Dragon Ball Z games haven’t changed a great deal since the last time I had a proper chance to sit down play one. That was almost ten years ago, when Namco Bandai released Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi on the PlayStation 2. Compared to other games based on the extremely popular anime license, Tenkaichi shunned the convention 2D fighting formula for something that felt more akin to a third person action game.
Its this same template that lives on in Dragon Ball XenoVerse, Namco’s latest spin on the series. Although similar to Tenkaichi on a foundation level, that’s not to say the game is merely a souped up copy of the 2005 brawler. For a start, there’s a completely new focus on multiplayer with XenoVerse often straying into MMORPG territory.
Not only that, developer Dimps has taken a fresh approach to narrative. Given how entrenched the events of the Dragon Ball Z saga are, for a long time fans have been forced to replay the same scenarios and encounters over and over. This time around, however, you will adopt the role of an enigmatic time traveller, winding back the clock to correct a series of strange anomalies that have started to crop up.
The best thing about this slight change in focus is that, for the first time in series history, players can sculpt and modify their very own Dragon Ball character. Although customisation options are nothing new, XenoVerse offers a comprehensive range of options, including the ability to select one of five playable races. Further modification then manifests itself in the both the equipment you wear into battle as well as which stats you choose to buff each time you level up.
In short, XenoVerse feels like an action role-playing hybrid, enhanced by a suite of online features. These include competitive multiplayer matches as well as an entire catalogue of missions that can be tackled alongside two allies. What we found really interesting about the online component was how the game handles player lobbies. Much like last year’s power-selling shooter Destiny, XenoVerse allows players to roam freely around a small social hub, chatting, grouping, and even gifting presents to one another. Of course, you don’t have to partake in the online multiplayer if you do not wish to – the lobby will remain the same albeit full of randomly generated NPCs.
Initially, most of your time will be spent alongside Trunks, tackling a series of story-driven missions. Each one is fairly straightforward, often tasking the player with defeating either a single opponent or (on occasion) a whole team. Although the developer tries to spice things up with a couple of offbeat missions, they all result in the same fast-paced, over-the-top battles.
As touched on before, the core gameplay in XenoVerse shares much with its Tenkaichi predecessors. In each scenario you’ll find yourself chaining a variety of standard and special moves while flying around in an open 3D space. It’s fun, yet at the same time, fairly hit and miss – literally. With characters blitzing around the map at breakneck speed, it can often feel like a supercharged game of cat and mouse.
Repetition can also be an issue. Dropping into XenoVerse for the occasional few rounds is good and all yet extended sessions can prove laborious, especially in later missions. Enemies will become faster, stronger, and generally harder to beat, forcing players to repeat earlier encounters in order to gain experience and money with which to improve their character. Although some won’t be phased by this level of grinding, there will undoubtedly be others who just want to blitz their way through at their own pace.
As with any Dragon Ball Z game, XenoVerse looks a real treat when in motion, especially on new hardware. There’s something incredibly alluring in the way it brings the anime artwork to life with characters and environments both exuding the same level of detail and vibrancy. The quality of voice acting is also on point throughout, delivering the series’ set pieces with equal measures of emotion and cheesiness.
Fans of previous Dragon Ball games will no doubt have a field day with XenoVerse. Aside from the immediate sense of familiarity, it has a shedload of content to wade through, including a trove of iconic items and clothing that can be used to customise your own unique character. Online play is also quite the boon, allowing you to saddle up with friends in a Monster Hunter kind of way. Inevitably, however, there will be those who simply don’t see the appeal of XenoVerse’s core gameplay, and it ultimately grates as it becomes repetitive no matter how much you enjoy it at first.
Versions tested: PS4