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Like many folks who grew up in the 90’s, I found myself glued to the television every afternoon, excitedly watching Dragon Ball Z and wondering how many more episodes would pass before Goku finally stored up enough energy to launch his next big attack. The show sported lots of action, a bit of fluff and an addictive structure that kept me coming back for more. A lot of video games have tried to capture the feel of that classic anime over the years, but none have come as close to nailing the formula as the recently released Dragon Ball: Xenoverse.
I think it’s fair to say that Xenoverse is the best Dragon Ball game to date. Notice I didn’t say it’s the best Dragon Ball “fighting game” to date, as that honor still belongs to Budokai 3. Put simply, Xenovere is a different type of game altogether; more of an MMO brawler than a pure fighter. But while it might not offer the same caliber of technical fighting as some of the previous games in the series, Xenoverse more than makes up for it with loads of content, a fun new(ish) story and enough fan service to satisfy even the most diehard fans.
Right out of the gate, Xenoverse trumps previous Dragon Ball games by granting players the ability to create their own character with a surprisingly robust set of options. For those of us who grew up wishing they could fight alongside Piccolo, Krillin and the gang, Xenoverse finally allows you to live out that dream by crafting a brawler from either the human, Saiyan and Namekian races, plus whatever you call the species Boo and Frieza come from.
Once you’ve built your perfect fighter, you’ll be pulled out of the time stream by none other than Trunks, who just so happens to need your help in correcting some key moments in history that have gone out of whack. Fans of the series will know that, until now, most of the games have focused on the known stories of the DBZ universe, having players battle their way through sagas that, by now, we all know like the back of our hands. In Xenoverse, an unknown force is granting a mysterious power to various villains, giving them the ability to overthrow Goku and his cohorts once and for all. Sort of like a DBZ version of Quantum Leap, your job is to travel throughout these time periods and put right what once went wrong.
Speaking of Dragon Ball’s long-running story, the game basically assumes that you already know all of the basics, including who the various characters are, what types of situations they got into and how the battle originally ended. There’s plenty of cutscenes and lots of voice over throughout the fights but, for the most part, Xenoverse doesn’t do a great job of retelling the tale. If, however, you’re familiar with the lore, then this isn’t something you really need to worry about.
Once the game gets rolling, you’ll find yourself dropped into Toki-Toki City, a hub world where you can interact with NPCs, buy items and jump into the game’s various modes. Once you’ve progressed far enough into the story, you’ll be joined by up to 200 fellow players in Toki-Toki, where you can chat, team up, challenge one another to battles or tackle missions as a team. It’s all kind of reminiscent of the Tower in Destiny which, now that I think about it, could be said for a lot of Xenoverse’s structure.
For the single player campaign, you’ll work your way through about a dozen sagas, each of which is broken down into various stages that take place throughout Dragon Ball’s history. The structure is pretty varied, having you fight single opponents, a team or even hordes of baddies at once. Want to go toe to toe with a great ape? You can do that. In the mood to help the gang collect Dragon Balls while fighting off a bunch of enemies? You can do that, too.
Outside of the campaign are a collection of 55 missions called Parallel Quests. Some of these are also pulled from known Dragon Ball stories while others are simply a collection of challenges that mix together characters and locations that have no business being together. The game flat out tells you not to think about it too hard and just have a good time.
So, yeah, there’s a lot of content to plow through and, outside of the story missions, you can play all of it with a group of online friends. Local multiplayer is actually another one of the game’s weaknesses, as couch play only allows you to fight on a single screen and boasts just a single map. Given the fact that there is a large selection of locales in the online modes, I honestly have no idea why the team at Dimps would limit local play to a single location. You also can’t finagle the fight parameters and are limited to three minute brawls. In short, this game isn’t made to be played with a friend at your side.
