet in the game, Radtiz gets a burst of power right before the blow lands, slips Goku’s hold and avoids the beam, which kills Goku and leaves Piccolo to be destroyed by Raditz. It is a radical departure from the story and serves as the first mission your created character participates in.
You are whisked back into time to intervene, helping Goku and Piccolo to beat Raditz. Events play out as they should and all is well with the standard Dragon Ball Z timeline… until the next incident occurs. This is a great way to play with the established storyline, and I think it opens the door to asking all kinds of hypotheticals about where the plot could extend. Going back to just relaying the same over-told story in future games will feel like a step back in future releases. Perhaps having a branching storyline that is impacted by decisions made (either through dialogue or perhaps side missions chosen and completed) would make the most sense. As a long running fan of the series, it was great to get a new story that still had familiar notes to it.
If this was the only entry into the Dragon Ball universe, it would have been interesting, but the development team at Dimps Corporation came up with a few other fun notions as well. When not trucking through the proper storyline, there is a fairly large cityscape to traverse with a variety of shops and optional side missions to be completed. Side missions can be played online with others or handled in an offline mode as well. I did both and found the online a bit easier because usually your team mates will prove stronger than your offline AI partners, and the lag was never really an issue. The only complaint is that it can take a few minutes to get synced up and turned loose, and you have minimal control over what missions you are participating in.
Fighting and fighting often is the key for a handful of reasons. For one, there is an RPG-like levelling system in place that lets you boost attributes like stamina, striking power and health. Battles also earn you money, which can be used to buy new skills, items and accessories. Items can also be earned for completing side missions successfully. All of this leads to some nice customisation options for a character that you get to create at the beginning of the game. While not the most robust character editor ever, there is enough diversity to be had that creating a character can actually be a good deal of fun, and while your creation never has a speaking part in the game, his or her constant inclusion in the Dragon Ball history is actually a good deal of fun.
The city itself is a mixed bag that is broken up into four segments that are connected by gates. Each section is large and once you get far enough into the story, populated, though that activity is more cosmetic than anything. You can hire other players’ characters to assist you in battles, which is a cool idea and nod back to the likes of Dragon’s Dogma. Still, a dash or speed boost button to make it much quicker to zip around from one place to the next would have been welcome. Moving from one thing to the next should not be a chore, but the city is just big enough that the time spent travelling about begins to feel like extra padding.
All in all, the framework is engaging. With so much to do and interact with, Dragon Ball Xenoverse really is the biggest game in the series yet. You can talk to people, take on a mentor, acquire some truly entertaining quests (such as going back in time on a side mission to help Raditz overcome Goku and Piccolo as well). The primary complaint I have is with the fighting itself. I understand the direction the team has been going in, wanting to create open spaces and potentially asymmetrical or team match ups because that is often what happens in the anime. This has become a trend in other games such as Naruto as well.
The problem is combat can be clunky as a result. The camera is often zooming and panning around in an effort to get the best angle, but usually fails to do so. I lost track of the number of times the camera lost me and my opponent behind trees or struggled to get to the right depth when combat made its way into the water. There is a lock button that is almost essential for successful combat because it at least keys your moves in the right general direction. I am okay with hits missing now and then, but it is so easy to get completely out of alignment that I was battling the controls as much as my opponent during some battles.
I understand the direction, and it has become more polished since Battle For Z, but since Dragon Ball is really all about the combat, I did find myself wishing that the combat was more refined, and therefore entertaining. The overall scenery and characters are bright, over-the-top and fun to watch in motion. Xenoverse however, lacks the big ‘wow’ moments that Budokai had. That is not to say the combat is completely broken or no fun, but because the team wanted open world environments that better reflect the travel, speeds and often multiple combatants from the show, combat can come away being unfocused as well.
I still had more fun than not when playing Dragon Ball Xenoverse. This was a great direction for the story and the RPG elements that give a sense of progression are certainly welcome. There is still room for improvement as some small tweaks to the in-city travel and chaotic combat would go a long ways towards improving the product as a whole, but the game we have now is still one that I easily sunk a lot of hours into.
– Nick H.