We've had this conversation several times over the last few months, but I'm going to chip in and say that in the grand scheme of licensed video game history, Dragon Ball Z has done quite well for itself. From the card-based RPGs on the original Famicom to the PlayStation 2-era fighting games, the series has established a fairly dependable reputation for fun games without too many stinkers bogging down its name.
Well, except for the awful Ultimate Battle 22 or GT Final Bout on the original PlayStation. I remember importing those messes… ugh…
Last year's Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z was another letdown for many. I remember walking away from the demo at Tokyo Game Show 2013 thinking that Bandai Namco had finally stumbled across a winning formula for getting the license to work in HD. However, the final product proved to be a flop with critics and just another shallow fighting game starring Goku and friends.
Fast-forward a year later with Dragon Ball Xenoverse, and Bandai Namco has immediately solved the two major problems which plagued the previous game. For one, it put a much higher caliber studio in charge of development, in his case Budokai developer Dimps.
More important, it realized that games have to be about more than just two or three characters brawling it out anymore. Gamers want more, and remember, gamers are total narcissists in their gaming worlds. Using this train of thought, Bandai Namco shifts to focus from being just another anthem towards Goku and friends making it all about YOU, the player!
Dragon Ball Xenoverse revolves entirely around the idea of creating your dream character to interact with and duke it out with all (most) of your favorite iconic heroes from the show. This added dose of customization is all it needs to declare itself as the best Dragon Ball game in recent memory.
Days of the Past Present
At its heart, Dragon Ball Xenoverse is more of an RPG than true blooded arena fighting game, sporting a story, plenty of customization options and quests that go far beyond simple button mashing.
A duo of evil doers have distorted history by overpowering Dragon Ball Z's ultimate villains, leaving their encounters with our heroes to play out differently than the canon. Nappa wastes the Z-fighters unscathed before Goku can arrive, allowing him and Vegeta to tag team Goku as giant apes. Captain Ginyu is able to overpower Vegeta and steal his body instead of a crippled Goku's. Frieza pushes to his maximum power far too early for the untransformed Goku to handle.
Plenty of small twists on stories you've seen a million times with dire consequences on how it all is supposed to play out.
From a safe distance on the edge of time, Time Patroller Trunks will summon your customized avatar into the anime's universe with the help of the Eternal Dragon and task her with restoring the proper history. A series of corrupted magic scrolls enshrining important historical events send your fighter into the heart of the battle where she has to both aid the heroes and uncover the conspiracy behind these breaches of time.
Meet Konomi, in reference to Dragon Ball's love of food puns. She's like a sexy big sister of Chiaotzu if his race was over five and a half feet tall.
Overall, it's not a story that you would sit through and watch like an actual arc of the Dragon Ball Z anime, but its a decent enough excuse to revisit the past and see how several "What if…" scenarios might have played out. More importantly, it allows your character to leave an intimate impact on the show's canon.
The voice acting too is on the level of the Funimation dub. Take from that as you will because I've always been bigger a fan of the original Ocean Group dub. Bandai Namco reassembled much of the show's original cast to play the key characters, and yeah, their presence is able to get it done.
Just one major gripe about the dub though comes from the writers assuming players would probably choose a male character to bounce through the play with. Sorry, but I shivered every time Konomi was referred to as a "he."
Baby, You're a Solar Flare
Story mode mostly exists to have fun with the series' canon and unlock a few familiar faces. A lot of questionable calls were made at the selection process though leaving studs like Android 16 off the list and making room for several different models of Cell and Frieza. Do these characters need two or three different models?
And no Chiaotzu again! Poor kid gets no respect. To make up for it, Bandai Namco added a host of expandable Frieza goons, and I approve 100 percent of that decision.
Not that it matters though because the main drive behind Dragon Ball Xenoverse is your character and your character alone. She participates in cutscenes with some wonderful results, and each battle she wins scores new skills, statistics, and best of all, clothing to further push her towards the goal of being on par with the universe's strongest.
When creating your character, Dragon Ball Xenoverse provides templates for five different races: Earthlings, Saiyans, Majins, Namekians and Frieza's race, and the first three come with a choice of gender. Honestly though, the guaranteed most popular options, male Saiyans and Earthlings, are about as generic Toriyama art as they come. Just a bunch of frumpy faced men with no happy or goofy options.
Go crazy on the others races and be sure to use your imagination.
Dressing up my in-game characters has also been a huge addiction ever since Dragon Quest IX, and Xenoverse sports an enormous wardrobe of Toriyama clothing ideas to mix and match the perfect outfits for your character. Honestly, decorating Konomi up in new outfits was more fun than learning another generic energy blast move. The only big complaint here is being unable to preview clothing before it can be purchased.
