Dragon Ball is one of the most iconic animes of all time. Created in the ’80s, the series is credited for influencing pretty much every anime since – you can see elements of it in everything from Naruto to One Piece to Bleach. Any video game carrying its hallowed name has some pretty big boots to fill.
This is especially true for Xenoverse 2, the RPG predecessor of which is regarded as one of the best Dragon Ball games to date. Aware of this, Bandai Namco has painstakingly worked to refine the open-world battle RPG mechanics of the original Xenoverse and create a faithful Dragon Ball experience full of fan service. Having played the first few hours, you can colour me impressed.
The attention to detail was apparent from the single player’s opening cinematic, which looks identical to the original anime. The premise is as ridiculous as you’d expect: a bunch of baddies have appeared and are trying to muck with history to ensure the heroes lose. It’s your job as a member of an elite group of time cops to make sure they don’t succeed and that Dragon Ball’s history remains untainted.
It sounds silly, but it works to great effect and gives Bandai Namco free rein to let you revisit pretty much every iconic battle in Dragon Ball’s rich history.
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Squealing with excitement after the opening cinematic, I was thrown into the character-creation system, which is pretty darned robust. You can choose your race, which includes everything from Saiyans to humans and Freezer-folk. From there you can edit your face, hair style, height and body type as you see fit.
Afterwards I was dropped into Conton City. The city acts as the main hub where you pick up various missions and can chat to NPCs.
My initial mission was pretty simple and just required me to fly around the city searching for Supreme Kai – a super-being who helps manage the time cops. However, afterwards I was given freedom to explore.
The city is chocker-block full of character and I couldn’t walk or fly far without meeting one of the series’ iconic villains or heroes. In fact, the city was so full of content that I was initially paralysed for choice as quest markers popped up around me at an almost feverish pace.
I decided to run to the nearest training mission, which just so happened to be hosted by Raditz, one of the anime’s big baddies. Flexing his muscles, Raditz laughed and mocked me after one glance for my weakness, before offering to train me “so I wouldn’t be quite so pathetic”. Cue the first battle.
Combat works in exactly the same way it has in past Dragon Ball titles, which is no bad thing. It’s basically an accurate simulation of the anime series, so unlike traditional beat-’em-ups, such as Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, in Xenoverse fights happen in 3D arenas and can involve multiple enemies and allies at once.
From the start your character is gifted with enough abilities to give Superman a run for his money – you’ll be able to fly, launch energy balls, teleport and punch your way through solid steel.
As a result, battles are lightning-fast and victory hinges on perfect timing and Ki management. Ki is the fuel used for special super-attacks, like Goku’s kamehameha or Krillin’s destructo disc.
What makes the combat interesting is the way it faithfully recreates the flow of Dragon Ball’s on-screen battles. Using teleport you can quickly jump behind an opponent while they’re mid-combo, breaking their flow and letting you get back on the offensive. Or you can use it to extend your combo after hitting them with a power attack, teleporting yourself into their path after knocking them skyward to hit them with a follow-up strike.
The focus on power strikes also makes for an interesting dynamic. Dragon Ball battles have always been about over-the-top super-attacks and it’s no different in Xenoverse 2. Simple punches and kicks do barely any damage and only serve to let you position your foe for a finishing super-attack – which can knock as much as a quarter off your enemy's health bar. However, most of the enemies you face are as powerful as you, if not more so, meaning at any time the tide of battle can turn.
This is especially true given the diversity of super-attacks on offer. Each character has their own arsenal of special strikes. Freezer has his famous purple laser attacks, Goku his Spirit Bomb, Piccolo his Hyper Explosive Demon Wave – the list goes on. Each is unique and is most effective at different times. Some work best when fighting up close and personal, while others at range. The variety makes each battle a unique experience and challenge.
The fact that you can, as you level up, customise which special attacks your character has adds yet more diversity and gave me a real sense of progression during my fleeting three hours with Xenoverse 2.
The authenticity of the animations further enhances combat, characters and levels. Bandai Namco has stayed true to the original source material. The Japanese voice acting is top-notch and every character moves and sounds exactly as they do in the anime. Entering my first time-intervention story mission to see Piccolo and Goku’s classic fight with Raditz, I couldn’t help but feel a little burst of nostalgia.
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From there things only got better and I got to experience the game’s big-boss missions. These are in a custom mode that lets you team up with six other players and take on a giant super-powered boss. In my case, I got to battle Vegeta in his giant monkey form. Here again Bandai Namco’s near-neurotic focus on detail was excellent.
Vegeta looked, moved and sounded exactly like he did in the anime, and once again left me hankering to break out my copies of Dragon Ball Z and rewatch his epic fight with Goku. Even his attacks were identical, right down to his tantrum fist flurry.
The battle was super-intense and, despite my best efforts, led to the monkey spanking me, over and over and over again, but at that point I didn’t care; I was immersed.
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From what I’ve seen, Xenoverse 2 is a Dragon Ball fan’s dream. Bandai Namco has taken incredible care to stay true to the subject matter and created an authentic Dragon Ball game. The city oozes character and is full of nostalgic nods to the anime and manga. The combat has been handled with equal care and was an absolute blast.
However, I’m not convinced it’ll appeal to anyone but Dragon Ball fans. Where I experienced nostalgic joy, others at the hands-on session suffered confused frustration. From what I’ve seen Bandai Namco has made close to no attempt to make it accessible to newbies to the series.
The story assumes a lot of foreknowledge and to non-fans the gameplay will feel chaotic. This was showcased when I tested the player-versus-player mode with a fellow journo with no prior knowledge of Dragon Ball. Because I understood the ebb and flow of Dragon Ball fights, I loved the fast-paced combat and ability to easily break combos. But to my newbie cohort, the combat felt like an unbalanced mess full of random reversals, overpowered attacks and cheap deaths.
Either way, for Dragon Ball fans, Xenoverse 2 is looks very promising.