At my last count there’s something like thirteen dozen Dragon Ball games of variable quality, always sharing three things in common. First is a robust character selection roster, offering the chance to play everyone from Super Saiyan 4 Gogeta to Appule to Akira Toriyama’s rejected concept art of Shu. Second, Story Mode is the same, rehashing the exact plot line in a different box.
Third, they are missing a core element that would integrate this Madden of anime video game properties into the 2010’s: you. Yes, you. It’s one thing to fight alongside Dragon Ball Z heroes while stuck as Goku or Krillin, but another entirely if you get to throw in your own persona.
Dragon Ball Xenoverse is built on the premise of alleviating this problem. In the same vein as South Park: The Stick of Truth, the game assimilates the player into a familiar cartoon landscape via avatar creation. Rather than have you choose from an existing franchise character, you become part of the adventure by custom building your own.
There are five races to pick from: Earthlings, Saiyans, Namekians, Majins and Freeza Clansman, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and bonus perks. For instance, Namekians regenerate health, Freezas have great speed but a low attack, and Majins get a defense bonus.
The Saiyan race might seem the sole and obvious choice for diehard fanpeople, except the designers had the foresight to put them on even ground. Saiyans have high attack power, and yes, can obtain the coveted Super Saiyan transformation. The caveat is that they have the lowest health, and without a specific build plan Super Saiyan isn’t all that impressive.
Furthermore, Saiyan females have the worst health of all, a risky maneuver since lady Saiyans are such a rarity in the series. I wanted to make an atypical Super Saiyan girl who broke the usual shonen testosterone mold; she ended up being such weaksauce that I was forced to replace her. Saiyans are not for beginners.
This is a case where necessity trumps pandering. If Sayians were flawless tanks then all the other races would be useless. The need for balance is understandable: the designers want you to pick whatever race fits the best.
Unfortunately, players get one character to their name until story mode is finished. I generated and deleted several times before sticking with an Earthling melee fighter. He did as his build intended—punched and kicked enemies very hard at close quarters—but I wondered how my life would be as someone else.
You can delete your existing character and build a new one in its stead. The replacement retains your place in the story while keeping your acquired skills and items, but your new fighter is borked back to level 1. One of the most important aspects of an MMO-like experience such as this is unlimited avatar creator access, and having a single slot limits the creativity.
After generating your one usable avatar, you are transported to the game’s main base of TokiToki City, where squads of Time Patrollers prevent temporal distortions under Future Trunks’s leadership. Trunks has brought you in via a wish on the Dragon Balls. It seems someone is polluting my manga pages, and Trunks needs a warrior who can repair the damage.
The culprits are visiting famous battles throughout Dragon Ball Z history. Their goal is to collect energy from fighters for nefarious purposes, which involves infecting villains with dark violet shaded demon stuff. This gives the antagonists unfair advantages that throw the battles into grimdark “what if?” scenarios: Piccolo misses hitting Raditz with the Special Beam Cannon, Goku is overwhelmed by a Vegeta/Nappa Great Ape duo, Captain Ginyu kills everyone after stealing Vegeta’s body, and so on.
Your job is usually the same for each mission: beam in, soften up the villain to restore balance, and leave the heroes to do as history decrees. You aren’t there to defeat/kill the bad guys on your own but to reduce their health to a certain amount.
The fighting system is simple in execution, yet epic in its overall presentation. You have a button for strong attacks, weak attacks, ki blasts and blocks. For the harder hitting Strike and Ki Blast Super attacks you utilize custom-built skill menus. During battle you zip through the air while teleporting, striking, dodging and beam blasting all at once in a hyperactive, physics defying frenzy. It isn’t so much true to the Z formula as it is a real-time anime fight simulator injected with dangerous amounts of Mountain Dew. The fights take place over expansive, detailed landscapes, with plenty of room to escape devastating attacks or circle around and knock opponents into heavy objects. It’s solid and well done.
Eventually the ringleaders make their appearance known, and the bigger plot is revealed after that. The ‘story’ is as complex as reading cereal box trivia, and played straight through from beginning to end, would also be very short, lasting a few hours at most.
What pads out the game’s length between missions is the insane amount of grinding you must endure. Leveling up is mainly done through “Parallel Quests,” fragments or ghosts of time generated as a result of patrolling. PQs are essential not only for toughening up your character but collecting unique items, transformations and abilities.
Outside of missions and PQs there is an assortment of side activities. One of these is becoming an apprentice under Dragon Ball heroes and diabolical villains alike. If you max out friendship meters with your masters they will teach you their signature moves.
It was a fun prospect. My goal was to train under everyone as if I were Bruce Wayne or the Dread Pirate Roberts, becoming a hardened jack-of-all-trades.
However, this is where the game started losing me. At some point masters ask you to bring them items before they will continue your training. It’s easy enough when the item can be bought from the hub stores, but otherwise they can only be obtained through a Parallel Quest.
These item drops are mercilessly RNG-based. If the computer decides to be nasty you’ll spend hours spamming the same quest for nothing. I endured a PQ an agonizing number of times to get a drop Vegeta asked for, only to rage quit in frustration.
Boredom began to set in from there. At first the idea of massive grinding had an appealing draw. As a casual series fan I likened it to those intense training sequences, struggling to the brink of death in hellish war rooms. I wanted to work myself up from a weakling to a titan just like the characters in the series, forging strength and immeasurable power out of sweat, blood and hardship.
But gradually these eternal level up sessions wore me out, until even the brawling lost its shine. When I was tough enough to blaze through the rest of the story quests, I found myself getting into the same dilemma I often do when there is life after the endgame: when do I consider myself”done?”
There was plenty left to do after the story ended. I finally had access to multiple avatar slots. Collectible crystals could open additional missions with Broly and Bardock. I started collecting Dragon Balls for the fourth time so I could unlock the bonus characters, and even debated spamming a Parallel Quest until my boy earned sporty angel wings.
Alas, I was ready to move on. Even the completionist in me couldn’t justify pitting a dozen more hours against Hell’s worst number generator, and building those extra avatars up from level one again brought a creeping sense of mortality into my bones. What ultimately happened was the notion that I’d done all I could in Dragon Ball Xenoverse.
For all its faults, however, Xenoverse can be a true fan’s nirvana. There is astounding attention to service and catering to be found here. Every attack move, piece of clothing and accessory has been included. It has all the elements for your character to dress like Android 17, wear Tapion’s sword and rain down a Genki Dama.
This game could have been so much better. Xenoverse has good and well executed ideas wrapped in lackluster packaging. My stint with the Dragon Ball gang was fun for a while, but there are other games than these, a whole pile to wade through in this pathological meltdown.
FINAL GRADE: C