Online, though, is a completely different story. From tournaments to PvP that features 1v1 on up to 3v3 throwdowns, there are plenty of ways to fight with or against your internet pals and randos alike. When you’re not busy tackling missions together, you can chat with a large selection of preset dialogue options (though teams get the added luxury of voice chat), set up a squad, goof off with loads of emotes or buy yourself some consumables, new pieces of armor or even moves.
In total, there are 200 skills to master and 400 pieces of equipment to collect, once again adding to the ridiculous amount of customization offered in Xenoverse. Built yourself a glass cannon? Be sure to craft and equip lots of healing items. Want your fighter from the Frieza clan to whip out a Destructo Disc, Special Beam Cannon and beef up his physical attacks with a pose from the Ginyu force? You can do that, too.
And that, of course, brings us to the real meat of the game, the fighting. Despite having so many levels available, and even more on the way through DLC, Xenoverse can become a very repetitive game. While some of the missions offer side distractions, almost everything in the game boils down to “beat the crap out of your enemies,” wash, rinse and repeat. It you pick up what Xenoverse is putting down, then that won’t be a problem for you. If, however, you fear you might tire of a less technical fighter after your 100th battle, then your mileage with this latest Dragon Ball game won’t be quite so high.
It is perhaps a little unfair for me to keep referring to the game’s engine as “less technical,” as it sports quite a bit of depth for folks willing to dig down and get familiar with it. Unlike, say, Street Fighter, the Xenoverse engine has to offer lots of mobility options, meaning there’s less room on the controller for more diverse basic commands.
Along with a weak and heavy attack (which can be chained, of course), you can fire off a basic Ki blast, dodge, block and fly through the air just like the characters in the TV show. You can further augment your fighting with a teleport ability to appear behind your enemy (also just like in the show), as well as equip two sets of special moves that, again, are highly customizable. Holding the right trigger, you can press any of the face buttons to unleash your preset abilities. From Ki attacks to physical barrages, stat-boosting poses and quick escapes, there’s a lot of opportunity here to create a character with your dream move set. You can also customize your more powerful attacks, available by holding both triggers, which use up a lot more power, dish out a lot more damage and reward you with a flashy animation.
Moves are earned as random rewards for completing certain missions and Parallel Quests or, if you’re having rotten luck, you can buy them outright from one of the shops. You can also take on about a dozen Masters in the hub world, who will teach you their personal set of moves over time.
It’s easy to fall into a rut and rely on the same pattern of attacks time and time again, but it’s probably not fair to fault Dimps for a player’s lack in creativity. They’ve provided a huge number of options for you to experiment with and, while you can certainly button mash your way through many of the encounters, the game is far more rewarding for those who learn to mix and match combos and super moves, zipping around the large, open maps to create a battle that looks like it was pulled directly out of the source material.
And for you purists out there, there are 47 DBZ characters currently available in the game, each with their own fighting style and move sets. That’s impressive, but I’m far more interested in continuing to evolve my own character rather than play as SSJ4 Goku, which is not something I ever expected to find myself typing. Once you get to a certain point in the game, you can also start building additional characters, meaning that your customization options will open up tenfold.
As a jumping off point for a bold new direction in Dragon Ball game development, I’ve gotten lots of enjoyment out of Xenoverse. Yes, the game is repetitive. Yes, the RPG elements could be better implemented and the story is mediocre. Also, the lock-on system can occasionally be a pain and the camera often has a mind of its own, but it’s hard to care about that stuff when I’m having so much fun with a bunch of characters who, at this point, feel like childhood friends. If nothing else, you have to respect a developer who takes such a beloved franchise and pushes it in a completely new direction with guts and gusto to spare.
If Dimps uses everything here as a foundation for an improved and expanded Xenoverse 2 in a couple of years, I’m giddy to think of the possibilities. As for now, though, we’ve got an addictive brawler that offers loads of opportunity for the player to cut loose and forge their own path. Mixed with all of those lovely Dragon Ball trappings, it adds up to a game that any fan of the series should basically adore.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco