Dragon Ball Xenoverse Review

Posted March 6, 2015 by Cameron McFarland in Nerdy Bits

Developed by: Dimps

Published by: Bandai Namco Games

Release Date: February 24, 2015

Available on: Xbox 360, Xbox One, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, PC

Fans of the popular anime will not need to be reminded of the sheer volume of Dragon Ball Z video games that have been made. The series is old enough to date back to Super Nintendo cartridges, and yet here we are today looking at perhaps the most original take on the formula to date.

If you didn’t see the trailer, let me catch you up on the premise of what makes Xenoverse a unique game. Rather than retracing Goku’s adventures with a predictable tutorial fight against Raditz, and then a tedious wave of Saibamen where you play as Chiaotzu and kill yourself for no reason, the story does something original: you create an original character and travel through time to join Goku in all his tedious tutorials. The premise of the plot reminds me of one of those Dragon Ball movies that aren’t strictly canon and typically showcase over-designed characters we’ll never see again, but in a strange way it works out for the best.

Creating a new Z-fighter is the sales pitch that got this game on most fans’ dragon radars, and the ability to mix and match iconic special moves and outfits to create a character that feels your own is pretty satisfying as you get into the system. The down side, however, is just how shallow that system ends up being.

I’d like to start outlining the gameplay mechanics by first pointing one thing out: Xenoverse is less of a fighting game and more of an action RPG. The controls are limited to a light attack, heavy attack, ki blast, block, and jump. You hold down one of your trigger buttons and then activate special moves simply by pressing the associated button. The game looks and feels very similar to Budokai Tenkaichi, which might be the most popular style in the long history of Dragon Ball games, but it lacks all the subtle nuance and complicated moves that made the combat interesting. Xenoverse explains in the tutorial the importance of timing and every little part of combat, but after all the time I spent in the game I never found deflecting ki blasts all that important. Each fight can be won by mashing on one of the attack keys and hoping your stats are high enough, which brings me to the next major fault.

Personally, I just push X as many times as I can and that sort of works.

See this combo chart? This isn’t the combo chart of a fighting game. This is how you play Devil May Cry.

The RPG elements in Xenoverse simply don’t belong in a fighting game. Completing fights gives you experience points which you can choose to allocate into different stats, and as you progress through the game you will also unlock gear and attacks that help your combat effectiveness all the more. This wouldn’t be such a problem if the game’s story was designed to level up at the same rate you do as a player, but when you begin playing the campaign it becomes clear very quickly that you can not defeat some opponents with skill alone. Separate from the campaign storyline is a series of challenge fights with unique circumstances that offer better rewards than doing the story. Here’s the rub: you unlock more of those challenge fights, or “Parallel Quests”, by progressing through the story. So, imagine getting your character to Namek where you just defeated the Ginyu Force and Frieza shows up. He moves fast and packs a punch, but you think you have his moves down. You try again and again, but you simply can’t get his health below 50%. Now, you do a few Parellel Quests and try again, and without trying, now Frieza is a pushover and the story gets moving on as if that never happened.

It is a very core game design rule to let failure rest on the player’s actions. If a random number generator or just purely higher numbers decide the outcome of every fight, it doesn’t feel rewarding to win and it makes losing much more frustrating. Dragon Ball Xenoverse presents itself as a fighting game, but the more time I put into it the more I realized this was the kind of gear grind that keeps me from finishing Dragon Quest games, which is funny since the artstyle is practically identical.

With all that said, I really want to point out what I like about the game. The visuals take clearly a 3D, video-gamey direction that isn’t trying too hard to simulate the anime’s visual finish, but that helps deal with the high-speed action with motion blur that players will be exposed to. The special attacks are fun to see and the character animation is very loyal to the fighting Dragon Ball fans expect. Additionally, the story is entertaining by its own merits. Like I said earlier, it feels like a weird spin-off movie, but that only helps players put their original characters into the world. I created a proud Saiyan warrior princess who doesn’t take “no” for an answer, and when Captain Ginyu stole her body I took it personal. Despite the shallow combat and frustrating leveling design, I caught myself smiling an awful lot.

I want to brush her hair.

I’m a sucker for creating my own character. It’s always a game feature that gets my attention, and Xenoverse does it well.

Another aspect Xenoverse handles well that other Dragon Ball games have failed in is fighting multiple opponents. Locking on to one enemy and then swapping to the next one on your screen is easily done with a flick of the right stick, so I’d find myself grabbing one Saibaman by the neck, and mid-throw I would target the next one on my hit list to lob a destructo disk his way. The action and cinematic elements Xenoverse focuses on actually do live up to my expectations. Multiple-enemy fights also lend very well to the multiplayer side of the game.

Booting up the game actually puts you into a hub world where you can see other players walking around and going on missions. Parallel Missions can be played co-op, and there is of course versus matches to be had, but the game’s weird sense of balance didn’t make me want to play too much of the competitive side of the game. Co-op, on the other hand, could be fun. At times, I’d find myself dashing in to the rescue, bashing Nappa out of the way just before he fired off a lethal shot at my ally. Moments like that scratch an itch that can be difficult to find in some games, and for any long-time fan of Dragon Ball Z, this game does have a lot of gratifying moments.

I want to like this game more, and perhaps that’s a testament to just how much they did get right, under the garbage leveling system and frustrating balance issues, it becomes clear that Dragon Ball Xenoverse isn’t perfect game DBZ fans have been waiting for. The bottom line is pretty clear:

If you are a big enough fanboy that this game still sounds fun to you, I think you’ll enjoy your time with it. If you are at all looking for a good fighter that will keep your focus for a while, it will in all likelihood disappoint.

About the Author

Cameron McFarland

Cameron loves cartoons and bad movies almost as much as bad cartoon movies. He is also the world's best spaghetti-eater, so don't bring it up around him or he won't shut up about it. Author and Artist for world-reviled World of Warcraft fancomic, www.taurenitup.com