*Note: This was originally written as scripted content for a video. The video can be viewed here.*
I’m not interested in walking back my initial review for Dragon Ball Xenoverse. The game has a lot of problems, from repetitive combat, to poor game balance, to terrible translations and sound design. The game was a mess, especially when compared to the much beloved Budokai titles. But I also have to give it credit in areas where I didn’t before. It was ambitious. An online Dragon Ball sim on mainstream consoles, with an honestly solid art direction, resolution and framerate, and a new take on the classic Dragon Ball Z story. The game sought out to do something impressive, and for someone who always dreamt of being one of the first black super saiyans, it serviced a need of mine for a brief while.
But the sequel…hoo boy. Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 has a lot of problems, but one thing’s for sure. This game is the gold standard of what a sequel should be, building on the premise of the first game, and creating a natural evolution of the first game’s lore, gameplay, and overall presentation. I mean evolution in a good way, by the way. I know that word has…connotations around this fanbase.
I played through the main campaign of the first Xenoverse without much detouring. This was in large part due to how much I hated the combat, but also because the game didn’t do a very good job of teaching you about the other resources you had access to in TokiToki city. So ultimately, I felt like by the end of my experience, I had logged roughly 10 – 15 hours into a mediocre campaign that was really difficult for all the wrong reasons.
I’ve now passed about 300 hours in Xenoverse 2, and even counting Xenoblade, it’s my most played Switch game. This doesn’t mean it’s a game without problems, but it is a step in the right direction, and I believe one more installment is all it would take to make the best Dragon Ball game to date.
Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 prioritizes its homage to the source material over traditional game balance. The more traditional you try to make your experience with the game, the more frustrating it’s going to become. Try and make it function like a traditional fighter, and you’ll quickly learn how bad of an idea that is. But the way the game leans into Dragon Ball lore, visual styles, and themes is unparalleled. Everyone praises Dragon Ball FighterZ for its art direction, and don’t get me wrong, it’s well deserved. The game is beautiful. But this game kind of kills it in the style department too. The custom character aesthetics are in line with the true Dragon Ball art direction, while also having their own unique traits that tie them to the lore of these two games. It’s hard not to imagine a robust backstory for your playable avatar character while firing kamehameha waves at your various foes.
The five races, Saiyan, Earthling, Frieza Race, Majin, and Namekian, truly encapsulate a lot of the Dragon Ball mythos. I kind of wish there were variations for some of them though. Like for instance, being able to make an Earthling character an android/cyborg. I understand how it might not make sense from a lore angle, but they made it work with the Frieza Race and Majins, so I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.
The campaign for Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 is fascinating, because it incorporates a lot of details you wouldn’t otherwise expect. Particularly, the way it makes use of the previous game’s journey helps to make it feel like an integral part of the history, despite some of the changes made. Your custom character from the first game is carried over into this one (sorry Switch players). Still, the first game’s hero is not your playable character, but a revered hero with a holographic statue in the middle of town. You’re now playing as a completely new hero, dealing with the fallout of events that the player is theoretically aware of from the previous title.
This game’s core premise is effectively interwoven into every facet of the gameplay. For instance, one of the ways the core cast is aware of the tampering with history this time around, is that there are these four time rifts opened around the new Conton City. This is a good change, because it opens up these cool DBZ themed mini games, while also helping to further contextualize the space-time anomalies. It also provides a unique shared importance among the story and side content, which is a big part of why this game feels like such a complete package.
We’re talking about Dragon Ball here! There’s no Dragon Ball without training, and training feels great in this game. There are so many different ways to explore your characters and their abilities, that growth feels consistent and worthwhile. You can go on Parallel Quests, which make up the majority of the game’s content, or train with mentors, which is how you earn various skills. All of this is handled with a delivery of context and worldbuilding that makes your adventures in Conton City feel like a DBZ Roleplay session.
There’s a fundamental truth in game design, I think, and it’s that a game’s primary obligation is to the audience it knows it will have. Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 doesn’t promise to be the best fighting game or the best RPG because that’s not what it’s trying to be. It’s trying to be a celebration of all things Dragon Ball, and on that front, it hits it out of the park.
The first game was ambitious in this same goal, certainly, but it failed because there were so many core issues to the way the game was made, that no amount of fancy presentation could fix it. Ultimately, Dragon Ball Xenoverse was a bust in its execution. But the idea was there, and since combat went from unbearable to actually quite competent between installments, things that felt like padding in the first game feel intentional in this one.
What exactly are these changes to combat? Well, for starters, the game relies far less on super armor as a means to generate difficulty, which is a huge start. This is important, because the ability to budge enemies is a big part of what makes certain gameplay elements feel immersive. The weight of strikes having some degree of variance also increases the overall importance of customizing your character to your own preferences. Speaking of which, that feels much easier in this game, and the mentor system plays a huge role in that.
In addition, there’s an in-depth system of checks and balances for teleportation and overall use of stamina, that adds a layer of strategy to what would otherwise just be massive slugfests. The guard break system also offers a massive punish for those who would abuse special moves.
