Review: Dragon Ball: Xenoverse

Akira Toriyama’s cultural series Dragon Ball is well known and popularised to the point of being one of the greatest manga (and anime) series in the world. Xenoverse is a clear letter of love to the diehard fans, as it tells a fantastical tale that basically becomes one big ‘what if?’ scenario for the franchise.

A time patrolling version of Trunks (how many versions are there now? Four?) resides in Toki Toki City with other warriors, keeping a close guard over the timelines (official canon being the DBZ and GT timelines). Two brand new villains, Towa and Mira, employ the aid of evil Time Breakers to tamper with time itself. When events in the canon timelines start turning out for the worse, Trunks enlists a completely new hero in order to help restore timelines to their correct formats.

Xenoverse introduces the idea of the ‘player character’, a fully customisable and strangely quiet hero as your main character. As your Dragon Ball avatar, you are dropped right into the middle of iconic and memorable set pieces spanning the entire Dragon Ball Z saga. There’s 11 in total, and it’s a satisfying story that will definitely take a while to complete. Players will get to play the following chapters during the story campaign, which includes all of the sagas seen from DBZ:

– Prologue
– Saiyan Saga
– Return of the Saiyans Saga
– Ginyu Force Saga
– Frieza Saga
– Cell Saga
– Android Saga
– Majin Buu Saga
– God of Destruction Beerus Saga
– Saga of the Demon God Démigra
– Saga of the Legendary Super Saiyan

Long term fans will very much be sick of retreading the same plot points over and over, which is why Xenoverse is so refreshing in its story. Brand new villains and characters come into play and the Back To the Future-esque plot points allow for a huge amount of creative freedom with what would otherwise be canon events. Fans who always wanted to play the big events in DBZ but not have to follow them to the script will have a tonne of fun following the whacky story, which allows for some fun twists and turns to the original formula.

Unfortunately, this leaves new fans in the complete dark, and I wouldn’t recommend jumping into Xenoverse without at least watching the entire DBZ saga, a heavy 290-odd episodes. Xenoverse is very much only interested in pleasing the fanbase (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), and it has to be admired how much effort they put into playing with the story.  The developers know exactly who their audience is.

PresentationThe freedom of character creation is brilliant; Players can create characters from multiple races, with the ones available being Saiyans, Namekians, Earthlings, Majins and Frieza’s race. You can customize gender, the build, the face, clothing and voice. It’s another fun touch that really will have fans in glee, creating some out of the world races and characters never seen before in the series. I went with a straightforward female Saiyan mainly due to my curiosity to see a Saiyan fighting style behind the controller, but there’s a tonne of flexibility.

The game utilizes a cel-shaded animation, which is perfect for the DBZ series. The game is set in full 3D ‘destructible’ environments. Fighters can traverse the levels free-roaming in very large spaces and can be fighting on a platform, go in the air, and fight underwater.

Characters look absolutely gorgeous; every single character new and old have been drawn and animated to perfection. True detail has gone into the roster of iconic characters and it is sheer joy to look at these characters in action.

Unfortunately the environments don’t receive the same sort of love. While iconic settings are recreated accurately, most fill completely lifeless and stagnant. A great deal of hype was given to proposed destructibility of environments, yet the end result is a complete disappointment. When you slam an opponent to the ground a crater appears but disappears almost instantly. You don’t hit against cliffs or walls dynamically, and buildings and structures are completely devoid of any interactions. It would’ve been nice to see dynamic events such as throwing an enemy against the wall or even destroying structures with power attacks, or smashing an enemy from air to ground, creating an earth shattering crater and resuming a battle in that same crater, but unfortunately each setting is lacking the vital interactions to make combat satisfying.

Menus are incredibly outdated and feel very clunky to navigate, and given the MMO-esque aspect of the game this is a big flaw. Toki-Toki City also feels lifeless and clunky to navigate; it becomes a bit of a chore to have to walk around the area to buy/sell items and participate in quests.

