I missed an entire console generation of Dragon Ball games. It’s absurd, I know. Despite my affinity for Akira Toriyama’s work, it’s just one of those franchises that kept getting under my radar during the last-gen era. The original Dragon Ball Z: Budokai on the Playstation 2 was the last time I ventured through Toriyama’s colorful universe, and that was thirteen years ago. With the arrival of next-gen consoles, it’s finally time to play catch up, even if it means playing all titles in reverse order.
Bandai Namco’s latest Dragon Ball: Xenoverse is a reminder of why I fell in love with Toriyama’s manga and anime in the first place. Dragon Ball’s hyperenergetic action is incomparable, especially when granted full control over the fighters. As far as licensed games are concerned, Dragon Ball: Xenoverse is one of the best examples of how to successfully translate a popular TV series to a gaming platform. Even if the visuals are underwhelming, Xenoverse’s action flawlessly captures the show’s explosive fight scenes. For Dragon Ball fans, this is a dream come true.
"Xenoverse’s action flawlessly captures the show’s explosive fight scenes. For Dragon Ball fans, this is a dream come true."
Dragon Ball: Xenoverse is structured like an MMO with an intertwined single-player campaign. Players can choose between 5 races/clans when creating their custom avatar: Earthling, Majin, Saiyan, Namekian or Frieza Clan. There are hundreds of male/female customization options that allow for amusingly creative concoctions. Instead of following the original canon, Xenoverse features a new story that lets players become part of Dragon Ball history. The narrative revolves around time-travelling villains attempting to alter major events in the past. It’s up players to travel back in time, and ensure history’s intended flow. By time traveling, players get to partake in Dragon Ball’s most iconic battles. The premise isn’t particularly innovative, but Xenoverse does a fantastic job of making you feel like you’re part of the Dragon Ball world, and that in itself is a remarkable accomplishment.
Like with many MMOs, Xenoverse presents players with a hub world, in this case the futuristic Toki-Toki City. The hub is filled with story missions, side quests, tournaments, item shops and skill kiosks. Toki-Toki can be explored either via single-player, where other players are replaced by CPUs, or multiplayer, where players can directly interact and recruit/join fellow fighters. The MMO approach isn’t a bad idea, but Xenoverse’s servers are barely functional. Yesterday, I’ve been kicked to the main menu after every single mission, whether I entered Toki-Toki via single player or multiplayer. Things are slightly better today, but the issue still persists. The connectivity problems are even more bothersome when trying to play competitively against other players. Whether you’re hosting an event, or trying to join a match, the wait can last for up to 20 minutes (and that’s if you haven’t been disconnected a dozen times by then). Hopefully, this is something that will get resolved soon, as the rest of the game runs flawlessly.
"Xenoverse does a fantastic job of making you feel like you’re part of the Dragon Ball world, and that in itself is a remarkable accomplishment."
The side missions, called Parallel Quests, are Xenoverse’s most enjoyable activities. There are about fifty different quests that revolve around multiple mini objectives, like collecting a certain number of Dragon Balls or defeating enemies within a time limit. Each Parallel Quest boasts explorable areas that can be accessed via sky portals. Unlike the narrative driven and linear structure of the main missions, the Parallel Quests are more akin to a sandbox. Here, players can scout for materials between fights by scanning the environment. Materials are then used for crafting items equipable in battle, like health potions and power ups. There’s even a Tenkaichi Budokai tournament that invites players to partake in a massive online contest. Dragon Ball: Xenoverse is packed with content, and it’s impossible to run out of things to do.
Fans of previous Dragon Ball games already know what to expect from the gameplay. Xenoverse isn’t vastly different from its many predecessors, but the combat mechanics have been refined and diversified. The action is lightning fast and the controls are super responsive. Xenoverse isn’t a traditional fighter like Street Fighter or Tekken, instead it plays like a third person action game with fighting game mechanics. Imagine if Bayonetta suddenly turned into an arena fighter.
There are a few problems worth mentioning. The block button isn’t as responsive. Fighters should be able to quickly block between incoming combo breaks, but there’s never enough time, regardless of timing. This results in some frustrating deaths when surrounded by several enemies. Learning to read enemy moves does help, but for such a reflex-dependent game, the block button should be more effective. Disorientation can also become an issue when zigzagging across the environment and chasing after multiple foes. The camera does a relatively good job of following the action, but it can’t keep up at all times. If you find yourself tackled by several enemies in a map corner, it can be difficult to see and find an escape route.
"Xenoverse is a gold mine for Dragon Ball fans. Everything that makes Toriyama’s brilliant series so engaging has been expertly replicated here."
New to Xenoverse is the Master System. Here, players can train under original Dragon Ball characters to learn new skills. Depending on the master, new special moves and attack patterns become unlocked to further enhance your avatar. This keeps the gameplay fresh and exciting, as each new move drastically alters a player’s fighting style.
Xenoverse’s biggest weakness is its presentation. The cel-shaded characters look impressive, but the backgrounds are absolutely hideous. Toki-Toki in particular looks like it was imported straight from an old low-budget Playstation 2 game. It’s like the developers abandoned their work during the game’s alpha stage and just moved on to refining character models. Luckily, things are notably better outside the hub city. The backgrounds are more representative of the show’s painterly backgrounds. It’s also worth noting that the frame rate remains smooth no matter how hectic the action gets. It’s just a real shame that the graphics don’t compliment the superb gameplay.
Despite its lackluster presentation, Xenoverse is a gold mine for Dragon Ball fans. Everything that makes Toriyama’s brilliant series so engaging has been expertly replicated here. Xenoverse’s action is one of a kind, and licensed anime games don’t get much better than this. If there is a Xenoverse sequel, I only hope developer Dimps takes full advantage of the next-gen hardware and gives us a more visually pleasing release. Until then, Xenoverse remains the best Dragon Ball game to date.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 4