Xenoverse feels like the ultimate Dragon Ball game. Not only does it allow you to play as virtually every Dragon Ball character to have ever existed in the original universe, both single player and multiplayer, but it allows you to inject yourself into the world via the character creation. Dragon Ball Xenoverse has dethroned the epic experience of Budokai, and may take the crown for best DBZ-themed game ever.
+Deep combat system
+Impressive character customization and building
+Inventive storyline and retelling of the DBZ Universe
+Fixed issues from previous titles, like Tenkaichi
+MMO feature set makes socializing in-game a whole lot of fun
-Being online-centric means sometimes being kicked from single-player (server issues)
-Some minor graphical bugs
-Game mode navigation could be MUCH simpler
I've been playing Dragon Ball games since I started watching the TV show way back in the early '90s. The franchise has proved an unstoppable juggernaut, acting as flagship for Shonen Jump for years (until One Piece and Naruto grew into popularity). The license has produced dozens of animated films (and one shitty live-action), stacks of manga (comics), and what is starting to feel like a billion video games.
Multiple times on the site and during podcasts, I've mentioned that Budokai 3 was, for me, the pinnacle of its success on console. Nothing has really equaled the fun that I had exploring that game, earning all the characters, capturing the Dragon Balls, and the cinematic nature of the core fighting game itself (either solo or PvP).
However, Dragon Ball Xenoverse has finally broken the chain for terrible DBZ games. It might actually take the crown as far as best overall Dragon Ball experience is concerned.
Not only does it solve a lot of the problems I've had with 3D fighters in the DBZ-genre previously - like wonky controls or hard-to-follow action sequences due to the unwieldy cameras - but for the first time ever you get to put yourself into the world of Dragon Ball like never before thanks to a suite of MMO-esque game features.
Honestly, I hadn't been following along with the production of Xenoverse, primarily because I was still pretty butt-hurt about the franchise's evolution post-Budokai. Tenkaichi and its ilk may have been enjoyed by the hard-core fan base that was rabid for absolutely anything DBZ, but in my personal experience they were some of the weakest experiences I had with gaming in general.
So I fell off the hype train for anything Dragon Ball and stopped actively seeking information about their upcoming titles. That meant that when I started the game up for review, I was coming in almost completely blind.
I had no idea that this was going to be anything more than another attempt at a haphazard fighting game.
Dragon Ball Xenoverse tells the story of a new character (who you create) brought into the Time Patrollers by none other than Trunks himself. The concept being that someone is making a muck of the timeline of the DBZ universe, interjecting themselves into the series' biggest moments (like the fight with Frieza) and changing the outcome of the battles via outside influence.
While I would generally spend a chunk of time complaining about how many times we've rehashed the timeline of Dragon Ball Z in video games, Xenoverse does it intelligently. Not only are you getting a new look at (potential) alternative history for the universe, but the story in each case is severely truncated. Basically before a mission begins you see how history has been changed within the fight itself. Instead of the run-up to Frieza, for example, Trunks just shows you Goku losing and asks you to help. Once you've corrected the timeline to the original story of DBZ you exit and Trunks just lets you know "Yep, Goku won. We're good here."
The core gameplay has also shifted away from the standard fighting game style they've been leaning on for the last few titles. While the course-correction that is the center of the story is still obtained via fights, the whole of the game itself is more of an RPG; specifically an MMORPG.
As mentioned you'll get to build your own character at the start of the game, selecting from either a male or female version of one of the five races: Human, Saiyan, Namekian, Majin, and 'Frieza'. Once you've designed a character look you're happy with you also get to define a sort of 'class' for your character. The diversity of which is somewhat less impressive, being there are only three: Melee, Ki, and Mixed.
After the tutorial missions introducing your character to the world, the fighting system, story, and Trunks, you'll get to wander around the Toki Toki Tower, which acts as hub world for the story.
Toki Toki Tower is split into three sections that act as Store, Side-missions/Versus, and Story Mode respectively. The only downside to the game structure, thus far, being that you need to walk your ass between each of those sections (then to an appropriate vendor) to make anything happen.
Say you want to jump in and have a classic match-up with some of your favourite characters one-on-one style. Well, you have to load the game, select your character, load into the hub world, walk over to the appropriate sector of the map, speak with a robot who handles the Offline VS matches, then select the type of battle. That's a whole lot of set up to get into a quick fight with a computer opponent (or online match) that could have easily been replaced with a menu system (even if only as a short-cut).
My absolute favourite update to the game mechanics though is that, while the game is still intended to be a fighter, the combat feels a little more like a real-time RPG now.
Basic attacks are locked to your X and Y buttons (Xbox One) and you can mash those out as you please (chaining the two together to make combos) but the super and ultimate attacks have been pushed into a sort of 'combat menu' system. Holding down the right trigger opens a menu of four attacks (which you can customize). Each of the four face buttons (X, Y, A, B) then becomes a powerful new attack (like your Kamehameha). It's a slick little interface that feels like I'm playing out a classic JRPG in real-time, very much like the old-school attack select: Attack > Super > Galick Gun.
Ultimate attacks are achieved via a similar process though as you may assume will require more Ki (the game's mana analog). Pulling both triggers at the same time brings up another menu system with another four attacks which are (again) locked to each of the four buttons. This will be how you pull off things like Vegeta's Final Flash, or Goku's 10x Kamehameha.
It's one of those games that can seem either overly simple or overly complex depending on how you want to look at it.
For the first half of the game I was able to easily defeat the majority of the foes I encountered by simply mashing a combination of the light (X) and heavy (Y) attacks, even as a character that was built for Ki blasting.
However, during the multitude of tutorial pages you're introduced to concepts like dashing, flying at high speeds, lock-on (which is mandatory), grabs, knock backs, counter hits, blocking, time-blocking, legitimate combo strikes, transitions, teleportation, and on and on and on. The depth of the game is virtually bottomless as it feels like as soon as you've mastered one part you encounter a new villain that has something else he'll test you with.
Beyond the ability to customize your character via earned/purchased clothing options, skills, supers, ultimates, and the character progression system - earning levels allows you to up your stats in classic categories like striking, ki, stamina, and health -the game features plenty of other MMO staples.
While you're running around in the hub world (which can be played as either an active multiplayer lobby, or have other players in idle action like NPCs) you can interact with players all over the world. This is achieved via a live chatroom and a plethora of emotes your character can act out.
Personal favourite has to go to the Fusion Dance, which has been split into "Left" and "Right" so you can perform the fusion dance with a friend on line. There's also each individual intro dance of the Ginyu Squad, if you happen to have 5 friends that want to pretend to be them for the purpose of lobby amusement.
Basically this game is massive. The "Xenoverse" title is an appropriate gauge of the game, being that it is both its own universe and something new to the franchise. As a fan of Dragon Ball there's never been a better in to the story of the universe, and it's rewarding to get to put yourself into the game and help out your old favourite characters. It's also super addicting to be fighting your way through side-missions in game for that next piece of armor you want to add to your wardrobe so you can make your character look exactly the way you want.
There are some downsides, to be sure, primarily small technical issues, like the server cutting out on occasion which can even knock you out of single player due to the way the game is structured. Overall though, it is definitely one of the best Dragon Ball packages that has ever been offered to gamers, so if you're a fan of the Dragon Ball Universe, or just like the idea of a RPG-Fighter hybrid, then this is DEFINITELY one to check out.
Review based on a Xbox One version of the game, supplied by the Publisher.