Game review: Dragonball Xenoverse 2 for PC

I know it’s been a while since my last post, but we’re in the process of moving to another town, Pavia, and we also got a new dog. (Well, newish, as he’s four years old.) (Side note to self: I’m gonna have to update all my bios to reflect the change of location and the addition of a new furbaby.) Anyway, it’s high time that I post a new review, and while I haven’t quite finished everything Dragonball Xenoverse 2 has to offer, I’ve seen the end of the story and played all the stages of the newest addition, Hero Colosseum. I’ve played enough to issue a verdict, and also talk about why the end game content is kind of a let down for me. But most of the rest of the review is positive fluffy fluffiness…most of it.

I wanted to get both Xenoverse and Xenoverse 2 earlier, but most reviews that I saw were pretty unkind to them. Steam had a sale on Xenoverse 2, and I figured “Hey, reviews have often failed to take my quirky tastes into account.” So I downloaded it and started with an Earthling who I named Retasu in the spirit of the show’s naming conventions. I also opted to go with a build consisting mostly of melee supers because all the builds I saw on YouTube seemed to go all in on ki blast supers, and I wanted to be different. I’m a rebel, yo. The character creator won’t quite let you get totally crazy, but if you want to make a thic tall chica with purple skin and red eyes, you can do that. It’s certainly got more options than some recent role play games that shall go unnamed.

Depending on your chosen race (earthling, saiyan, majin, namekian, or freiza) you will start the game with a slightly different cut scene, and there are certain quest lines made for your race to unlock their ultimate forms. (Spoiler: earthlings and majin both kinda get fucked on the ultimate form, and of course the saiyans have the bestest forms evah. The frieza golden transformation is pretty good, but I prefer “potential unleashed,” an ultimate transformation open to all races by completing advancement classes with a Z rank.) Within most story or parallel quests, you will even hear dialogue acknowledging your race, which is a nice touch.

But most of the plot is the same regardless of who you fight with. Evil demon scientist Towa has resurrected her ultimate champion Mira, and she’s once again plotting to corrupt the whole history of the Dragonball multiverse. In each era, she’s changed a key fight with a villain, leading to a win for the villain. This somehow releases a bunch of extra energy that Towa collects with the intention of merging the demon dimension with the normal multiverse. (I’m not entirely sure how the collection process works, but given how much energy is spent on the average Dragonball fight, I can get behind the premise that someone wants to harness the leftovers for Eeeeeeeevil.)

You’ll note I used multiverse and not universe, and that’s because both Xenoverse games gleefully pull in characters and events from everywhere, even from the films and series not considered canon. So there’s Pan and Future Trunks from the GT series, Lord Slug, Turles, and Broly, among others. This is a Dragonball fan fiction that mixes all the events up, and then casts you as the bad ass hero or heroine who surpassed even Goku himself and became the greatest fighter in the history of literal history. And let me tell you, the story mode works in that aspect. When I reached the point of putting down Lord Beerus and Whis in a one on two fight, I felt like a total bad ass.

The controls are…I won’t say they’re simple or intuitive, but once I wrapped my head around them, I became less of a one button princess. You’ve got a light and heavy attack on the upper face buttons, with interact and jump on the lower buttons. Holding down the right trigger makes the face buttons into super attacks, and holding both triggers makes the upper two ultimate attacks, with one lower face button dedicated to evasion techniques and another to your transformation. While your race dictates the methods of fighting you use at the basic level, when it comes to super and ultimate attacks, you’re free to mix and match from the wide pool of options. You want to make a freiza character who fires super kamehamehas and super galick guns? Go for it. It’s all good.

Then there’s z-vanish, which is problematic in so many ways. In a one on one fight, you can vanish from in front of the fighter you’re locked onto, IF he uses a melee attack, and IF you have enough stamina. First of all, if they throw any type of ki attack, fuck you, z-vanish doesn’t work. Additionally, a lot of fighters, computer controlled or human, will just z-vanish right after you do, leading to a chain of z-vanishes that ends when someone runs out of stamina. Once you’re out, the stamina meter takes forever to refill, leaving you to be pummeled for a long, long time with no way to reverse.

That’s just fighting one on one, but the moment you get into a fray with multiple opponents, you also find how hard it is to get the fighter lock to select the fighter hitting you, and z-vanish won’t work at all if you can’t get the lock on the right fighter. This can make for some frustrating fights where you finally do select the right fighter, only to be hit by another, starting the whole enraging selection process over again.

When these problems aren’t getting in the way of a fight, the controls work well, and I could go for super long gaming marathons with no hand pains. The control scheme does have a learning curve, but the game provides a couple of good starting tutorials to get your toes in the water, and there’s a massive pool of “classes” at the time patroller academy to help you learn more advanced techniques. You won’t start out an expert, but the game gives you many ways to learn and advance until you don’t think about the controls anymore. You just play. And that’s very good.

I should talk a bit more about the academy and tutorials. As you play through the game, you unlock characters you can train with or ask to become your mentor. Training with them will let you unlock some of their signature moves, and while this is optional, it’s great for getting a feel for what these attacks can do so you can decide whether or not you want to use them in your own “deck.” The catch is that these trainers will withhold lessons until you’ve unlocked a certain number of advancement tests at the academy. It may seem annoying, but in this way, the game builds in exams that help you “git gud” as the kids would say.

