Dragon Ball Xenoverse is the game we've been waiting for.
I'm not just talking to Dragon Ball Z fans, even though this is by far the best tie-in to date. Dimps have nailed the raw mechanical thrill of the series' legendary aerial battles as we freely soar over expansive 3D levels at supersonic speeds, throwing down on fan-favourite characters with ridiculously OTT attacks, Ki Blasts and trademark special moves, smashing foes through the scenery as we brawl in the air, underwater and throughout familiar locales.
We'll drill down into the details later, but the fact is that Dragon Ball Xenoverse is one of the most important manga/anime videogames ever since it finally addresses a missed opportunity that has gone sadly ignored for years. For the first time, we're able to truly enter an anime franchise's universe -- not as a player, but as a character. We'll create our own avatar from a huge selection of options, skills and equipment, then see how we stack up with Goku, Vegeta, Raditz, Frieza as we fight with and against them, whether alone or teaming up with friends online.
Xenoverse's premise is very clever indeed. The Dragon Ball timeline is under threat from a mysterious new force who seek to unbalance key events in the canon (from the first battles with Vegeta to the Ginyu Squad's body-changing shenanigans, Frieza's entrance and beyond) for their own nefarious ends. A chronological police force headed up by Trunks is desperately trying and failing to keep history intact, and in a last-ditch move, petition Shenron himself to send a champion capable of going back through time and restoring the canon to its original state. With extreme prejudice.
The champion, of course, being you. Me. Us.
You'll start by creating your avatar from a dizzying array of cosmetic options, tailoring both their appearance and stats depending on your choice of race and gender, including basic humans, Saiyans, Majin, Namekians and even Freiza's Race should you want to. Your choices factor into durability, stamina, damage, Ki and affinity with certain types of attack, allowing you to express yourself and create your own evolving stake in the Dragon Ball universe.
Avatar created and named, you'll find yourself in Tokitoki Town, an impossible city that exists outside of time and your new home-slash-hub-zone for the duration. Its three districts are full of shops, NPCs (including some familiar faces) and missions to undertake -- and if you play online, it's also chock-full of fellow players, who you can talk to using a palette of communication commands to recruit for backup on missions or challenge to head-to-head battles. Naturally you'll also want to see what the Scouter says about their power level, while solo play populates the zone with asynchronous players that can be recruited as bots.
Sooner or later, though, you'll need to go back through time, which is where Dragon Ball Xenoverse shows its true colours. You'll find yourself thrust straight into some of the most memorable battles from the entire canon, allied with and fighting against the cast who all react to your presence with new voice acting and a great deal of surprise. You'll fling Great Ape Vegeta around by his tail, body-change with Ginyu to infiltrate his ship, defend Gohan and Krillin and even team up with fully powered-up Goku during his final showdown with Frieza -- for starters! -- and enjoy actually being a part of the world, not just an onlooker.
The feeling of actually being able to get involved is absolutely intoxicating, and something that even relatively casual fans will find incredibly refreshing compared to the likes of the Naruto Ultimate Ninja series or One Piece tie-ins.
Fans will derive even more joy from the Parallel Quests, though, which take the form of 'what if?' scenarios that completely change the rules. Perhaps you'll team up with Raditz to take down Gohan and Goku, steal Dragon Balls from the Namekians or throw down against a tag team of Saiyan superstars, again, just for starters. These missions actually resemble Monster Hunter in terms of structure, as you'll explore the levels for collectibles and encounter various sub-objectives and secret extra battles if the fights go well, throwing up plenty of surprises as you assemble a 3-man tag team of your own from every character you've successfully allied with or defeated before.
Sadly, a lack of environments does start to show after a while. You'll revisit the same locations over and over again during both missions and Parallel Quests, which are at least rather large and give you plenty of room to breathe, but a few more would not have gone amiss especially in the early-to-mid game
All of which would mean nothing if the combat wasn't up to snuff, though. Thankfully Dimps are at the helm, and they're about the safest hands you could ask for. Or in other words: it's absolutely sensational.
Xenoverse grants you full range of motion throughout some deceptively large stages, allowing you to freely hover, fly and boost at insane speeds to locate and engage your foes (after sounding them out with a quick Scouter scan). Once battle is joined, lock-on mechanics make camera control an intuitive and pleasant joy even when fighting multiple assailants, as you blast out attack combos, throws and Ki blasts while evading incoming damage with blocks, teleport dashes, dodges and special abilities. Even the regular attacks are utterly outrageous as you smash opponents through rocks, teleport behind them for brutal uppercuts or throw them hundreds of metres across the level, but you've also got access to a range of super attacks and ultimate abilities tied to a recharging Ki gauge.
If you've ever seen a character do something cool in the anime or manga, chances are you'll be able to do it yourself here. Want to equip both the Kamehameha and the Galick Gun? No problem. Want to scour the levels in balls of righteous Ki flames or close in on enemies with dashes, strikes and flurries of super-powered kicks? Go for it. The Spirit Bomb? Yeah, it's yours. Whatever you choose, the action is incredibly precise, responsive and technical while still being accessible and enjoyable, resulting in one of the most fluid and bombastic gameplay experiences I've enjoyed since... well, Otogi: Myth Of Demons, to be perfectly honest!
