Review: Dragon Ball XenoVerse for Xbox 360

Rock the dragon.

With Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’ releasing on Blu-ray and DVD in North America today, now seemed the perfect time to post this review.

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So, to kick things off, I have something of a confession: I’m a pretty big Dragon Ball fan (no, that’s not the confession), and while I’m not such a fan that screaming until the dark pigmentation leaves my hair comes naturally to me, I still really enjoy it. I’ve seen the entirety of the Dragon Ball Z anime, as well as a good chunk of Dragon Ball and even the first arc of Dragon Ball GT, plus a nice bit of the manga, movies, and specials. I really want to finish it — all of it — but various factors (money, etc.) haven’t really allowed it over the years. (I am familiar with some of the larger beats, however — Demon King Piccolo, the seven Shenron, etc.)

But (this is the confession part), prior to Dragon Ball XenoVerse, I haven’t played a Dragon Ball game in what feels like forever. The last one I remember playing is either Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 or Dragon Ball Z: Sagas for the PlayStation 2 when I worked at Blockbuster; the last one I bought was the original Dragon Ball Budokai.

If I love the series so much, then what kept me away? To be honest, I noticed the games were sort of repetitive in terms of story, particularly in the way that they basically seemed to echo the anime. So I was faced with a mix of either playing “been there, done that” scenarios, or experiencing stuff for the first time in games that I’d really rather see first in the manga or anime. As such, I chose to just stay away.

More recently, as you’re probably aware if you’re reading this, Dragon Ball has seen a resurgence. Not just a resurgence, but a full-blown revival. After an anniversary special that took place between Z and GT, Dragon Ball: Yo! Son Goku and His Friends Return!!, this seemed to get the ball rolling for them to do a new movie called Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, which introduced the world to the absolutely delightful pairing of Beerus and Whis. A second movie, Resurrection ‘F’ came out earlier this year, and now a whole new series set after Z called Dragon Ball Super is going on now and adapting the events of those two films, leaving everyone to question which version is canon and giving video game developers more material to work with than they’ve seen in years.

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Only not quite yet. Sure, they’re making lots of new material, but it’s probably going to be a little bit before it can be adapted into a new video game. That leaves us here with Dragon Ball XenoVerse, which forges on in its own direction (though it does incorporate elements of the two recent films, with the most recent as downloadable content).

At first, I thought this was an adaptation of another original story that was exclusive to PC in Korea, the massively multiplayer online role playing game Dragon Ball Heroes. Rather, this follows on from that and incorporates elements that take place a little beyond Son Goku’s direct sphere of influence (though he still plays a big part). Either way, my interest was piqued.

In XenoVerse, the Future Trunks fans came to know and love during the Android Saga has become something of a time cop for the Time Patrol, and summons a great warrior (you, with your created character; more on that in a second) to the future and their base of operations in Toki Toki City (a product of the Capsule Corporation). There, after being put to the test by Trunks himself, you learn that a mysterious force is moving throughout time to key points and altering events by powering up some of the worst villains in Dragon Ball Z history.

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Without getting too deep into things, Trunks (who is basically your mentor) and the Supreme Kai of Time send you back into the past to help keep history on track — at least, as best as you can. The fact is that due to this chronological meddling, events play out quite differently than they did in the original anime/manga versions. For instance, both Nappa and Vegeta are there to face Son Goku as Great Apes in the final battle of the Saiyan Saga, so it’s up to you to step in and put Nappa in his place and help Goku and friends take on the powered-up Prince of Saiyans. While the end is ultimately the same with Vegeta being spared at Goku’s behest, getting there is quite a different adventure than fans of the series will remember.

Even though things play out differently in each scenario, I did notice some things which struck me as odd. For instance, Piccolo still has both arms when fighting Raditz. I suppose this could be chalked up to timeline fluctuations, but it didn’t seem like something that should have been altered by that point.

In any case, these scenarios are the game’s biggest draw — for me personally, at any rate. Seeing different events nudged so that they play out differently, then going in to course correct really freshens the stories up, and it’s like a fan’s dream to be able to interact with these heroes and villains in such a way. Seriously, it’s literally like when you watch something and imagine “if I was there…” Fan servicey? Yes, but delightfully so.

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The game is largely RPG-ish in structure, with Toki Toki City serving as your hub for finding missions, purchasing items, and engaging in other activities. The Story mode may feel a bit short for such a title, but is fairly decent to substantial as a fighting game goes. Fortunately, progression opens up “Parallel Quests,” which are like even more divergent timeline encounters that are less a part of the story mode, but more fun “what if?” stuff to check out between the main narrative beats.

You can invite other players online to join you in Parallel Quests, or bring NPCs when you’re offline. There, you’ll take on various enemies to earn randomly dropped items like clothing, new powers, and items. What’s more, they’re replayable, so if you miss out on a rare item during one playthrough, you can always try again, though it’s a bit rougher when you take on a longer quest only to not get the item you want/need and have to start over.