Unfortunately the gameplay is where Xenoverse truly stumbles. Combat is mainly a button masher, utilizing weak and strong attacks in preset combos. Combos are very lacking, and there are a mere handful to actually use, which means you’ll be looking at some very repetitive combat and animations. Special and ultimate attacks throw in a bit of variety for good measure; holding down a trigger and pressing a face button will unleash one of four skills that are completely customizable. You can equip skills that are brand new or some very familiar ones as well, like Goku’s Kamehameha, Tien’s Tri-Beam, Trunks’ Buster Cannon or Vegeta’s Gallick Gun. Using these require Ki, which is built up by attacking enemies. Combining these with basic attacks is hugely satisfying and nailing a complex combo finished off with a special skill is pure joy. Combined with Ultimate moves and Character Transformations and there’s a lot of spectacle to partake in. It’s just a shame there’s so little in the actual combat movesets. Looking at games like Ninja Gaiden or Bayonetta with their rosters of huge combos with multiple weapons, or even Batman’s Arkham series of dynamic freeflow, I feel I’ve been a bit spoiled by modern combat systems, but to revert back to a game that has barely a handful of combos just feels outdated and disappointing. It’s a huge blow to Xenoverse.

What doesn’t help is the seemingly artificial difficulty exacerbated by the shocking camera and lock on system. The camera veers wildly many times and locking on to one target is a nightmare when fighting multiple opponents (something that happens often in Xenoverse). It’s just impossible to keep track of things when group battles are happening, and it’s another disappointing blow to Xenoverse’s combat. In one main mission that involved fighting a transformed Vegeta, the main goal was to attack his tail, yet the subpar lock on system added with a shoddy camera meant this straightforward goal turned into a 40 minute slog with not only Vegeta, but with a frustrating camera. The guard system is similarly disappointing; in most action games you are granted the ability to block in the middle of an enemy  combo but in Xenoverse this is simply not possible. The blocking system feels very clunky and unintuitive, the only other option is to dodge which uses up stamina. And thanks to the targeting system, sometimes when I dodged I would be facing the completely wrong direction whilst attacking, which amounted to pretty much attacking air and leaving myself open for some harsh attacks.

As an offset of the not at all available Dragon Ball Online, apparently a lot of cues have been taken from that MMO and it’s very much evident here. There’s a certain grind aspect to the game, forcing you to grind out sidequests and missions to level up your attributes. It’s lucky core ideals of levelling up, improving attributes and gaining more gear is fun because there’s a solid amount of sidequesting you have to do to get through the main story.

There is a shocking amount of customization on hand as well. Hundreds of different accessories and costumes that give boosts to certain skills whilst sacrificing others, consumables that restore Ki, Stamina or Health, hundreds of skills to equip as special attacks, it’s jaw dropping how deep you can customize your character. Wanted to wear Piccolo’s cape or Gohan’s fashion-murder baggy pants? Why not Chi-Chi’s gloves? Or even the iconic Scouter (in multiple colours!), the amount of customization is just hands down amazing, and the developer needs to be applauded for once again injecting a tonne of detail into Xenoverse.

These all tie into your attributes, which are boosted or reduced by certain costumes. Health, Ki and Stamina can all be upgraded, as your base attacks or super attacks. You can build a tank with stamina and Ki, or build a high damage/low health hero, it’s completely flexible. Levelling up and pooling points remains satisfying to the basic degree.

The majority of this takes place in Toki Toki City; the main hub on which you depart on Time Patrols (main quests), online/offline battles (up to 3v3) or Parallel Quests (side quests). There a lot of quests to partake in, and every now and then you can participate in quests involving bad guys. What if you fought with Raditz when he fought Kakarot or Piccolo? These delicious slices of ‘what if’ scenarios are an absolute joy to play and see as a DBZ fan, it’s just a shame that combat is frustrating.