Dragon Ball Xenoverse Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox One
If there’s one thing that Dragon Ball Z games have taught us over the years, it’s that they come from an unrelenting legacy. Year after year, the cult beat ‘em up series has never really strayed from the narrative path dictated by the popular anime series yet has still remained popular with a dedicated group of gamers. Finally, due to a glitch in the space-time continuum, publishers Bandai Namco and developer Dimps have concocted a fresh new take on DBZ universe that satisfies the show’s legacy, while giving fans a new story to explore on their next-gen systems with Dragon Ball Xenoverse.
The storyline takes place outside of main timeline of the now etched-in-stone DBZ franchise, when it is revealed that two mysterious figures are manipulating time and altering history for their own malevolent purposes. Summoned by the famed warrior Trunks, you play a custom character of your own creation and are enlisted in the Time Patrol Corps in order to make things right with a collection of time scrolls and suss out who is masterminding this diabolical plot.
There are five races to choose from at the beginning of the game when creating your warrior - Saiyan, Earthling, Majin, Nameks, and what is actually referred to as Frieza’s clan. Each of these come with their own perks and attributes, and for the most part can be customised in a fair amount of detail, ranging from gender and size, right down to hair and eye colour. As you progress through the main quest, a multitude side missions, and the surprisingly large range of multiplayer modes, you can further modify your character by strengthening their attributes, mapping your own special attacks, and even equipping items of varying rarity to boost your power. This results in Xenoverse being the closest thing to a DBZ role-playing game we’ve had in years.
Developed by Dimps, the current flag-wavers for the DBZ game series, the game attempts to replicate many of the role-playing elements that made Activision’s recent massively-multiplayer first-person shooter Destiny such a runaway success. The most obvious comparison comes in the form of the central hub, Toki Toki City, which acts as Xenoverse’s more colourful answer to the tower in Destiny. Here, players can purchase items, register for online battles, and even interact with other players in the hopes of joining a party and teaming up for some of the game’s side missions. Even if you’re not the social type, the area is still available offline, populated instead with NPCs who eventually can be roped into joining your team in place of online players.
Before getting too deep in multiplayer action, you’ll have to endure a bit of hand-holding from Trunks as he guides you around the various mission types and areas open to you in Toki Toki City. First and foremost is the main quest, which consists of once again revisiting all of those classic battles that defined the television series by pitting Super Saiyan Goku and his martial art mastering sidekicks against some of their deadliest ever opponents. If you’ve ever played any of the recent instalments in the DBZ game series, such as last year’s Burst Limit, then you’ll already feel right at home with its signature combination of three-dimensional beat ‘em up action and role playing character building.
If you aren’t a seasoned pro of the DBZ series, then you’ll be all fingers and thumbs during the game’s intense and flashy fights. The PlayStation 4’s action buttons are defaulted to standard punch, kick, ascend and ki blast moves. Mashing these buttons will help you land a number of combos before you unleash one of your special attacks using a combination of the shoulder and action buttons to deal some deadly damage. If you’re caught on the back foot, then there is the option to block, while holding in the back shoulder buttons will unleash your finisher move, unlocked after you’ve built up your special bar. As a novice, it's easy to fall back on the same sequence of moves, but as you gain experience, more moves become available. Eventually you’ll cobble together the right skill set from around two hundred moves that will match your style of play, whether you fancy yourself as an up-close-and-personal brawler or hanging back to deal some ranged damage.
Mission types do vary, but aren’t wholly original as generally your goal is to assist the computer controlled good guys in their fight against the bad guys. This can mean landing a KO against the likes of Raditz, Cell, or Frieza, or simply making sure you keep Goku, Piccolo, Krillin and so on alive for long enough so that they can power up and use their special abilities to fulfill their destiny. Unfortunately the AI is all over the place, so the latter type are ultimately more tricky. As the game grows more challenging, you'll find in true role-playing fashion that a certain amount of grinding is in order before being able to achieve victory. Fun in installments, missions do become repetitive and laborious, meaning one can only indulge in over-the-top action for a time before giving your thumbs and patience a well deserved break.
Thankfully, there’s plenty to do between and righting the wrongs of time, thanks to a number of side missions, dubbed Parallel Quests, giving you plenty of opportunity to level up your character. These offer up fights from the perspective of the other Z fighters (even the bad guys) as well as some possible “What if…” scenarios that may have occurred if you hadn’t been there to intervene. You could go into great detail on how the actions of your character could destroy the very fabric of space-time but given that it’s the the most noteworthy addition to gameplay that’s otherwise been copied from its predecessors, we’ll let it slide as teaming up with Raditz to take down Goku and Piccolo is surprisingly refreshing.
You aren’t restricted to using your own character either. If the notion comes over you, you can build a team using a handful of Xenoverse’s forty-seven unlockable characters, giving you plenty of access to try and test many of the game’s unlockable special moves. Characters and skins are unlocked as you encounter them in the quest, so there’s plenty of ways to mix-and-match Parallel Quests as you see fit, whether you’re playing online or offline. However, most of the time you’ll tend to fall back on your custom character in order to farm some well-earned experience points, rare items, or even find one of those elusive dragon balls.
While local multiplayer is severely restricted to standard 1v1 fights, the online side of things is surprisingly well fleshed out, even beyond the side missions. PvP modes range from the usual 1-on-1 to chaotic 3-on-3 showdowns, giving you plenty of ways to take on your friends or complete strangers you interact with in Toki Toki City using the in-game preset dialogue or voice chat. There’s even the option to enroll in a world tournament that will allow to take your character through preliminary rounds before taking on elite fighters from your region. There’s even the option to simply spectate, if you want to do your research before going up against the toughest Z fighters the world as to offer.
It’s important then to get to grips with the chaos that is Xenoverse’s presentation before even thinking of venturing online. The graphics are eye-poppingly engrossing on PlayStation 4 and remain faithful to colourful style of the show, from the design of the beloved characters to the expansive, open, destructible arenas littered with items. In full HD, the world has never looked better. But with so much action on screen, keeping up with the frantic camera is a challenge in itself. One devastating hit from an opponent and you’ll be sent hurtling across the battlefield, frantically bashing those buttons in order to recompose yourself. At times, the camera will dart behind buildings and rock faces, leaving you exposed to take a deadly kamehameha blast. It comes with the territory of the game being both a three-dimensional fighter and based on an anime, but at times the view can go from being slightly disorientating to down-right nauseating.
Perhaps there’s an alternate timeline where game developers are allowed to take the Super Saiyan squad outside their comfort zone, beyond that of typical DBZ lore and the usual recycled beat-em-up action. Perhaps there’s even a timeline where Dragon Ball Z is pronounced Dragon Ball Zed, but for now we’ll have to make do with viewing the series with fresh eyes, in the hopes that one day we can collect all seven mythical dragon balls and wish for the series to go in a bold and exciting new direction. For the meantime, Dragon Ball Xenoverse may succeed in building a solid role-playing foundation, but is perhaps at its best when considered at being the champion multiplayer game the popular series so sorely deserves.