The core battle gameplay is, of course, like a fighting game. However — and again, I don’t know how this compares to most previous titles — diving in as a newcomer is kind of daunting. Controlling your character is sort of like trying to pilot a Harrier jet: once you know what you’re doing, it becomes easier and you can pull off some cool stunts and moves. But getting there is damn near intimidating as not a single button on the Xbox 360 controller goes unused, including clicking the left analog stick, and they all do something different — no “three punches, three kicks” here.

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You get used to it as you go, but unfortunately, you can’t do things like fly around the hub world, so it’s kind of a trial by fire. Plus, holding the triggers down at times to lock on or repeatedly air-dash at enemies can be tiresome on the fingers. What’s more, not being able to fly around the hub world is coupled by no sort of quick-movement option, and the place is pretty big, making getting from place to place a little tedious.

While the game is very fighting game-ish, the battles you take part in aren’t always as straightforward as “beat up the other guy ’til he falls down.” They sometimes offer different conditions for winning or losing, such as ensuring that other characters don’t die, or you’ll have to take on waves of enemies, which are unfortunately easy to lose track of. The way they play out can vary, too. Some battles often turn into chases, and the wide open maps present interesting possibilities. Early on, I was fighting Nappa while Goku fought Vegeta elsewhere. During one attempt, by pure chance, we ended up crossing paths and swapping opponents briefly, which was pretty cool.

It’s fun, but hardly perfect. The difficulty kind of jumps around a bit, and the camera isn’t much better, as it can get caught on background scenery or otherwise make it tough to tell what you’re doing, often requiring manipulation by the player. The combat doesn’t feel especially deep, either, as you’re mostly mashing one button, then another until the other guy or guys fall down. Even so, there are occasionally certain bits that require a little bit of strategy, and it’s satisfying when your ploy plays off.

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In addition to the “what if?” concept, the character creations is also one of Dragon Ball XenoVerse‘s strongest features. You can choose from a variety of races, from Saiyans to Humans to Namekians, and even races based on Buu and Frieza. They’ve each got different traits based on their species, with Saiyans able to go Super Saiyan and Buus having better defense (no doubt thanks to their gummy physiology). For my run, I created a black and gold Namekian with glowing green eyes named Sax. Even as off-the-wall as that sounds, it and pretty much any design you can come up with look like it came from Akira Toriyama’s pen and right onto your screen.

You can also select different styles, though those don’t feel like they make a huge difference, but you can build up different stats RPG-style with points earned from winning battles. You can even take on moves of other well-known DBZ alumni as you play through, and buy more options from the store (though you sadly can’t preview your new look).

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Visually, the game is a treat. As noted with the character creation, everything looks like it came from the mind of Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama, as though the series itself was in 3D. Your character gets to participate in many of the cutscenes, at least the in-game engine ones. There are some others which are more traditionally animated, which is odd and perhaps even a little bit jarring, but nice.

On the sound side, things vary. If you’re familiar with the show, it features the same actors, so you know what to expect for the most part. What’s weird is that in the hub world, Trunks’ voice changes when you talk to him outside of cutscenes — and it sounds nothing like him! Beyond that, the voices for NPCs and player characters kind of vary, but there’s a nice selection to choose from.

Musically, the opening remix of “Cha La” makes it feel like you’re home again with some new Dragon Ball Z goodness. Beyond that, the music varies a bit; it’s mostly ambient and kind of nice, but with a few exceptions, it’s probably nothing that’s going to run through your mind all day.

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Dragon Ball XenoVerse is definitely for fans of the series; non-fans, I’m less certain of. The stuff that appeals to fans might be able to help them see past some of the other flaws, but those who don’t already share an affinity for all things Dragon Ball might be harder to win over. What’s more, the story pretty much assumes you’re already intimately familiar with the series, dropping you in to key points without too much exposition.

Sure, the manga/anime largely breaks down into a series of fights — that’s what we love, after all — but there is usually context as to why certain characters are fighting that is largely absent here. At best, it provides a really abridged history of Dragon Ball Z, but even then veers from the accurate depictions of events, and it’s far more nostalgic than informative in that regard.

Even then, some fans may feel let down by some of these points whereas others don’t mind so much. I’m largely content with it, but there is still room for improvement that Bandai Namco will hopefully explore in the future — and hopefully with more new stories, to boot.

If I had to sum Dragon Ball XenoVerse up in one word? Polarizing. But if you’ve been starved for new Dragon Ball fiction… well, the new movies have probably helped, and then there’s the new Dragon Ball Super. But while we’re waiting for the latter to come to North America, this makes a pretty good pit-stop.

dragonballxenoverseboxDragon Ball XenoVerse was released on February 24th, 2015 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows PC/Steam at a price of $54.99, and for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 at a price of $64.99.

A review copy of the Xbox 360 version was provided by Bandai Namco Games.

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About the author

David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.