Dragon Ball Xenoverse is a complicated game that flirts with being to fighting games what Destiny is to first-person shooters. It's a game that's as addicting as it is frustrating, but one that draws you in in spite of itself. It's almost everything a DBZ fan could want in a game.
Xenoverse is the first Dragon Ball game to flirt with the always-online trend sweeping console games since last generation. And though it introduces relatively few new ideas, it iterates on those previous Dragon Ball games have introduced in exciting ways.
A New Take on an Old Story
One of the biggest problems facing any game—but especially a Dragon Ball game—is how to tell a decades-old story in a way that isn't yawn-inducing. It's no secret that DBZ's lore is well-trodden ground for video games. There isn't a nook or cranny of Toriyama's most famous work that hasn't been explored to death in one of the 80—yes, eighty as in eight-zero—games released over the years.
Xenoverse, however, manages to breathe some new life into things by telling a story of a fractured timeline in which critical changes are made to history, such as Radditz killing Goku and Piccolo. To save history, Trunks summons Shenron and wishes for someone to be summoned to help, and as fate would have it, that someone is you.
In this respect, Xenoverse leans a bit on its ill-fated, Korean MMO cousin, Dragon Ball Online. Trunks is a member of the Time Patrol, an organization that was invented for DBO. The Time Patrol is a group dedicated to keeping the Dragon Ball universe's already crazy timeline intact. In Dragon Ball Online, your created character was a member of the Time Patrol, though the game took place primarily in the distant future. In Xenoverse, you're instead housed in a central area for all Time Patrol agents, called Toki Toki City. The city serves as a jumping-off point for many things, but none more important than the Time Nest, which houses a library of scrolls, each corresponding to a different time period. When these scrolls become corrupted, your adventure begins.
Xenoverse sees your created character setting history back on track with—what else?—super-powered high-speed combat. The changes to history are made by infusing DBZ's most notorious villains with dark energy, giving them strength they never had in the original series we all know and love.
It's a great strategy to make DBZ's well-worn story feel fresh and new, while giving the player a sense of ownership over it as well. You get to see your character progress and grow, and really be a part of those epic battles. There's something that's just cool about getting to take down Frieza or Cell yourself. While your character may play a backseat to the Z fighters, Xenoverse does a great job of explaining why things have to be that way.
Multiple DBZ games have allowed you to create your own fighter, though none have given quite as many options as Xenoverse. The standard Saiyan option is here, of course, humans and Namekians are on offer as well. However, two newcomers to DBZ fighting games are available as well in the form of the Majin race, a race of Buu-like people, and the Frieza race, because I guess Frieza's race doesn't actually have a name.
Each race and gender have their own benefits and drawbacks, for instance Saiyan females are better at performing special attacks than their male counterparts, though Saiyan males have stronger normal attacks. The Saiyan race has less health than the other races while offering higher attack power. Fortunately, Xenoverse explains these differences upfront rather than leaving them for the player to discover later on.
As you level up your character, you'll get the opportunity to assign attribute points to patch some of those gaps, though. You can choose to boost your max health, ki or stamina, or to boost the power of your regular attacks, striking techniques, or ki techniques respectively. On top of that, what you wear has an effect on your stats as well, leaving you with plenty of options to overcome any specific weakness your character's race may give them.
The Master System
For any DBZ fan, Xenoverse's master system is a dream come true. Once you've spent some time in Toki Toki City, you'll be able to select to train under one of 12 masters. Of course, the more you train with any given master, the better the rewards. For instance, training with Vegeta will ultimately earn you his Final Flash technique, or you can train under Cell to learn his Perfect Kamehameha.
Once you've completed a master's training regimen, using their final attack in battle grants the opportunity for a Z-assist. A Z-assist is a special version of the final attack in which your master helps you in spirit, thus significantly boosting the strength of the attack. With the right equipment, stats and a Z-assist, it's entirely possible to one-shot some of the game's stronger foes, especially for a Saiyan.
Not all masters are created equal, however, and some final attacks are much easier to dodge or counter than others. Goku's Super Kamehameha for example, is much quicker than most of the other final attacks in the game. This makes sense, however, as each master has their own level requirement before they'll even train you. For instance, Piccolo only needs you to be level five, whereas a stronger master like Beerus, the pesudo-villain from the recently-released movie, Battle of the Gods requires you be at least level 70 to take you under his tutelage.