Clothes also grant stat bonuses to character, but who cares? I do not mind one bit if Konomi loses a few KI points when these yellow pair of pants just looks so fabulous with that blue top!
Players learn new techniques and abilities by tutoring under a Dragon Ball Z mainstay and using his moves constantly in battle. Good ol' Krillin taught me the Destructo Disc early on in the campaign, and many poor saps from then on out, including Krillin himself on a few occasions, met their pitiful end on the edge of my rotating energy blades.
And when story missions prove to be a little too tough, which might happen around the time the plot hits the Cell Saga, booths in the game's hub world offer side quests which can boost money, experience points, and bonus gear. Hitting the grind for more clothing!
Even the Dragon Balls can be uncovered if players dig through the optional requirements for completing these quests. Collecting all seven summons the Eternal Dragon, and you can choose money, MORE clothes, or a large selection of other bonuses for all your hard work.
Everything in this game, even losing, contributes towards the ultimate goal of making your fighter the strongest she can possibly be. By the time I decided to hang up Dragon Ball Xenoverse and write this review, I became quite attached to Konomi and found myself wishing she would turn up in an actual show or movie some time. (Call me, Toei. We'll talk)
She's right up there with FemShep and Dragon Quest IX/em> Celestrian as my favorite customized avatar of all time. That's always the sign of a great RPG, and yes, Dragon Ball Xenoverse gets it right.
Seventeen episodes later, Goku and friends are still fighting
It might nail the RPG elements pretty well, but how does Dimps dish out damage in the game's fights? As you might expect Dragon Ball Xenoverse doesn't have the deepest of combat systems, but it suffices in getting to what truly matters about the game.
There's really not much to say. Square button throws out a weak attack, and triangle dishes out the more powerful ones. Holding the R2 button opens your mapped out special attacks, and holding the L2 button alongside it gives access to your super attacks. L1 is block, L2 flies at a faster speed. Gotta balance KI and stamina. R1 locks onto a character.
Pretty standard stuff for fighting games.
Dragon Ball Z's iconic moves like the Kamehameha Wave all turn up, but using them alone isn't qoing to impress anyone. The best fighting styles involve stringing together attacks that send opponents flying across the stage. Special attacks, teleports, and spot-on timing all tie together for some pulverizing combos.
Sometimes you just get in the groove and it holds together, and other times, Dragon Ball Xenoverse devolves into a grand old button mash-a-thon.
Remember, this is a licensed game after all. It wasn't created to provide a deep fighting experience but rather just make sure that casual gaming fans and hardcore fans of the show can play along as well.
More important than the gameplay itself is actually making it look good, and this is where Dragon Ball Xenoverse proudly shines. The PlayStation 4 is no slouch at keeping up with the breakneck speeds needed to recreate the heart pumping pace of the show. Punches fly so fast that they can't be seen, energy blasts fly across the screen, sound effects have been pulled straight from the show, giving it that sense of authenticity.
As a licensed game looking to please fans over players, plenty of worse games have been made. In fact, Dragon Ball Xenoverse is a marvel for finding this perfect balance in an age where many licensed games have been relegated to smartphones.
Bandai Namco still shows belief in its properties, and the effort put into making Dragon Ball Xenoverse this fun and authentic deserves a pat on the back.
But does it deserve to be snatched up at full price? Well, that all depends on what you want. If you are looking for a deep action game similar to something like Bayonetta 2 or DmC: Devil May Cry then no. Stay far away from this game because it comes up short against those pixel counting hell rides.
However, if you are a Dragon Ball Z fan, especially one who has always daydreamed about leaving a personalized mark on the show, you could definitely find $60 worth of value in this package.
In fact, if you are were a nerdy kid from the 90s who used to imagine yourself as a Super Saiyan fighting alongside Goku and his friends, you kind of owe it to yourself to pick up Dragon Ball Xenoverse and finally have that experience all these years later.
If you've ever gone so far as to write a Dragon Ball Z fan-fiction, then perhaps this will be your ultimate outlet to get out of that habit and move on with your life.
Dragon Ball Xenoverse is a light-hearted fighting game that will serve fans of the anime, but the customizable avatar gives it that extra edge to set it apart as "more than just another licensed game."
Sure, why not? Pick it up today if you like.
Disclaimer: We purchased Dragon Ball Xenoverse with company funds and played 10 hours of the single player campaign and side quests before writing this review. All screenshots were taken using the PlayStation 4's screen capture function.
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