Unlocking skills has become much easier than it was in the previous Xenoverse title. Mentors are now tied to your skill level and story progress, so there will be different residents in Conton City depending on how much of the game’s campaign you’ve completed. This helps you to pace yourself, which is essential, because this game is loaded with content. The same approach is taken with skills you can earn and buy, as well as available Parallel Quests, clothing items, accessories, and much much more. That’s a pretty big part of this game’s appeal over its predecessor too. An increased amount of unlockables with a legitimately fascinating progression system helps to give more purpose to your actions, and creates a generally more satisfying gameplay loop.
One other thing I really like is the scale of the Time Patrol. Since the events of the previous game, there are now time patrollers everywhere of many different races. It helps to give some legitimacy to certain story details, and makes the overworld more fun to navigate. I do feel like transitioning from a hub world to an overall more interconnected world would really benefit what this game is aiming to be, but who knows? After the commercial success of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, that might be where we’re headed.
The story itself isn’t too ambitious, mostly a retelling of the first game’s events, with a lot of the cutscenes being reused as well (a definite plus to a time travel story on the budgetary side). Some interesting differences would include the presence of characters from the classic DBZ movies, such as Turles, Lord Slug, Janemba, and even Broly! The old bad one, not the new amazing one.
This is the perfect example of how difficult it is to measure this game’s quality. Like, the presence of three additional characters in the story mode does not make a game better in the overall principles of good game design, sure. But this game becomes better with every character it represents, because characters, stages, skills, they all bring it that much closer to a complete depiction of the Dragon Ball mythos, and that’s more important to a game like Xenoverse 2 than even balance could ever be. I don’t think that’s an issue, either, it’s good for a game to have a strong sense of identity, and what fictional franchise has an identity quite like Dragon Ball?
Of course, this game does falter in its delivery in one area that really takes its immersive quality down a few pegs for me. This is the first time I’ll have ever said this about a game in a review, but Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 has a very underwhelming soundtrack. I know that’s a very subjective area, for sure, but it’s disappointing for me in a great many ways. And it’s being measured against an arguably unfair standard, as it’s adapted from a source material known for its superb sound design, but all the same, I can’t help but feel when I’m battling to obnoxious speed metal that it fails to capture the essence of Dragon Ball. And that’s saying a lot because this series has had a lot of different scores over the years, between the dub specific ones, the original, the score for Super, and even other Dragon Ball games.
This game was also a pretty big milestone for the series, because it’s the first major Dragon Ball game to take place in a post-Super world, meaning a lot of the DLC incorporates key characters from Super’s various arcs. This is a positive because it means we get a bigger and more diverse roster, and because it increases the available customization for the player character. It is a bit unfortunate how much content in this game is hidden behind paywalls, but I have to admit, a lot of these characters are a genuine blast to play with, and their skills help players to fully realize their ideal original character with surprising depth.
Another major plus for this game is its sheer volume of playable modes as well. There’s a full campaign, side stories, Parallel Quests, and local multiplayer. The different competitive multiplayer modes such as the World Tournament, single battles, and team battles all return from the previous game, including their ranked incarnations. There’s also an extra story mode that is paid DLC, but offers a very fascinating take on the existing time travel plot these games tend to focus on.
They’ve also introduced a lot of game modes that make this game feel more like a proper MMO. There are expert missions and expert raids, which feel like an epic DBZ-style interpretation of the types of big boss raids we’ve seen in the likes of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy 14. Then there are Crystal Raids where players get to be the raid bosses.
There’s also a Figure Battle mode based loosely on Dragon Ball Heroes, the Japan-Only card game. This mode comes with its own separate story mode, but fair warning, quite a lot of Gacha going on here.
There’s also five different minigames based on locations from across the series. From Capsule Corp to Frieza’s Spaceship to Majin Buu’s house, these locales will let players customize even further, and each one corresponds with a custom character race, so they can help you achieve new heights of skill. The feeling you get when you start to achieve the best of what your custom character is capable of is as close to experiencing the true Dragon Ball as I think a person can get.
Again, this game has its flaws, and if measured against more traditional game design standards, I think a lot of people would find themselves panning it, and declaring it mediocre. Yet, when measured by its own ruleset, it becomes clear that this is a game with a powerful sense of identity, and goes beyond the typical corporate adaptation to become a genuinely powerful homage to one of the most prominent franchises in animation history.
But clearly just having character customization and a bunch of quests you can go on isn’t enough to start crafting robust stories for your characters, right? Right?
Narrator Voice: Tenda was a human on an alternate Earth, besieged by Dr. Gero and the Red Ribbon Army. She was enhanced through experimentation, to achieve the feats of strength and speed only ever seen previously by the saiyans. She joined Time Patrol in the hopes that someday she could return home, defeat the Red Ribbon Army, and save her world.
…Or something like that, I don’t know, maybe it’s just fun to punch Frieza.
Thank you all for tuning in for this review of Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2, a game that has taken up more of my time than I’m willing to admit. For more action packed adventures, see some of my other reviews and subscribe to make sure you don’t miss the next ones. Thank you as always for watching and come back soon for more from the GAME ROOM!