If there's anything more intriguing than a new take on an old story, it's a good what-if tale. In Xenoverse these hypotheticals take shape in the form of parallel quests. In a parallel quest, you got a bit of a backstory in the form of a quick text blurb and are thrown into a fight with a number of conditions.
In one, for instance, you have to help Frieza fend off the Z Warriors. Frieza, who is unable to transform in this mission is being targeted by just about everyone he pissed off on Namek. It's a fun way to throw your character into situations that wouldn't fit the regular narrative, but more than that it's also the primary means of getting improved gear.
Parallel quests dole out the best experience and gear currently available in game. Though getting that gear is quite hard. Often times conditions that must be met are difficult to trigger, as the game gives you no indication what it is you must do. If you know DBZ well, however, some of these will be easy to sort out. For instance, if you bring a full-power Frieza along with you in the afore-mentioned quest (you can have up to three total members in your team in any parallel quest), Goku will become Super Saiyan in order to combat the threat.
Parallel quests can be a bit grindy, but I have yet to find one that isn't fun. Some are varied in objective, like collecting dragon balls or protecting certain individuals, but they all usually boil down to beating the everloving crap out of some enemy or enemies so hard it can be seen from space, and that's totally okay, especially when paired up with friends.
Realistic Power Levels
How many times have you played a DBZ game and said something like, "There's no way Yamcha would put up a fight against Buu, even Android 20 put a fucking hole through his chest!" Is that just me? Probably. In any case, my own uncontrollable rage aside, a great side effect of Xenoverse's levelling system is that those feelings are a thing of the past. If my level 80 character who has mopped the floor with Super Saiyan God Goku runs up against a few Saibamen, the battle is laughably short and all is well with the universe.
I've been professing my love for games that let you play your game either online or off without noticeable difference since the release of the original Phantasy Star Online back in 2001. With how many current-gen games suffer from spotty online support, it's great to see a game recognize that yes, maybe infrastructure isn't always perfect and offer an offline option to allow players to continue their enjoyment even when the network is hobbled, for whatever reason. Seriously, kudos to Bandai Namco and Dimps for having some foresight.
Simple, Addictive Combat
Xenoverse's combat is simple, and while that's not a bad thing, it isn't going to be praised for having top-notch mechanics. Each character has a simple set of five-hit combos consisting of either light or heavy attacks, with the remaining two face buttons on the controller being dedicated to ki attacks and flight control.
Though the controls are simple, that signature DBZ feel is there. Batting a character from one end of the field to the other, only to vanish and appear behind them and repeat it is just fun no matter who you are. The opportunities for shit talk when delivering a beat down that sends your opponent through a small rock formation are endless.
I'd love to see a sequel to Xenoverse include some staples from other DBZ games, like battling final attacks and in-game fusion, but what's there is a solid foundation for future games to iterate upon.
If there's one thing to love about DBZ, it's Toriyama's strange sense of design. Toriyama's work is huge in Japan; so huge, in fact, that he's the character designer for the country's most popular RPG series of all time, Dragon Quest.
As such it comes as no surprise that the equipment in Dragon Ball Xenoverse is great to look at. While most are carbon copies of those the series' iconic characters wear at various points, there are a few all-new options as well. The design style seems to borrow heavily from Dragon Ball Online, in fact the Saiyan default outfit looks almost exactly like that a human character would start out with in DBO.
Sadly, however, each piece of equipment has its own unique stats. Normally that's something I would praise, but it severely limits fashion choices for the stats-conscious. As I reached the upper levels of the game, I noticed an increasing number of players all wearing the same outfit, the reason being that there are only about two outfits that max your ki stat out, and it seems most players favor ki-based attacking.
There are several DLC packs planned for Xenoverse's future, and I'm hoping some of them bring a more diverse equipment lineup with them. While we're on the subject of improvements, it'd be nice if some of the original DBZ gear could be recolored, instead of just the new stuff getting the custom treatment.
