Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Release Date: February 26, 2015
Platforms: PC via Steam (Reviewed), Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4
Price: $54.99 USD (Steam)
Dragon Ball XenoVerse reveals its ambition from its first cut-scene. Summoned by Shenron, the dragon god from which the eponymous dragon balls come from, a new warrior steps forward to do battle with evil forces disrupting time itself. With an original story, online and offline battles, RPG elements, a huge number of characters and special moves, Dragon Ball XenoVerse attempts to deliver everything players might hope for out of a Dragon Ball title.
Unfortunately, like the Dragon Ball character Hercule, ambition and ability are sometimes mismatched, and the result is only a reflection of better things. XenoVerse innovates the series in a number of important ways, but ultimately, it doesn’t rise above the middling titles that have come before.
Previously on Dragon Ball…
One innovation is the ability to create a character. Once summoned by Shenron, the player must build their own unique fighter. Players can choose to be a male or female member of one of the species of the series, including: human, Saiyan, Majin, and even Frieza’s race. Body size, color and voice options are available, allowing players to craft their own unique avatar into the Dragon Ball world.
Also unlike most of the many Dragon Ball games to come before it, Dragon Ball XenoVerse features an original storyline. Once created, the players’ character meets Time Patrol leader, Trunks. He then tasks the player with travelling back to famous battles in the Dragon Ball canon in order to fix the timeline, which has been altered by new time travelling villains. These villains have altered the past events in various ways, even allowing the player to square off against protagonists of the series.
Regardless, fans of the show won’t be surprised to find themselves once more in battle with villains like Frieza, Cell, or even Majin Buu. However, new characters and a new ultimate villain find their way into the story, bringing at least some freshness to the commonly rehashed events of the Dragon Ball series.
The story missions are simply battles in which the player fights against one or more opponents, interspersed with dialogue. Allies frequently join these battles, although in some cases they must be protected in order to complete the mission. Fortunately, there is almost constant chatter between the various characters. Cut-scenes, which appear both using the in-game engine and occasionally in 2D animation, fill the gaps between battles. Most of the time, these are prosaic, serving merely to move the simplistic story forward.
Voice acting is adequate, although it’s unfortunate that they did not change the dialogue to reflect the nature of the player character. My female character was consistently referred to as a “He.”
Occasional humorous moments punctuate the story, such as the battle with the Ginyu Force, in which Captain Ginyu’s body-change power triggers a series of body swaps, including with the player character. However, most other elements of the story form a simplistic story arc that appears more interested in reviewing the events of the past than offering any new twists.
Additionally, the missions themselves often feel unnecessarily padded and inconsistently challenging. Often, the player will have to fight a number of simple enemies before taking on a much more powerful character in the same mission. These final fights are often much harder than the fights leading up to them, and failure might force a complete replay of the mission, which can often be as long as fifteen minutes.
I’ve Tried All My Best Moves
This is made all the more frustrating by the fact that most of the story and mission fights are uninteresting. Against most AI opponents, the best strategy is find your best few moves and use them over and over again until your enemies are defeated.
This is unfortunate, since the combat system does reveal some depth. Characters have three basic attacks: a Weak Attack, Strong Attack, and a Ki Blast. These can be used in various combinations to produce various effects and keep up their combo momentum. Characters can also dash, block, and perform quick teleports to escape attack strings. Most attack strings result in a knockback, which temporarily disables the receiving character. If timed right, attack strings can be chained for some time.
Attack strings build ki, which can be expended to use special skills. These skills may be super attacks, like Goku’s Kamehameha or Vegeta’s Gallick Gun, or they may be evasive abilities or buffs. Finally, ultimate skills use up more ki for more powerful effects, like massive ki beams or a Super Saiyan transformation. There are a huge number of skills available, and they can be equipped and unequipped for your character, so long as they can be used by your race and gender. The ability to go Super Saiyan, for instance, can only be equipped to a Saiyan.
