I’ve been a fan of Dragon Ball Z since I was a child, and the Budokai and Budokai Tenkaichi games were top-tier fighting games but the series’ transition to PS3 and onwards has been a rocky one – does Xenoverse mark a new beginning for the series?
Xenoverse captures the feel of Dragon Ball and it’s the best Dragon Ball game that we’ve had in years on home consoles, yet the 3D combat still lacks depth and seems to favour style over substance. Xenoverse shakes up the familiar formula a bit, following your journey with your newly created character as you travel back through time to correct history, where Towa and Mira are changing historical events and thus changing the future for the worse. You’ll fight the series’ well-known enemies including Frieza, Cell and Buu whilst fighting alongside heroes Goku, Gohan, Vegeta, Trunks, Piccolo and the rest.
The concept may be new but at the end of the day you’re essentially just playing the same stories you already know but with your own character plonked in – they don’t talk and I found myself wondering if it was really worth including them in the story and not just as a versus character. It doesn’t feel like anything really changed at all story-wise as you’re still fighting the same battles with the same characters, just with an extra one who doesn’t add anything to the game; the historical changes never come across as devastating either.
The last few Dragon Ball titles have played painfully simplistically and encouraged you to mash square and triangle, with special attacks performed by holding R1 and a corresponding face button and these mechanics have sadly followed over to Xenoverse, another fully 3D fighter. I found myself mashing square and a special attack called Orin Combo constantly as most special moves seem to do similar damage with the only thing changing being range. I changed my playstyle in some of the side-missions to see if it would have a positive effect but there’s no depth to the combat whatsoever, so mashing square really does feel like the most effective way to defeat enemies; the game isn’t very long but I started to feel the tedium kick in by the Buu saga.
The game takes place in Toki Toki City which is small and offers very little to do bar sign up for battles and buy items, equipment and skills, and running around to easy area becomes a chore because despite how small the city is, you move quite slow so it takes a while to get anywhere. You can sign up for Parallel Quests, which are essentially side-missions, and they’ll throw you into fights and missions where you have to locate items such as Dragon Balls; there are loads of these to do but I personally found the combat too repetitive to sit through all of these, although I did play a good few and they don’t do enough to differentiate themselves from the stories main battles. I felt the AI was rather cheap and would sometimes constantly spam barrier break which leaves you open to attack, and they’d do the same with their most powerful moves whereas your character can’t hope to do this half as often.
Customisation is hit or miss but I found the ability to create both males and females across a range of races to be fascinating, especially with the choice of Earthling, Saiyan, Namekian, Frieza and Majin to play as. You can change their build, skills, looks and clothing, with clothing effecting your stats for better or worse; you can change the colour of most things too but if you buy equipment that’s inspired by an existing character such as Trunks, then you’re unable to edit the colour which I found to be restricting and unneeded, taking away from the otherwise great customisation mechanic.
Visually it’s nice, if not lacking on detail in some areas, with the explosive action and blistering speed captured that makes you feel that you are playing somebody who’s immensely powerful. Your favourite attacks make an appearance and the characters have never looked better in-game, with the anime visuals of the show carefully recreated, and it’s a joy to watch. There are a handful of animated cutscenes which are a feast for the eyes but most of the cutscenes are in-game and could do with some polishing – I couldn’t help but notice that mouths don’t move at all sometimes when people talk, which is made even more noticeable when the camera is just resting on a characters face; at least the subtitles are easy to read, if yet again unpolished. The areas were usually lifeless too, although being able to fight on ground, underwater and in the sky made it so you weren’t always looking at exactly the same environment all the time.
The localisation job could’ve been handled better as there are several typos and punctuation errors, and at one point the Supreme Kai of Time started speaking Japanese (with the voice-actress changing) and then changed back to English after the sentence was finished; I’m not sure about you, but I can’t my entire voice on the fly. Fortunately, most of the English VA’s return and do an excellent job as they always do; I can’t imagine Dragon Ball without Sean Schemmel and Christopher Sabat as Goku, Vegeta and many other members of the cast, so I’m pleased that they’ve returned to reprise their most popular roles. Sadly, some of the battles don’t feature music and the OST isn’t all that memorable, but the opening theme remix of Cha-La Head-Cha-La, used in the original series, inspires nostalgia and is still as catchy as it’s always been.
I love the Dragon Ball series, I’ve watched several of the movies and Dragon Ball Z, and whilst I’ve yet to watch everything completely I’ve been a fan of the series since I was a child – particularly due to the games and characters. The characters might remain similar to their anime counterparts in Xenoverse but, even as a child, I feel I would’ve found the gameplay way too mind-numbing after a few hours. The excitement that the games once brought me hasn’t been present for a long time and I’m unsure as to why Bandai Namco refuse to make a new Dragon Ball game in the vain of Budokai 3, which more or less was the peak of the series. I also loved Budokai Tenkaichi 2 which was fully 3D and I remember spending much of my free time playing and enjoying every second of it – it covered almost every Dragon Ball moment, allowing me to play through the series’ grand history. Xenoverse has a lot less content for a series which should evolve with each iteration.
Dragon Ball Xenoverse might be the finest Dragon Ball title that we’ve had for quite some time, but it’s nowhere near as engaging or thrilling as Budokai 3 and the Budokai Tenkaichi games were. Fans will find things to love here, like I did, but overall I can’t deny that it’s just not all that exciting to play as the gameplay is far too simplistic to encourage me to play it for hours on end and online multiplayer won’t change that; it’s average at best. The visuals and voice-acting are what I expect but until Bandai Namco nail the outstanding gameplay that the series once had, it’s seemingly destined to repeat history and might reach a point where it’s too late to change it back.