You’d be kidding yourself if you said that Dragonball Z games haven’t been having a rough time as of late. Ultimate Tenkaichi and Battle of Z came and went as mediocre experiences. Dragon Ball Z: For Kinect, meanwhile, was a failed experiment that left a horrid aftertaste, after failing to give DBZ fans what they wanted. Thankfully, Dragon Ball: XenoVerse corrects the franchise’s course, proving to be developer Dimps Corporation’s best effort since Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit back in 2008.
First things first — this is not a game for the Dragon Ball Z-uninitiated hoping to learn about its universe. The way the story is presented caters significantly more towards the diehard fan than the casual one. The cutscenes fly by, assuming you know the ins and outs of what’s going on in any given event. It’s decidedly more, “Hey, remember this moment?!” rather than, “Okay, so here’s what’s going on, what’s motivating each character, and what’s at stake.” That alone makes recommending this game to DBZ virgins tough.
The story is all about you, as a player-created character, being in charge of fending off a pair of time-traveling baddies determined on changing history to their liking. You’re constantly bouncing around fan-familiar timelines and key events trying to ensure that history plays out the way it’s intended to. It’s definitely neat to see how your created character being thrown into such signature moments can tweak what you remember from the show, but it’s just not quite enough to really make it a must-experience kind of story for diehard fans. It just barely tugs you along, really.
The graphics, for the most part, are simple yet clean and vibrant. Characters look fantastic and animate even better. Environments, however, don’t fare as well. They make Dynasty Warriors’ environments look like sweeping Final Fantasy XV landscapes. The music is also really cheesy and, quite frankly, just flat-out bland and pretty terrible. All of the voice acting, on the other hand, is serviceable, seeing as most of the voice actors from the show reprise their roles. As a whole, though, it’s an underwhelming audio/visual package that only serves to get the job done without any razzle or dazzle from next-gen hardware.
If you’ve been playing recent Dragon Ball Z games, the gameplay should come as no surprise. The combat is good but not great, and it’s also a little too repetitive. Sure, you can get away with just mashing the weak attack button, but you’d only be prolonging your already-lengthy fisticuff. You’ll want to combo opponents by alternating between weak, heavy, and super attacks, and unleashing devastating ultimate attacks is an excellent way to knock off large chunks of enemy HP.
You’ll also always want to keep an eye on your stamina and ki gauges, which allow you to teleport behind opponents and shoot off ki blasts/perform both super and ultimate attacks, respectively. Yet, as cool and as supposedly varied as this sounds, repetition is still an issue. Everything works mechanically; it’s just missing that special sauce that takes it from being a fast food burger to a gourmet burger.
If the environments were both larger and more destructible, I feel like the repetition could have been forgiven a bit. We’d be able to really get a kickass sense as to how planet-destroying-ly powerful and blazingly fast these guys are. Unfortunately, however, that isn’t the case. Some of the combat arenas really could have been bigger and a lot more populated with more objects to inject some life into them because, good god, they’re just so deprived of life. All it takes to showcase this is a trip underwater in the Namek level. All it’s doing when you’re submerged is basically changing the tint of your screen and sucking the enjoyment out of the fight.
I know I sound down on the game, but I actually really enjoyed my playthrough of Dragon Ball: XenoVerse, and much of my enjoyment came from the RPG elements that Dimps has thrown into the mix. Levelling up your character and deciding where to spend your attribute points, and just walking around Toki Toki City (think of it as the Tower from Destiny) and deciding who will mentor you or picking up parallel quests all add to the longevity of the game. You also need to make sure that you have capsules (i.e., Final Fantasy-esque items) in stock and proper equipment (like some of your favorite character’s gear) with different stats equipped if you really want to guarantee a win in some of the game’s longer encounters. Trust me, it can be a surprisingly deep experience when it comes to customization.
Another cool thing that Dimps implemented is an MMO-like hub where you can recruit fellow online pals to do parallel quests or invite them to duke it out in online battles. As you can probably guess, the co-operative stuff works out better because going off my competitive experience, things just devolve into an un-engaging mash fest or ridiculous cat and mouse games. The way the combat is designed just doesn’t make for a satisfying PVP fighter. Also, the servers have been absolutely atrocious — like, NBA 2K-launch window atrocious.
All that being said, Dragon Ball: XenoVerse, to my surprise, actually has me excited to see what Dimps can do to further capitalize on virtual DBZ potential. With some major server overhaul, added wrinkles to the combat, and more fine-tuning to the game’s presentation, they could easily have themselves a stellar Dragon Ball Z game on their hands. Here’s hoping.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Dragon Ball: XenoVerse may not be the perfect Dragon Ball experience, but it is absolutely the perfect foundation for one. Here's to hoping that Dimps makes the right choices for the inevitable follow-up.