Ultimately, combat is fast paced, though characters have high health, leading to long battles. Most of the time, battles involve zooming around with the power dash to deliver a quick series of blows, before running away to fire some variety of Ki Blasts from range. The ability to precisely control movement and timing is one of the highlights of combat, and gives a real sense of superhuman speed. Players can also use equipped items during combat, which may restore health, stamina or ki, or provide some other benefit. These are limited to only four slots, and therefore only four items can be used during any one fight.
The animations and sound during fights are well-done, and characters facial expressions react to the situation. The animations of ultimate skills are one of the best parts of the game, and clearly a great deal of effort was put into ensuring their quality. Using one of the Ginyu Force Ultimates, for instance, causes the player character to perform part of their dance before firing the attack.
The cel-shaded 3D animation also does a good job of recreating the Dragon Ball style, especially on the characters. However, most of the environments appear bland and uninteresting, with only occasional truly destructible elements. Overall, the visual quality and sound is unremarkable, but competent enough not to interfere with the experience.
Power Level 9000
At the heart of the game is Toki Toki, a futuristic hub city, in which players can embark on main story quests, take on side quests, buy items, equipment and new skills, and talk to some of the many NPCs. The city is small, but is unfortunately still divided into three zones with loading screens between each one. The NPCs offer little in the way of conversation, and the city lacks any interesting attractions, except for the dragon shrine that can be used to summon Shenron if you obtain all seven dragon balls from side quests.
Toki Toki serves as the centerpiece for XenoVerse’s largely unnecessary RPG system. Players earn experience by completing missions, which grants them points that can be used to increase core attributes, like health, stamina, ki, and attack powers. Players also gain money through these missions, which can be used to buy new skills, equipment and items.
The RPG system itself has the feeling of something tacked on to extend the shelf-life of an otherwise repetitive game. While it’s nice to be able to clothe your character in various gear and equip new skills, these could have existed without the game’s reliance on levelling and grinding.
And grinding is certainly a problem. In the event one becomes stuck on a story mission, which tends to happen early on, the best way to guarantee success is to level up by taking on side missions called Parallel Quests. These involve travelling through a number of small battlegrounds and engaging in one or more fights. Items can also be found on the ground by using your character’s eyepiece scouter. Upon completion, you are given a ranking and various rewards, such as money, items, equipment and skills.
These missions tend to feel like exercises in repetition, in which players see the same few battlegrounds and fight against uninteresting AI controlled competition. Little has been done to grant these missions any degree of individuality or intrigue, and they serve mostly as a speed bump to obtaining their rewards.
Among possible rewards are the dragon balls, which if collected, can be used to obtain a wish from Shenron. Wishes might include obtaining special skills or equipment, changing your appearance or attributes, or gaining access to the last three fighters.
Me and My Team?
You can, of course, play as one of the famous Dragon Ball fighters in XenoVerse’s online or offline battle modes. These more traditional fighting game options allow you to square off in 1v1, 2v2, or 3v3 battles against real players or AI opponents. During these battles, you can choose from any of the currently available roster, most of whom are unlocked through the main story missions.
It should be noted that these characters are not in any way balanced with each other, and some are simply more powerful than others. As you can also take your own character into these battles, power levels may vary greatly both between characters on a team, and with the opposition. For this reason, fights against real players are often simply a matter of levelling, with skill not factoring into the equation. In my first 1v1 against a real player, I was killed with a single ultimate attack.
Another hiccup is that Toki Toki can either be online or offline mode, based on the player’s selection. In online mode, players can team up with other players to complete Parallel Quests and engage in multiplayer battles against other teams. However, I was never able to access the online version, as the service was consistently unavailable. It’s therefore impossible for me to comment on this aspect of the game, except to note its general inaccessibility. Offline mode still allows the possibility of playing against other players in a 1v1 battle, but I could not form a team of other players during my play with the game.
The Balls are Inert
Dragon Ball XenoVerse tries to deliver a great deal to fans of the series. Unfortunately, in doing so XenoVerse spreads itself too thin, failing to deliver excellence in any one of the facets that compose it. There are brief moments in which the game truly shines, when its fast-paced combat comes together in a moment which truly feels like the Super Saiyan battles of the television shows. However, all too often, the game is a dreary exercise in repetition.