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Dragon Ball XenoVerse

Score: 60%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Games America, Inc.
Developer: Dimps
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 2; 2 - 6 (Online)
Genre: Fighting/ Action/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z hold a very special place in my heart. By "special," I donít necessarily mean I treasure it the same way I do the Toy Story trilogy. The use of that particular word in this particular circumstance denotes an admiration for something that I used to love, but in my mind has not aged very well at all. I fear that if I tried to revisit Dragon Ball Z, I would consider it almost completely unwatchable. While the sense of spectacle is virtually unmatched in most anime, the action all too often takes a backseat to the bog standard good versus evil storytelling, which in and of itself is largely delivered by long stretches of slow panoramic shots, preschool exposition, and of course, people competing to see who can destroy their vocal cords the quickest. But thereís no denying it: when Dragon Ball Z is on, man is it on. The task of replicating the look and feel of the anime is a daunting one, and one that has been largely failed. Some games, most notably Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3, gave us a glimpse of what the perfect DBZ game adaptation could be, but most of them were simply disappointingly shallow fighting games. Dragon Ball XenoVerse is the newest and perhaps the most interesting Dragon Ball game to date. But "interesting" doesnít make a game great. It adds something new and quite significant to the formula, but the developers took their eye off the ball and forgot to make a competent fighting game to build the rest of the experience around. Without a strong foundation, the game mostly just collapses on itself.

Graphically, Dragon Ball XenoVerse is a huge step forward for the series. How could it not be? This is, after all, the franchiseís first appearance on next generation consoles, and since it never bothers with PC, the jump seems massive. Itís a clean-looking, explosively colorful game that is an absolute pleasure to behold, most of the time. This holds most true for the character designs and animations, which have been painstakingly and lovingly gleaned from the source material with very little disparity. As always, there are some issues; most of these have to do with the environments, which are mostly made up of bland and uninteresting no-manís-land. And letís be frank about this; destructible environments are a must in a Dragon Ball game. Toki Toki City is a decent enough hub world, but it isnít any fun to explore and isnít memorable enough to warrant splitting it into three separate areas.

Dragon Ball XenoVerse replicates the instantly-identifiable sound effects from the show, from the cartoony "PSH"es that mark the landing of each hit to the laser blast sounds that accompany Ki attacks and the massive explosion noises that are invariably the end result. Outside of that, the sound design is characteristically lousy. Another atrocious J-Rock anthem serves as the gameís main theme; whatever happened to "Rock the Dragon" or any of the other better-known music cues from the series? Weíd get a better sense of immersion if it felt like we were playing an episode of the show instead of one of those crappy homebrew YouTube music videos. And the voice acting, while faithful to the show, is almost redundant at this point; the voice cast for the anime must be tired of having to repeat these same lines over and over.


Gameplay:

Dragon Ball XenoVerseís story is inextricably tied with its structure, and combined, they represent the gameís biggest selling point Ė and its biggest step forward. Mind you, they couldnít get away with a tagline like "the last ten were rehashes Ė this one isnít!" But I have to give them credit for doing something new, rather than continuing to stretch the existing lore razor thin.

Some unknown malevolent force is tampering with history. Key moments in the Dragon Ball Z canon are being altered for the worse. Raditz manages to break free of Gokuís hold, resulting in Gokuís first huge sacrifice being completely in vain. But somehow, somewhere, a team of powerful warriors led by purple-haired, time-hopping future soldier Trunks works behind the scenes to reverse and/or repair the damage done, Journeyman Project style. You are their newest recruit, a character of your own creation.

As the Patroller (or whatever you choose to call your Ki-powered time cop), you hop around time and space, fixing history where it has been altered. Most of this boils down to running around the massively overdesigned world hub world of Toki Toki City, interacting with its denizens, and taking on a number of quests, most of which involve either beating the crap out of classic Dragon Ball Z villains or exploring a wide variety of sightly but disappointingly empty areas.


Difficulty:

Dragon Ball XenoVerse fouls up its challenge factor in the most pedestrian way possible. Since its combat system is completely lacking in depth and nuance, the developers inflate the difficulty by making the most artificial, lazy, and downright cheap design decision in any fighting game. They simply give your opponent more health. This compounds the problems of the dull fighting mechanics and makes every engagement feel like a chore. Chipping away at an enemyís health can be a deliberate and gratifying experience, if the tools at your disposal are varied and versatile. But in Dragon Ball XenoVerse, youíre expected to just mash away on those buttons while breaking up the monotony with a Ki attack or some defensive or evasive maneuvers.

Earning new equipment may help take the edge off of some of the otherwise sloggy encounters, but the game remains a grind throughout. But the variety of quests offered is better than a straight up fight ladder, and the rewards for completing them really stack up nicely over time. Strange that RPG elements would be the best part of a fighting game.


Game Mechanics:

As far as gaming goes, this series has become the de facto poster child for franchises that refuse to learn from the sins of their pasts. Games featuring 360 degrees of movement are extremely difficult to get right; for some reason or another, they never look or feel natural. In Dragon Ball XenoVerse, the same troubled kinda-2D-behind-the-back perspective introduced in the Budokai Tenkaichi games makes a return, and itís as problematic as ever. Its insistence that all combatants remain oriented perpendicular to the ground gives the action an unnatural look to it that betrays the free-wheeling insanity of the animeís legendary fight scenes. This is most telling when you or your opponent must ascend or descend to each otherís levels. On top of that, the ever unreliable camera doesnít do you any favors.

Since movement is hamstrung by the camera and a poor sense of perspective, youíd think that the combat mechanics might pick up the slack, right? Well, not exactly. Combat in XenoVerse is flashy and sometimes fun to look at, but rarely is it exciting for the player. It still feels like a two-button brawler that can be taken to the skies. And while that could be fun for an arcade-style action game, this isnít one of those. Itís a fighting game; part of a genre that is often known for its depth and complexity. Needless to say, as far as the combat mechanics go, XenoVerse does not stack up against the likes of Dead or Alive 5.

XenoVerseís persistent world comes with the promise of taking your game online. Perhaps fighting human opponents might help players find some sort of enjoyment factor buried underneath all the tedium, but when the servers are in as catastrophic a state as they are here, itís almost impossible to say.

I applaud Dragon Ball XenoVerse for attempting to move this stagnant franchise into cleaner waters. Its clever structure and role playing elements are exactly the kind of things that fans both new and longtime should eat right up. However, the combat is so shallow and unsatisfying that it almost feels like an afterthought. With no foundation, even the most noble and ambitious creations are doomed to crumble.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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