There's certainly no shortage of Dragon Ball titles on the market, but none have surpassed the knockout that was 2004’s Budokai 3 on the PlayStation 2. In particular, the series fell into a bit of a rut after the Raging Blast series, which preceded a string of mediocre releases.
Now, a decade after the series’ high point, Bandai Namco Games has released Dragon Ball Xenoverse, based on the ever-popular anime by Akira Toriyama.
Xenoverse takes place in age 850. An unknown force is changing history by altering key moments in the Dragon Ball timeline, prompting Future Trunks to summon a powerful warrior to come to his aid using the Dragon Balls. It’s a game for hardcore Dragon Ball fans, as the plot is basically just a framing device to allow players to insert themselves into the timeline, starting from the Saiyan Saga and even including the 2013 film Battle of Gods.
Due to the nature of the time-travel plot, the battles are just different enough from the source material to feel fresh, creating some great ‘What-if?’ scenarios that actually make the player feel as though they are having an impact, rather than playing the part of passenger on a sightseeing tour of their favourite scenes.
A ki gauge is used for skills and a stamina gauge for dashing and teleporting, which is a vast improvement over the single-gauge games of old. The overall gameplay style is similar to that of the 2012’s Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z: players can use light and heavy attacks, fire ki blasts, and hold down the triggers to access their skills.
It’s also possible to fly at high speeds around the large, free-roam maps, and here is where players will notice certain oddities about the default control scheme. On PlayStation, the X button makes your character ascend, while L3 makes him or her descend. Clicking the analogue sticks does not flow naturally into gameplay, so it's a mystery why the developers went with this setup.
The Xbox controls are mapped similarly, and apparently on PC, the Tab key is used to switch targets while the Alt key is used to access the player’s skills. So if you want to switch targets while preparing an attack… at least they didn’t map it to F4.
One other major difference from previous games are the way transformations are handled. Characters whose transformations would require drastic changes to their character models – such as Frieza – can no longer change into those forms mid-battle. Instead, these forms are separate characters. Transformations which only make minor changes such as Kaioken and Super Saiyan are instead mapped as skills, and only last until your stamina gauge runs out.
Changes have also been made to the way your ki gauge is charged: it can only be filled by dealing and receive damage, or by equipping a charge-up skill, which leaves you wide open to attack. This is a good system, as it actually provides a drawback to using transformations, and also prevents fights from being 80 percent charging up at opposite ends of the map – as anime-accurate as that would have been.
Mission structure is rather basic, with sets of objectives that are little more than simply defeating enemies. The difficulty curve spikes rather harshly though, so a lot of grinding is required to level up your character.
In the side missions, players are able to take control of any character of the 47 from the roster and team up with up to two others to chase randomly-generated rewards. This, in addition to being able to level up, upgrade your character’s stats, and customise your character makes Xenoverse feel less like a fighting game and more like an MMORPG.
Adding to the MMO feel are the online features. Every time you boot up the game, it will automatically try to connect to servers, even when you want to play in single player mode. At time of writing, the PlayStation 4 servers were slightly unstable, but a large improvement on how things were at launch when drops were frequent.
And the majority of the time when you do get a stable connection, online is a blast. Teams of up to three can sidequest or partake in three-on-three battles, and there is no input lag, although players may occasionally skip around the screen. The character animations are smooth and fluid though, especially for such quick and flashy movements, and the particle and energy effects are near perfect.
The English voice acting is about on par with the anime, but the animations are synced with the Japanese voices. Not all of the original actors are present, but Sean Schemmel and Christopher Sabbat reprise their respective roles, as does Eric Vale, who tries and fails to make Trunks sound more badass than he is.
Xenoverse is the best Dragon Ball title to come along in a while. The uninitiated will find it opaque, but fans will definitely enjoy starring in reinterpretations of their favourite moments from the anime. The online issues are a let-down, but as it stands, Xenoverse is still a success.