Is this the final form?
Dragon Ball Z games have been quite the rollercoaster over the past couple decades. The Budokai series often stands out among fans as some of the best entries into the crowded scene, thanks to its developer Dimps. Well, Dimps is back with Dragon Ball Xenoverse, so naturally fans are excited.
A Dragon Ball fighting game developed by Dimps, what could go wrong?
Dragon Ball Xenoverse (PC, PS3 [reviewed], PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Released: February 26, 2015
MSRP: $49.99 (PC, PS3, X360), $59.99 (PS4, Xbox One)
Most players could probably guess exactly what events of the Dragon Ball timeline that Xenoverse visits. Events surrounding Raditz, Frieza, Cell, and Buu are all present, with a few more thrown in for good measure. The twist here is that some jerk is going through the timeline and messing everything up by making the “bad guys” way more powerful than they should be. For example, when this mysterious time finagler makes Nappa much stronger, both Nappa and Vegeta become giant apes and attack Goku. These “What if” scenarios are usually great, but often very short. There will be a brief “what if” clip, then it cuts back to the original.
That’s where the player steps in with their created character. Players can choose from five races: Buu, Human, Saiyan, Namekian, and Frieza Race. Yes, it’s actually called “Frieza Race.” Each race has their own traits, like improved defense for Buus or the ability to go Super Saiyan for Saiyans. From there, players customize their character’s look in a variety of different ways. My guy was a purple Namekian with a spiky mohawk head, for example.
Customizing a character is easily the biggest draw of Xenoverse. Tons of people have dreamed of adding themselves into the Dragon Ball universe (shoutout to all the “SSJ Franks” of the world) and this is that opportunity. The downside, however, is that players can not create a second custom fighter until the story is completed. So anyone who just wants to experiment with different options or has someone else on the same console who wants a go will have to delete the first character or complete the story mode first, which is a huge bummer.
The player’s created character is tasked by Future Trunks to go back into the timeline and correct all the wrongdoings to preserve the timeline. This often requires the player to team up with the beloved cast of Dragon Ball Z to take down the most notorious baddies. After the timeline is the way it is supposed to be, the character gets warped back out. Characters like Goku and Krillian do react to the presence of this unknown being, but never seem to remember them from one event to the next. Something along the lines of “hey it’s that giant purple Namekian again here to save our butts” would have added consistency.
The difficulty of the story mode battles range from pitifully easy to “ok this bullshit isn’t even fair.” Some battles are quick 1v1 battles, others are strings of fights back to back, and some are wave-based. For the longer battles, failing at any stage and selecting “Retry” will boot players all the way back to the beginning, including all of the opening mission cutscenes. There are times when failing a fight results in 7-15 minutes lost, only to then mash start and skip through about two loading screens and four cutscenes to get back to the beginning of a five-stage battle. There is nothing worse than having to re-do a series of fights after losing towards the end of the mission.
The story missions fall into one of three categories: “tedious and boring,” “completely bullshit,” and “okay I guess.”
Others task the player to protect their AI allies. These are interesting, since they force the player to be very aware of their surroundings, but the AI is completely unreliable. Sometimes they’ll be awesome and create an incredibly awe-inspiring combo from the player’s combo. Other times players will be fighting with Kid Gohan and Krillian and they are both useless and why are we fighting the same three enemies seven times? For context, there is a mission in the Frieza Saga that tasks the player to protect Kid Gohan and Krillian while beating 20 enemies. Said enemies are the same three henchmen repeated over and over again. It is is no way challenging, interesting, or worthwhile.
There are items to help curb the difficulty. Some items will regenerate health and stamina for the player, others will heal their allies. For certain missions, it is imperative that the player has these items with them. The game might be hinting that the player should be a higher level, but considering how ridiculous the difficulty swings are at times, it doesn’t seem to be the case.
I would recommend to completely skip the Story Mode, but unfortunately players must complete it to create more than one character. The other modes, Versus and Parallel Quests are way better uses of time. Versus mode is both online and offline support, and the former has general player matches and ranked matchmaking. Most people seem to be playing player matches, however that generally leads to my character getting completely demolished by someone much higher level than me. When I search for ranked matchmaking players close to my level, I often get zero results.
