Dragon Ball XENOVERSE is a fighting game developed by DIMPS and published by Bandai Namco. It always seems to surprise people when I say that I have quite a history with fighting games and brawlers, the latter in particular in terms of the history, having played probably a year or so's worth of Streets of Rage when I was a wee thing, or a mor wee thing, on the Game Gear, but indeed this lass does. There haven't been many good entries in the former genre, so when I saw a Dragon Ball Z game of all things, a series that has had a spotty at best history in terms of quality, for as expensive as Dragon Ball XENOVERSE is, I have to confess I mostly gave it a pass until a friend gifted it to me recently to cheer me up amidst this family drama of mine.
It seems I should thank that friend, because while it has it's flaws, XENOVERSE is a pretty solid fighter nonetheless.
The fighting at the core of XENOVERSE is frantic, fast-paced, and skillful
Really, the one thing a fighting game has to do well is the fighting mechanic, and so that's the first port of call on any fighting game review. I'm happy to say that the fighting itself seemed very fast-paced and had a fair skill-ceiling. While button-mashing can get you through the earlier fights, sooner or later, you will have to learn the intricacies of the fighting system on offer to be able to excel at the game and be able to complete those difficult encounters. The fighting in XENOVERSE is simple at it's core, you have light attacks that are fast but don't break blocks, heavy attacks that are slower but usually do, blocks to defend yourself, ranged "Ki" attacks that are weak but allow you to keep your distance, and throws that are more difficult to pull off (requiring you to be blocking in a certain position relative to the enemy and then tapping the ki button. Likewise movement is in three dimensions, with a jump button that can be held to fly, and a fairly fluid up/down, north/east/south/west axial movement, and a button that allow you to burn the same resource used for ki to boost away faster.
Combat relies upon managing two resources: stamina, used for physical attacks, and ki, used for what are essentially the magical attacks. Both are used by most of the combinations on offer, of which you can slot any four of your choosing you've unlocked, and indeed, working to unlock those combos is a lot of the busywork but also the drive of the game, and the same goes for three "ultimate" attacks and an escape skill. As you might imagine, the ultimate attack takes much more stamina and ki on average, but most are much more devastating than normal attacks or a combo.
The fighting is, for the most part, highly positional, and with the fast pace of the game it does demand a certain fast reflex and situational awareness is key. This offers the game a pretty high-skill ceiling, especially with the knowledge needed to identify and learn to counter the various combos and ultimate attacks the game has on offer. THis also, however, is one of the areas where the game lets us down for two specific reasons, one small and one big. The small one is that the camera can sometimes be a bit of a pain to work with, but once you kind of get a feel for it, I didn't find it that terrible, the second, well -
Fighting with multiple enemies is quite
aggravating, and the game seems to revel in it
XENOVERSE's targetting system is so obviously meant for 1v1 encounters that it's painful, and this is no more clear than in the battles in the single-player story mode where you have to fight multiple enemies at once. Friendly AI is usually smart enough to not make a ponce of itself where it's involved - such as some missions where you have to defend another character - but it draws almost no aggro it seems, so a mission that is, for example, supposed to be you and Goku versus two enemies, basically devolves quickly into you versus those two enemies with an occasional blast or other means of assistance from Goku. Because of how the camera fixates on the current target, I couldn't count on both hands the amount of times in any given fight that I'd be bashed by some off-screen troublemaker, though the game does at least try to mitigate this by giving visual directional queues as to where combo attacks or ultimate attacks are coming from.
As such, it seems obvious that the developers were aware of the problem, at least, but I feel their solution to it only goes halfway. The visual indicators as I said exist only for the special attacks, so normal attacks or ki blasts will catch you pretty much off-guard most of the time, to say nothing of throws. It's very easy as a result for the second enemy to basically catch you off-guard, and the two of them then chaining attacks and you losing half your health bar before you manage to recover. You can't block when you're already staggered from an attack, and the evasion move, which teleports you behind the enemy, relies on a fair bit of Ki, and more often than not just ends up with you between the two anyways. There's some fine skill in managing to position yourself properly for that teleport, but trying to manage it on the fly when you're being pummeled is an exercise in frustration, if not quite futility.
