If you’ve never heard of DragonBall, it’s safe to say you aren’t a die-hard follower of Japanese manga and anime. But within that general sphere, it’s one of the hottest properties, so the arrival of DragonBall XenoVerse, the first game in the franchise available on next-gen consoles, has generated some excitement, at least among the cognoscenti.
For those who aren’t in the know, DragonBall XenoVerse is essentially a hybrid of a beat-‘em-up and a Japanese role-playing game (JRPG). While the gameplay is classic beat-‘em-up fodder – with strong, quick and special attacks that can be chained into combos, plus defence moves, the ability to battle in mid-air and so on – the game is structured like a JRPG. So, unlike pure beat-‘em-ups, there’s a coherent storyline, you can level up and thereby improve your character’s attributes, and there’s a vast amount of exploration and item-collecting to be done. Plus, you can play the whole thing (or any bits that you choose) co-operatively with up to two others, or get stuck into some seriously hardcore online battling, if you’re brave enough.
This all makes it sound slightly more appealing on paper than it is in practice, at least as far as those who haven’t yet bought into the DragonBall franchise are concerned. For starters, DragonBall is very much aimed at a teen audience – Akira it ain’t – and DragonBall XenoVerse’s dialogue, in particular, will irritate those who don’t belong to that demographic. Then there’s that general roughness around the edges and lack of polish that often afflicts Japanese-developed games.
But conversely, it has more than enough to excite and satisfy existing DragonBall fans. In a departure for the franchise, you play an (unnamed) character who you can design yourself, in classic manga style with all manner of exaggerated features and bizarrely coloured hair; there are five races to choose from and within those, you can decide whether to play as a male or female character, which drastically alters your attributes and play-style. You’d be mad not to experiment with a whole roster of characters.
Story-wise, you’re recruited as a Time Patroller, and tasked with flitting around the DragonBall universe, sorting out anomalies that have cropped up in the time-space continuum by winning long, involved battles against hordes of diverse enemies, often (but not always) as one of a group of three. Classic DragonBall characters, such as Goku, make frequent appearances, and you’re basically apprenticed to a character called Trunks, who guides you through proceedings.
There’s a hub area in which you can buy and sell objects, jump into multiplayer and co-op sessions and embark on so-called Parallel Quests (essentially side-quests, of which there are plenty). So the general experience on offer is pretty meaty. Visually, DragonBall XenoVerse is impressive in a highly stylised, mangaesque manner – there isn’t much texture-work going on, but there’s a veritable riot of primary colours. You wouldn’t say the PS4 version (the reviewer’s platform) makes the most of that console’s graphical attributes, but it does add a high level of crispness to the distinctive visuals.
There’s another potential problem for those unfamiliar with the franchise: the story quests throw so many waves of enemies at you – and include so many game-changing twists in which, say, you might be isolated from your fellow-patrollers, or your enemies might suddenly start fighting alongside you – that there’s massive potential for utter confusion about what is going on.
Of course, for seasoned DragonBall enthusiasts, that constant chopping and changing will be a source of delight, rather than disillusion, and that sums up DragonBall XenoVerse very well. It is a must-buy for DragonBall fans, but you’ll have to work hard at it if you’re coming to a DragonBall game for the first time. If ever a game preached to the converted, DragonBall XenoVerse is it.