As far as fighting game rosters go, Xenoverse's is respectable, but previous DBZ games have spoiled me a bit. Some of the choices here seem strange, like giving a slot to Saibamen, or giving two slots to two of Frieza's random henchmen. I would have much preferred to see Dodoria or Zarbon in one of those slots, at least they played a semi-significant role in the Frieza arc.
Another strange decision is giving Frieza three slots to Goku's two. In the case of Goku, his various incarnations throughout the series are all handled (with the exception of Super Saiyan God and Super Saiyan 4 modes) as different costumes. Giving Frieza's base form, final form and 100 percent form just seems like a way of padding the roster.
It's entirely possible the roster will be fleshed out a bit more via DLC, but it seems a shame to have excluded characters in favor of clones and generic henchmen. Even so, there's still an all-star cast here, and odds are your favorite didn't get left out, unless that favorite was Super Buu post-swallowing Gohan, that is.
Lack of Transformations
Yep. In a game about a series about aliens transforming into more powerful aliens, Xenoverse falls disappointingly short. Let's skip over the Saiyans for a moment; I'll get back to them. If you know your DBZ lore, you know we're going to skip over humans, too, as they have no transformations. The problem lies with out other three races. Though all of them have had transformations in DBZ, none of them can do so in Xenoverse.
For instance, with the majin race, you're limited to being a "fat" buu if you're a male and a "kid" buu if you're female. Those are both different, and significantly differently powered iterations of the character, but yet you can't transform from a fat buu to a super buu or kid buu. The same goes for nameks, even though Piccolo fused with Nail and became a super namek, no such ability is available for your player-created nameks, either. Finally, and perhaps most egregiously, there are no transformations for the Frieza race. Let's think about that for a sec. Frieza is the original DBZ transformer. He's also second only to GT Goku in number of transformations, and he's the subject of a new movie coming out this year in which he transforms again. Not giving any of them a transformation is an oversight, but denying the Frieza race their numerous transformations feels like a particularly large oversight all its own.
On the subject of Saiyans, the can transform up to Super Saiyan 2, but it'd be nice to see Super Saiyan 3 as an option, if not Super Saiyan God or Super Saiyan 4.
Everyone knows that for Saiyans, it's all about the hair. And unfortunately, Dragon Ball Xenoverse's hair is utterly disappointing. When a Saiyan transforms into their Super Saiyan state, their hair spikes up and becomes a bright yellow color. Unfortunately, this isn't how Super Saiyan hair behaves in Xenoverse; instead, it just changes color, with no change to its shape whatsoever. This works for one hairstyle, which is the one the team lifted from adult Gohan, since it's already up.
Becoming Super Saiyan is one of the most exciting moments in DBZ history, and for it to be wrong when your character finally reaches that level is really disappointing, these are the details fans really want any DBZ game to nail, and sadly Xenoverse misses the mark.
I mentioned Dragon Ball Xenoverse was a bit like Destiny, didn't I? Online gaming aside, this is the one way in which no game should be like Destiny, but sadly, so many are. Every one of Xenoverse's admittedly fun parallel quests has a loot table which is revealed to the player before they start, but sadly what you get is completely random. The more of the mission's conditions you meet, the more items become available on the loot table, but there's never a guarantee that you'll get the item you want, or any item at all, really.
If you're playing parallel quests just to hunt for gear, you'll find this to be frustrating, especially if you're trying to score a complete outfit, which can have four pieces. Getting all those unique pieces can be an utter pain and take hours upon hours.
It wouldn't be 2015 if another new-gen game didn't launch with major online issues, am I right? I received my review copy of Dragon Ball Xenoverse on launch date, and since then I've rarely been able to connect to the game's servers. Fortunately, the servers being down only really affect logging into the multiplayer lobby, which is something of a communal meeting area. Even when playing offline, you can still hop online and fight with or against other players. It's not game breaking, but it'd be nice to be able to login consistently.
Dragon Ball Xenoverse puts a fresh coat of paint on an aging story. More importantly than that, however, Xenoverse is a fun, competent fighter, even if it isn't a very technical one. For DBZ fans, it's an absolute must, and for everyone else, give it a shot. You might just find a reason to watch the world's most famous anime.
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