It’s hard to imagine a Dragon Ball Z game being more intense than the Budokai fighting series on PS2. Or at least, it was — until I visited Namco Bandai’s booth at E3 this year. Within ten minutes of checking out the new Dragon Ball game, it became abundantly clear than my imagination deserved to be punished not only for lack of ingenuity, but for underestimating Dragon Ball Z in general. With this series, the creators are always raising the chaos ceiling and turning things up just one more notch, and I should know that. It’s a mistake I won’t make again.
The new game is called Dragon Ball Xenoverse, and if you take the complete and utter turmoil of the PlayStation 2’s Budokai 3 and flip it on its head once or twice (after upping the ante at least three times over) you may begin to have an idea of what’s going on with Xenoverse. From the gameplay I saw, it’s shaping up to feel more like the battles from the anime than ever before.
The demonstration consisted of two parts: a viewing of the game’s new trailer, and a short demo played by the Namco Bandai representative on hand. The new trailer is pretty great; despite an intent to release on PS3 and Xbox 360, Namco Bandai stressed that this is a next-gen game through and through. I can’t say I disagree, either; the cel-shaded style is back, but this time sporting incredibly sharp textures, dramatic lighting, and dozens of character animations, from brutal finishing moves to the simple heave-ho of a player-fighter’s breath after a tough match. All the characters you’d expect to appear are returning, from Goku and Nappa to Frieza and Vegeta, and so far they’re all looking superb. One thing I’ve noticed about the new generation of consoles is that stylized art looks downright fantastic. Cel shading in the past was often used as polish when a realistic style wouldn’t cut it, but on PS4 and Xbox One that couldn’t be further from the truth. Visually, it’s like witnessing an even higher fidelity version of the cartoon.
When the trailer finally concluded, the Bandai rep hopped over to another TV and switched on the game, with a DualShock 4 in hand (the PlayStation 4, notably, was not visible). The demo showed off three fights, all with Goku as the player character. The first thing I noticed about the game (and probably both its largest feature and development hurdle) is that you’re no longer restrained on the Y axis; fighters can fly and lunge through the air with relative ease, as well as dive underwater if the stage permits. You can still fight on flat ground too, but as we know from the anime, such plebian limitations become less and less common as the ridiculousness of our heroes’ power reaches well over 9000. The fights in Xenoverse appear as fast as they are varied, and according to Bandai there’s going to be a wealth of diverse stages when the final game ships. I was blown away just watching Goku and Frieza torpedo underwater while locked in combat, and that was only an unfinished demo stage. If, like me, you haven’t played since Budokai (and especially if you haven’t tried Budokai 3), what’s possible in Xenoverse is going to knock your socks off.
Sadly, showgoers weren’t actually able to play the game, but Bandai did emphasize one particular segment of the E3 trailer — the emergence of a new character. I asked if this character or game as a whole have anything to do with the new Dragon Ball film, to which I was issued a resounding “no.” The new film was already released in other territories well before this game was announced. So, as it turns out, the announcement of Xenoverse coinciding with the North American announcement of the new Dragon Ball film are complete and utter coincidences. So, the redheaded character then — who is he?
I’ll admit I’m not devoted enough to accurately speculate, but the internet is rife with rumors if it’s something you want to look into. The point its, for a DBZ game to be trusted with the emergence (or re-emergence) of a new character is a big deal, and you could see it in the faces of both the American and Japanese Bandai reps. They’re incredibly excited, and it rubbed off on everyone in the room.
Budokai developer Dimps is returning to work on the game, so there’s no need to worry over balancing issues or other fighting game snafus; these guys are consummate professionals of the genre. Still, the Budokai titles were never regarded as premier fighters, and as fun as they became by the series’ third game, I’d personally like Dimps to kick things up a notch. Not intensity-wise or fiction-wise (they’ve already done that to the utmost extreme), but detail-wise. Let’s go the distance and churn out a game with the capacity to garner top review scores, and put Dragon Ball Xenoverse on the map for non-DBZ-heads, even if just for a little while. It may be a stretch, but with the way this game is shaping up, it’s not impossible either.