The Dragon Ball anime is just perfect for the fighting genre of videogames. It’s all about ridiculously powerful warriors engaging in epic fights, pulling off the kind of moves that’d make Ryu and Ken green with envy. Goku and Co. have a long, and storied history, with a rabid fan base following the action, and this has spread into the world of games many times, with the latest being Dragonball Xenoverse. It’s also the first outing for a current gen Dragon Ball Z title, brinigng with it sharp visuals and smooth, mid-air combat.
The premise of the game is both interesting, and plays it very safe. A strange, unknown force is attempting to change the course of history, and Trunks, with an army of time paroling warriors, has to prevent changes to the time line. Taking the form of a time-travelling adventure, Xenoverse lets the player travel trough time, and tasks them with preventing changes to Dragon Ball history. This plot lets you play a pivotal role in some of the series’ biggest, and most important battles, all of which fans of the series will instantly recognise, and it lets you do this as your own, user-created character.
At the beginning of the game, you’ll need to create a new character from a selection of Dragon Ball Z races, such as human, Saiyan, and Frieza’s race, and you can use the simple preset selection to mould your own unique fighter. Once this is done, it’s off into the story.
The game itself is split into two specific modes – combat, and activities within the game’s hub of Toki Toki City. Combat is the best part of the game, and the bread and butter, which we’ll come to later, but we’ll start with the hub section,
Toki Toki panic
The city of Toki Toki is the hub of the game, and it’s here where you’ll spend a lot of time buying new items, clothing, and special moves, as well as conversing with in-game NPCs, registering for new quests, accessing free play battles, and when online, interacting with other players.
The city is fairly small, but filled with various shops, mission desks and PvP content, and it serves as the game’s main lobby when online. It’s nothing to write home about, and it could be a little more interesting, but it does the job well, and lets you show off your created DBZ warrior to others. It also shows that Xenoverse is being pushed heavily as a social experience, although you can play alone if you prefer.
The missions you can access from the hub include the ‘Time Patrol’ story missions, as well as various side quests you can tackle to earn more experience, items and money. There’s a PvP arena, as well as a postal service, which lets you send and receive gifts. There’s also a typical MMO-style chat and emote system. Playing alone obviously means you’ll be missing out on some of this content, so for the best experience, you’ll need to grab some friends.
There’s nothing all that innovative here, but that’s not really the point. What Toki Toki does is add an element of MMO to the traditionally closed affair that it a fighting game, and it means that creating your own character has more of an impact, as you’ll want to have the best looking, and most powerful character out there to impress others, and to top the leaderbaords, which the game also supports, and displays in the city.
Being a Dragon Ball title, it’s the combat we’re really interested in, and here is where the game is at its best. I’ve played a lot of the previous Dragon Ball games, and I can safely say that this is amongst the best so far, with a much better control system than many previous releases, and a more accessible fighting system. It’s easy to run and fly around the large areas pulling of combos and special moves, but there’s also plenty of content you need to work hard to master.
In particular is the blocking and counter system, which is, admittedly, poorly explained, and could be handled better in terms of mechanics, but it does add a level of skill to combat that elevates it above and beyond a simple button-masher. Careful use of special and ultimate moves is also important, as you have limited Ki and stamina, and some longer battles against multiple opponents can punish those who don’t plan ahead.
With fights this hectic, a good camera is essential, and it’s here where Xenoverse could go horribly wrong. Luckly, it doesn’t, and thanks to a simple lock-on camera, there are few issues. I do find it annoying, however, that you can switch your lock-on to an area portal by accident when fighting multiple foes. Why would you ever want to attack or use a special on a level gate mid fight? It would be better to disable this option when in combat.
As good as the combat is when compared to past iterations, it’s still a little clunky, and far from smooth. You can still wildly flail around just out of range of a foe, and it can be unreasonably hard to hit targets with your specials. Other games have managed this kind of combat well enough, such as Zone Of The Enders and Warframe, so there’s no reason the exprience couldn’t be more fluid.
The explosive battles reproduce the anime action very well, though, and as with previous games, it’s one of the most unique fighting games you’ll play, but also like previous DBZ entries, it lacks the depth of more traditional fighters like Street Fighter, so seasoned fighting champs won’t find all that much to challenge them. This is one for Dragon Ball Z fans only, not just in setting, but also in terms of gameplay.
However, even hardcore Dragon Ball Z fans will notice some problems, most notably with the friendly AI. During fights you can be accompanied by other AI fighters. This sounds great, but in practise it’s not so good, as the AI often does nothing but sit (or hover) there, and will even practically break out the popcorn and watch as you’re under attack by multiple foes. It’s also often hard to attack a target when other AI team members are getting in the way. This is fixed when tackling missiosn with friends, of course, but better AI would be welcome.
The addition of scanning the environment for pickups is also a bit of a problem, as it breaks up the flow of the combat, and really doesn’t feel like it should be in there. It just doesn’t fit, and although the scanner can highlight enemies, there’s no real need to do so, and they’re easy to find anyway. I understand this is an effort to utilise the large areas, and to add a little bit of MMO grind, but it just doesn’t work.
That said, there’s plenty of content to be found here to help make the combat sections very enjoyable regardless, including over 40 fighters to pick from, and a hefty amount of character customisation. You can find and buy new clothing items, accessories, and special moves, and as you earn experience, you can increase your user-character stats, turning them from an unknown newcomer, into a character that really does feel like it belongs in the Dragon Ball Z world.
Dragon Ball Xenoverse has plenty to offer any Dragon Ball fan, there’s no doubting that, and in my opinion, it’s possibly the best Dragon Ball game yet. There’s a lot of content to tackle, with a decent online component offering good co-operative and PvP action, and even if you’re a solo player, you’ll enjoy the chance to create your very own Dragon Ball Z character and evolve them into your very own Super Saiyan.
True, the story mode is a little weak, and is little more than a greatest hits mash-up of the series’ biggest fights, but it’s good to relive these important parts of DBZ history, and if you’re new to the series, it means you can get a whistle stop, catch-up tour to give you some background information. Just don’t expect to fully understand what’s going on, Dragon Ball Z is nothing if not a little out there.
Dragon Ball Xenoverse will be released on February 27 for Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and PC (digital).
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