Oh, and to help take the sting out of the grind for moves, anything you unlock with one character can be applied to your other characters. Even items are shared, so your second and third noobs characters can go into fights with the highest level moves and healing items. That rocks, and I wish more games would let me skip some aspects of the grind in later playthroughs like this.

The bulk of the game is all about playing story quests to fix history, but each time you do so, you also unlock parallel quests. These are pockets of stray time, alternate realities created as a result of your actions, and they tend to create some pretty interesting variations on the fights you’ve already been in. These PQs are where you unlock moves and equipment, along with special items that can sold or traded for favors, so you’ll want to grind through a few of them several times to get the item or attack you want. PQs also drop in other “players” or rather their avatars, but controlled by the computer. These are optional, and I would warn you to check their power levels before opting into a fight. I’ve gone into an early PQ at level 6 and found the game had dropped a level 99 player on me. Eeerrr, yeah, I’ll skip that ass whoopening, thanks.

Whether playing in the story quest or the PQ, you’re dropped into maps that recreate key areas from the Dragonball series, so most of them will inspire some nostalgia for being mostly faithful recreations. And to be sure, they look fantastic. Sadly, though, most are fairly restrictive in their size, and you will quickly find the invisible walls on all sides. With the tournament stages, I can understand this. But if I’m in “the sky” and the only thing being rendered is clouds and a few portal to other areas, why couldn’t the limits of the level been expanded a bit more so I don’t feel like a pinball?

I can’t go on without talking about a huge problem with story quests. Frequently, there will be times when someone is talking, and because what they say has to play out, the enemies you’re fight will no longer take damage. Oh, but the enemy can still harm you. You’re stuck fighting for upwards of two minutes while waiting out the script to finish, and if you get defeated while waiting for that moment? Haha, fuck you, try again.

There’s also another gotcha, the sudden cut scene in the middle of your fight. Were you unleashing your ultimate attack or even just a super attack? You lose all the ki as if it fired off, but the attack isn’t queued up to go off after the cut scene. The cut scenes can also strip you of your ultimate transformation, and if an enemy was right on top of you when the cut scene triggered, chances are good they’ll drop a combo on you before you have a chance to react. It’s cheap shit that makes an otherwise fun game into a pain in the butt.

After completing the main story, the game has some ways to extend the game, but for me, this is where things fall apart. It doesn’t help that breaking the level cap requires a long, long process of grinding. You either grind quests to get XP in the millions, or you grind very specific PQs to collect dragonballs and wish to level up. Those PQs don’t drop dragonballs every time, nor even every other time, so either way you’re stuck in for the long haul of grinding. And maybe you’re of a different opinion and you think grinding is super awesome. I think it’s boring, and I can only do it so long before my attention wanders. This isn’t helped by the diminishing returns you get from leveling up. At level 70, you’re getting four points per level to distribute to your various stats. At level 80, you get two. To really feel the effect of those points, you have to bank several levels, and when each level requires grinding for something like two million points, there’s little to no reward for putting in the effort. Boo, hiss.

There’s one other aspect of the game to cover, Hero Colosseum, which was added pretty recently. This is a collectible figure game with a side story of its own. Bulma has made this game up, and after Trunks and Goten introduce you to the figures, Bulma tasks your character with promoting the arena to the other fighters. Eventually this leads to her deciding to organize a tournament, and…the story just ends. You click on the next story button, and it says “more coming later.” This is…annoying.

Which is not to say Hero Colosseum isn’t fun. I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time collection fighters and leveling them up until I could use special items to upgrade them to ultra rare versions and raise their level caps. I’ve spent whole days just grinding out battles to collect said special items, and I’ve just said how much I hate grinding. So if a side game about collecting figures can get me over my burning hate for grinding, you know it’s got to be something good. And to put this in perspective, I never got into Gwent in The Witcher 3, or Caravan in Fallout: New Vegas. But there’s just something so compelling about the figure fights that I couldn’t stop playing for several WEEKS. I even put aside the proper game just to keep building up my figures. That’s probably why being denied an ending rubbed me the wrong way, because by that point I was totally invested in the idea of winning the tournament only to be told, “we haven’t made that part yet.” So, yeah, that stung.

Oh, and before I get to the final verdict, can I just say that I LOVE the music in this game? Because I LOOOOOOOVE the music in this game. The one song that stands out most for me is from a fight with Metal Cooler (Frieza’s more dickish brother.) That song was so good that I was bobbing my head in time with the beat and even trying to time my attacks to work with the soundtrack. There’s many other songs that are just as great, and if DIMPS releases a soundtrack CD for this game, I would pick that up in an instant. It’s just so, so good.

So, now I get to the final score, and while I have gripes about the game in its cheaper moments, I have to take into account that it gave me around a month of entertainment. We’re talking a little under 250 hours, and I’m not even done with the game, just ready to take a break. So taking that into account, I’ll give Dragonball Xenoverse 2 a rating of 4 stars. It’s not a perfect game, but the premise and the wide array of options allowing me to play out my own fan fiction fantasy make this a solid game and one I’d recommend to any fan of the Dragonball series.