The superb combat is underpinned by compelling RPG mechanics. Win or lose, you'll gradually level up and hone your chosen build with carefully-assigned skill points, while unlocking a massive range of gear to equip, skills to bring into battle and helpful consumables that will save your bacon in a pinch. Win or lose, you'll always get experience and money, keeping you invested in the experience and unlikely to ragequit even if you find yourself facing a tougher opponent. Crucially, your avatar is you, letting you truly express yourself both visually and in terms of combat style.
Quality is impressive, but there's plenty of content too. You'll encounter loads of missions and parallel quests (that can be completed solo, with bots or with fellow players) alongside robust competitive modes for multiple players. Fans can even take on a character as a mentor, who'll dole out new skills the longer you serve under them, which is yet another way in with Xenoverse makes you feel like part of the canon, as opposed to an outsider looking in. Of course, you're free to play as any of the unlocked characters too (of which there are loads, especially once you factor in multiple forms, ages and costumes) if you so choose.
However, it's worth noting that Dimps' expertise is limited to brawlers, and their inexperience with RPGs and MMOs does shine through in a few unfortunate ways.
Tokitoki Town is a key offender. Despite being relatively small and compact, the hub town is annoyingly split into multiple load zones, making navigation much more time-consuming than it really ought to be. Worse, though, is the fact that the town itself is visually bland and unappealing, a sparse, geometrically-simplistic and primitive selection of basic buildings and static NPCs that's sorely lacking in atmosphere-building detail. Compared to Monster Hunter's Moga Village or One Piece: Unlimited World Red's Trans Town, it's boring, uninspired and insipid. Not a huge problem, you might think, but you'd be wrong as you'll spend a great deal of time here and it really should have been a more exciting place to be.
The menus and GUI also display Dimps' lack of attention to artistic detail outside of battle. Though fit for task on a functional level, menus rely on unattractive green rectangles and the most jarringly generic font imaginable, while text communication in TokiToki town takes up much of the screen and looks like a first year game design student's first attempts; thus making Xenoverse look surprisingly amateurish around the edges. Another seemingly small quibble that becomes more and more noticeable as the hours wear on.
The graphics, too, betray the fact that Dragon Ball Xenoverse is a cross generation title. Though still a very handsome game overall due to great cel-shading work, excellent facial expressions and decent Yebis-powered lighting, levels do lack attention to detail when you get your eye in, though admittedly this is in keeping with the anime's visual style. It's also worth noting that the English dub's lip-synch is atrocious during in-engine cutscenes, often more than a second behind the audio, while background music sometimes seems to disappear mid-battle or get lost in the mix.
All of which makes me desperately crave a refined sequel, but none of which makes me any less ready to recommend Dragon Ball Xenoverse as enthusiastically and wholeheartedly as I can. The gameplay is what counts, and it's superb, while the opportunity to become part of the the Dragon Ball universe with our friends should not be missed. Here's hoping that Bandai Namco see the merit in giving more of their franchises the same treatment... starting with Naruto, preferably.
Note: On Multiplayer Servers - Dragon Ball Xenoverse's online servers were activated last Friday, allowing the existing community and Japanese players to get involved. It works perfectly for now, but as we know, servers can be tricky beasts especially on launch day. Thankfully, even if the worst does come to the worst, most of the content is playable and enjoyable offline, meaning that you'll be able to pursue the story and get some power levels under your belt.
- Sensational airborne combat; fluid, responsive, empowering, exhilarating...
- ...and the camera works perfectly!
- Clever story, deeply rewarding to experience the universe as a character, not just an onlooker
- Compelling and versatile progression, great cooperative and competitive multiplayer
- Loads of content, Monster Hunter-esque structure
- Tokitoki town is bland, basic and awkwardly segmented -- not ideal for a hub zone
- Menus and fonts are grimly utilitarian, stages are frequently recycled
- Atrocious lip-synch, lack of fine environmental detail
The Short Version: Dragon Ball Xenoverse captures the brutal thrill of soaring aerial anime battles better than practically any game I've ever played, all while allowing us to genuinely enter the Dragon Ball universe as our own character by participating in key canonical events and crazy 'what if?' scenarios.
Though Dimps' experience lies more with brawlers than RPGs or MMOs, they've still managed to craft a sensational game online and off, bolstered by robust RPG levelling, versatile skill systems, great multiplayer and bags of content. It's a brave and important step forwards for Bandai Namco's anime games, and one I'd love to see further refined in future sequels and throughout other franchises.
8 – GREAT: Great games typically provide competent production values with a degree of innovation, personality and soul that's sometimes absent in titles that score lower. Or even just exceptional raw value on top of competent execution. There'll usually be a little something to stop games like these from reaching the very top - innovative but slightly flawed, fun but not groundbreaking - however you can buy games that score 8/10 with confidence.
Platforms: PC | PS3 | PS4 | Xbox 360 | Xbox One (reviewed)
Publisher: Bandai Namco