Dragon Ball XenoVerse is the most recent in a long line of games based on the wildly popular Dragon Ball franchise. However, while the vast majority of Dragon Ball games have simply rehashed the over-the-top battles from the anime ad nauseum, XenoVerse tries something a little different. Instead of playing as one of Dragon Ball Z’s massive cast of characters, XenoVerse has you instead make your own character based on one of several different Dragon Ball races. Then you’re off for a time travel story that has you inserting your character shamelessly into Dragon Ball history. If this sounds like an interesting concept, it’s because it is. However, Dragon Ball XenoVerse is lost in the nineties way of making games. In other words, there are really good ideas in this game that are held back by technical limitations and incredibly bad writing. The good news is that with those major problems, comes the charm that ambition brings and a fun, addictive combat system that I’m sure is even better if you’re not a hermit like me who insists on avoiding co-op play.
As mentioned, the technical issues of this game remind me of the by-gone days of the original PlayStation. Those were ugly games, taped together with stray bits of code and wanton desire to live. Nothing was perfect; nothing could be. As such, there were tons of bland corridors, poorly rendered character models and weak design. And that’s when I look back on high budget games like Final Fantasy VII. Lessor games, particularly licensed games like the Digimon World series were full of choices that even the most steadfast fan would find cringe-worthy (like every single aspect of Digimon World 2). Like the 90s in general, this was an awkward growing phase for gaming, particularly with the switch into the third dimension.
XenoVerse has all off this awkwardness in spades. The entire game screams ‘we don’t care’ except it obviously does – just in strange places. An example: Dragon Ball fans are aware of the Saiyan race as well as the Namekians, but what race was Frieza, the sadistic space Hitler? Wikipedia says Frost Demon, though there doesn’t seem to be an official answer. What does the game call it? The Frieza race. That’s the laziest piece of writing I think I’ve ever seen. Although I’m certain Frieza would like to name his entire race after himself, it’s obviously wrong. Why not ask Akira Toriyama, the creator of the series, or simply make something up that at least sounded cool (pun!)? This kind of lazy writing permeates the entire game. Playing as a female Saiyan, I was surprised to find characters refer to me as it and sometimes he. The character creator itself is so old and outdated, you can’t help but feel nostalgia for it. There are very few options and all of them will result in your character looking like a complete idiot (or like Piccolo in the case of every single Namekian). The hair choice is goofy and obviously just ripoffs from other characters and the body types are literally just how thick you want your character to be.
What most reminds me about the 90s is the blind ambition without any sense of direction. XenoVerse kind of wants to be an MMO, or a fighter, or a big cool adventure story. It doesn’t care that none of them come together or none of the elements it throws at the wall work together in any meaningful sense. There’s a lifeless hub world full of boring shops manned by boring characters. There’s not much to do there, but the game sure as hell wants to make you run really slowly through it between every single battle. There’s not even a retry button for most battles, forcing players to keep going back to the ugly, barren plain.
And the story. To call the story bad would be to say the power up scenes in the original Dragon Ball Z were short and to the point. The game promises alternate history, working out new events in the Dragon Ball timeline. In reality, the game barely strays from the source material and the shoehorning of your character and a scant few newcomers is laughable at best. There just isn’t anything to latch onto. Your create-a-character is a lifeless mute and the other main character, Trunks, is utterly unlikeable (at least in this game). The whole thing reeks of that last minute all-night translation that barely makes any sense. Gamers from the 90s know this well with awful translations marring just about every game to come out of Japan.
All of that would make you think I didn’t like the game. In actuality, the nostalgic 90s awkwardness is part of the charm. XenoVerse isn’t a very good game, but it’s fun and strangely wonderful. This is a game that will not and cannot appeal to non-fans of Dragon Ball Z. There are simply too many problems to overcome without the bright glare of nostalgia. Otherwise, the game is a fun trip down memory lane. It’s not the best DBZ game in recent memory (go Budokai Tenkaichi 2), but it’s certainly fun to play. And sometimes, that’s enough.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer