Article first published as PlayStation 4 Review: ‘Dragon Ball: Xenoverse’ on Blogcritics.
Dragon Ball: Xenoverse is the latest in an unsurprisingly long list of games based on the hugely popular Dragon Ball manga and subsequent anime series. It’s hard to believe that Dragon Ball is thirty years old now, and as a matter of fact, it’s been almost twenty years since the original run of the manga series ended. What is new, is that this the first time the long-running series has made it to this generation of consoles. Though Xenoverse isn’t perfect, for the most part, the series debut on the PlayStation 4 is a pretty solid effort.
Dragon Ball is all about the fighting, and typically, it’s that fighting at the center of every Dragon Ball game. Xenoverse is no exception. However the fighting mechanics in Xenoverse don’t stand up very well against those in other fighting games. Besides being able to string together combos, combat is a pretty simple affair. Weak and strong attacks are mapped to the square and triangle buttons respectively. A Ki blast is executed with the circle button and special moves and dashing are done with the triggers. Guarding is done with the left bumper and the right one is used for the necessary locking on.
Where some previous Dragon Ball games have tried to shoehorn the combat into small arenas and even indoor locations, Xenoverse tries to make the fighting environments more faithful to the source material. In most cases, this means fighting in the air. While that is certainly more epic, it does introduce a new set of problems. With such large fighting areas, there can be a lot of chasing. Just like a boxing match, where one fighter is clearly ahead, and just staying out of danger, following your opponent around arena, doesn’t make for compelling entertainment.
Luckily, Dragon Ball: Xenoverse does have other things going for it. Unlike the previous games, that follow the original Dragon Ball canon, Xenoverse mixes it up a bit and towards the end charts a whole new path. Longtime fans, should worry too much though, because the new narrative doesn’t stray too far off of the path. Of course, the primary reason why Xenoverse needs a new story, is because players actually create their own character, this time around. While that isn’t entirely new, it is fairly well integrated, this time around.
The RPG elements in Dragon Ball: Xenoverse are surprisingly substantial. You can choose the race and gender, if applicable, of your user-created Z warrior, and from there you have plenty of cosmetic options. It’s not the Mass Effect or even Soul Calibur level of customization, but it should make most fans happy. In addition to hairstyles and skin colors, you can also mix and match your abilities, and customize your battle skills. Special and super attacks can also be switched out in-between missions. Additionally, stat improving clothing items can be either bought or won throughout the game.
Another element Xenoverse borrows from the RPG genre, is the town hub. Your character can run around and speak to all of the characters in town, and surprisingly most of them are fully voiced. Rather than utilizing a menu system, everything in the game is done from the hub. That includes both local and online multiplayer and coop. While it is immersive, it can be somewhat time consuming, especially when network connection issues are fairly commonplace. A new wrinkle to Dragon Ball games, and also accessible through the hub are the Parallel quests, which are essentially side missions. Of course it wouldn’t be a hub, without stores too.
With the included Japanese language option, Dragon Ball: Xenoverse is undoubtedly for fans of the series, and what it does really well, is let fans immerse themselves in the Dragon Ball world. No previous game in the series has done this quite as well. That doesn’t mean everything in the game works well. Individually, a lot of the elements could be improved upon, but as tedious as some aspects are, the entirety of the experience is a giant leap forward. Going forward, if Namco Bandai can just improve upon this framework, the future looks bright for Dragon Ball games.