The Parallel Quests are the game’s strongest point. These consist of missions with various goals that players can cooperate together to complete. Some missions are simple fights, while others are to gather items like the Dragon Balls, while simultaneously keeping the bad guys at bay. These missions also have item drops which can be viewed before starting a mission. However, drops are random, so players may need to repeat quests to get the drop they want. This can be quite enjoyable since these missions are far superior to anything the story mode has to offer.
After a mission, whether failed or succeeded, players will gain experience for their created character (even when playing as other characters in Parallel Quests). As the character levels up, they can allocate attribute points to different categories: Health, Ki Meter, Ki Specials, Melee Attacks, Melee Specials, and Stamina. This is great to add a strong sense of personalization to each player’s created character, though it’s hard to decide early on what exactly to spend points on since the players have no familiarity with how they may want to play.
The fighting system itself is easy to understand, yet complex enough to yield a lot of freedom. The player has a health bar, a stamina bar, and a Ki bar. The stamina bar is used for blocking attacks and other defensive moves, while the Ki bar is used for Ki attacks. There are two melee attacks, light and strong, a Ki Blast button, and a defensive teleport that relocates the player behind the enemy at the cost of stamina. By holding down one of the triggers, players then gain access to four special moves (Galick Gun, for example). Another trigger brings up Ultimate moves, which cost more Ki than the basic special moves (Final Flash).
While experimenting, players are sure to find links between melee attacks and special moves that jive well, which can really give a sense of accomplishment as players discover their own combos. Combos definitely have the Dragon Ball flash to them; launching an enemy, teleporting, and then launching them again always feel satisfying, especially since it is possible to perform a special move instead of the second or third launch for some extra pizzazz (and possibly damage). Depending on the environment, the camera can be a huge burden to the player. If backed up against a wall, it becomes near impossible to see what’s happening and can easily lead to frustration.
On PS3, however, the framerate of the game absolutely tanks if there are four or more people involved in the fight. The total number of combatants can go up to six, but becomes borderline unplayable, even offline. This makes the fights feel more like slideshows than the fast-paced ballet that Dragon Ball Z battles are known for. It got to the point where if I saw that it was a large-scale battle, I groaned knowing that the framerate would tank as soon as the action started.
The framerate also takes a huge dip in the game’s hub world, which connects to every aspect of the game. There is no traditional menu system; everything goes through the hub world.
Here’s the process for starting an offline, 1v1 fight:
Press start on the main menu, attempt to connect to the servers, then choose a created character. The game will then try to connect to the Xenoverse servers again. This tends to fail a lot and is never guaranteed. Load into the hub world, which is now populated with player-created NPCs like “SSJ_Shadow” and “Gloku,” which make the framerate incredibly poor. Slowly meander over to the NPC robot that allows local fights, select the mode and characters, and then it can begin! The hub world is a nice idea that has its moments, but the lack of a conventional menu system, at least for the offline modes, is not a good design at all.
The servers are incredibly spotty at the moment, but when they connect, the hub world is filled with actual players and their created characters. While there, players can do all sorts of pre-created chat messages and emotes. You can even do the fusion dance with other people! The framerate is poor, at least on PS3, but it’s still a blast to see what other people have created and goof around. If players lose connection to the server, it will boot players back out to the main menu. The strange thing is, I’ve also had this happen to me when playing offline. It seems that if it tries to upload something to the leaderboards and can’t, it still forces you to log out of the game only to re-login and walk back to where they were when they were disconnected.
When the game is first booted up, the first thing players will hear is “CHA-LA, HEAD CHA-LA!” and so naturally the game’s soundtrack is amazing. The background music for the menus and hub worlds is catchy, and the music during fights and cutscenes hits all the right notes.
The art style likewise does an amazing job of looking like the cartoon while still being a polygonal videogame. Thick, bold lines and strong colors help to make each character, especially the player-created one, really look like a Dragon Ball Z character. The environments are a bit hit-or-miss, as some of them are pretty bland while others rekindle fond memories of the show.
Fans of the series will definitely find some enjoyment out of creating their own character and watching them fight and grow alongside Goku, Vegeta, and everyone’s favorite, Gohan. However, Dragon Ball Xenoverse has some of the worst design decisions ever embedded into a videogame. There are no menus, the story mode’s difficulty is all over the place, and the game’s best aspect, creating characters, is locked behind hours and hours of frustrating play. It certainly has its moments and the core fighting mechanics are great, but the game falls flat in too many other areas to be standout title.