Close attention has been paid to capturing the look of the TV series
That said, that kind of action is part of the aesthetic as it were with the show, the grandiose juggling and impactful hits, and XENOVERSE has obviously taken careful pains to replicate that, as well as the anime style. Many games have tried to replicate that sort of comic book appearance, such as Champions Online and City of Heroes, as well as much earlier Freedom Force, but none have quite delivered on that look, and XENOVERSE has done a good job of that I felt. It really captures that sort of style of painted backgrounds and solid anime lines in the characters, despite being rendered in full-3D, and is the first such game I can think of that really does. It looks great in motion, with good visual style, if not fidelity. The texture quality is a bit mussy when you look up close, but more important is how it looks in motion, since it's quite a fast-paced game, and in such motion, it looks quite brilliant.
I was rather impressed really. Many games have tried to do that look, but none have really succeeded, until Xenoverse.
Character customisation is probably the best I've seen in a fighting game
I was actually rather impressed with the flexibility on offer with the character customisation in XENOVERSE: you can create a human, Saiyan, Namekan, Maijin, or "Freiza race" (hey, that's what the game calls it, not I) character, each with a variety of appearance customisation, voice selections, and the like. While many fighters have offered that kind of skin-deep customisation, the real depth comes in how it changes your stats as well, which is as you might expect different per race, and also you will gain special abilities and missions depending on that chosen race, so the game has a little different a content offering to peruse depending on the character you create.
And that really is the part I enjoy the most about it, there's a bit of a feeling of getting to know each races lore a bit deeper, insofar as you have lore in the Dragon Ball universe, although that fact may be tempered for die-hard fans who know something, there was also the feeling of some unique lore to the game - though that may just be stuff from the show I don't recognize, perhaps. All in all, excepting the various inevitable recreations of the show's cast in player characters, the fact that I rarely came across two player characters who look alike was a testament to the games depth of customisation.
There are a couple other ways you can customise the look and feel of your character beyond those skillsets and the creation appearance customisation, as well: firstly, the gear that you get throughout the game is all reflected on your character, so that obviously reflects on the appearance, with the better, high-end items being something you can change the colours on, with the scrub-tier stuff being set in colour, and so that incentivises finding the better versions of stuff in the endgame when you already have that comfortable build. Secondly, you have Z-souls, which offer a variety of affects, both gameplay, and sometimes visuals, such as allowing Super Saiyan transformations longer, providing different stat effects, and so on.
XENOVERSE offers a fairly-decent story campaign and many different
modes, but the content still feels rather thin for a game of its price point
The saving grace for the price point probably IS the amount of content on offer, but that content is mostly in the side-quests, which quickly become repetitive, though they are nonetheless rather varied. You have training arcs with a given master (you can only have one at a time) which allow you to get special skills unique to a given trainer, then you have "parallel quests" that are basically the side-quests - many of them several-part missions that have a small chance for a unique and powerful drop (grinding ahoy), as well as similar quests from quest-givers that appear in the hub town, and then finally straight up battles against other players, either offline (where the AI takes control of said player), or online in a ranked leaderboard, where it is very much the other player in control.
And that's probably the other area where XENOVERSE goes wrong somewhat in a notable way...
The PC port is pretty solid technically-speaking,
but it inherits a fairly clunky interface and backwards matchmaking
I didn't encounter a single real bug in my play of XENOVERSE, but I found frustration nonetheless. The interface is a very clunky, several-clicks-to-get-anywhere ordeal that belies its root in old console design philosophies, every item seeming to be nestled 3 or 4 menus deep to get to. I eventually acclimatised to that, but what I had much longer-standing problems with was the multi-player matchmaking. There really are two ways to go about it: entirely random matchmaking with no real accomodation or consideration for lag or player location, or through steam friends, inviting friends to your matches. Even the latter was fraught with many issues of the game utterly falling apart when the players got "desynced", often causing crash-to-desktop or causing the mission to not be able to progress. Even more frustrating was that this would count as a loss towards you in ranked battles, so I quickly found myself avoiding them entirely.
However, that aside, XENOVERSE may not have redesigned the game around PC, but the PC port is highly-competent. There are a plethora of options for display to adjust resolution, visual effects, and visual fidelity, and perhaps the standout was in how even the controller controls were re-mappable, which is rare even in pure PC games, let alone ports, so I was quite happy with that. Outside of issues in the multi-player missions with de-syncing, the game was quite solid, getting a solid 60 and usually way higher, with virtually no screen-tearing, even when I was using my TV as the monitor, which often ruins into rearing issues. All-in-all a pretty solid game, technically and otherwise, I'd say.