It’s been a pretty good past few years to be a Dragon Ball fan. The remastered version of the original series, Dragon Ball Kai, brought the series back into focus for modern anime fans who may have been too young to watch it upon its original release, or who had some moral opposition to men screaming and flexing for three episodes at a time. We got some OVAs here, an anniversary short there, and although the video games have been highly hit-and-miss in the wake of the Tenkaichi trilogy on the PS2, they all sold well enough to prove the franchise still had economic heft to it. The real resurgence came with the release and subsequent box office success of a new feature-length film, 2013’s Battle of Gods, which did great business not only in Japan, but in limited theater releases in other countries as well. Add in another highly successful film, 2015’s Resurrection ‘F’ (which yours truly had the pleasure of seeing on the big screen) and an entirely new television series following on from the aforementioned two movies that just wrapped up its first major plot arc, and it’s almost enough to make one forget the occasional trash we were served with for the past decade.
Which brings us to the announcement at hand. After a few teasing references to a new Dragon Ball related product over the past week, Bandai Namco announced that Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 is not only a reality, but will be in our hands by year’s end. For those who didn’t play it, Xenoverse was an action/fighting/RPG/fangasm simulator game developed by Dimps and released on the PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC back in 2015. Choosing from one of a handful of DB-verse races, you made your own custom character and set out on a mission to secure time and space against villains who were attempting to altar the course of history by changing the outcomes of pivotal fights from the series. You fought alongside members of the show’s cast, got to learn special moves from the main characters, listened to Trunks growl a lot, wear hilariously non-functional clothing, got your ass irrigated by Hercule more times than you will ever admit, it was a good time all around.
Now, as for this author’s personal feelings on the matter, I am tentatively excited. On one hand, I have been a Dragon Ball fan since Roosevelt was president (don’t think about it too hard), so any new game is going to spark at least a little bit of heat in my nerd-loins. And truth be told, I really did enjoy Xenoverse upon its release, and played it through to completion and beyond, and the thought of continuing the adventures of The Brick (my Frieza-race character) makes me all a tingle. The combat, balancing aside, was fast and fun. The ability to make your own warrior, to really feel like part of the Dragon Ball universe, and to take him through some of anime’s greatest battles is not a rush that an old school fan like myself can deny. And the plot, although definitely not award winning, was something interesting and original, instead of playing through the same story mode for the 27th time. Add in the fact that all this was canon to the show’s storyline, and you really felt like you were engaged in a genuine new Dragon Ball experience.
On the other hand, the game was deeply, deeply flawed from a playability standpoint, and having the past year to meditate on said flaws has only made them more apparent. The construction of the game’s hubworld and mission system is obtuse at best, and outright player-oppositional at worst. There’s way too much reliance on stat scaling and combo/glitch exploitation for a game that was ostensibly marketed as a fighting/action hybrid, and even with those tricks the later game missions run the gamut from hair-tearingly difficult to just blatantly unfair, using brutally stacked enemies with truly insane buffs and obscene win conditions to make things harder instead of well-programmed AI or properly challenging scenarios. Add in some weird audio and visual quirks, and the game’s grotesque use of random chance to dictate item drops and objective availability, AND a gameplay structure that makes playing as the actual characters from the show almost pointless, and you had a game that was definitely for the fans only, and even more than that had to be enjoyed almost DESPITE its attempts to shoo you off.
Still, despite that wall of complaint, I enjoyed the game more often than not. Plus, in my experience, the Dragon Ball games have shown a sort of algorithm to their quality. The first game in any new series usually shows promise, but is rough around the edges. Despite my love for the game as a fan and my acknowledgment of it as the trendsetter for the series games to come, let’s observe Budokai’s horribly stiff combat, weird graphics and lack of content. Then, having gotten a grip on what did and did not work about the game, the sequel expands upon the concept while smoothing out the issues of the previous game, like with Tenkaichi 2‘s excellent story mode, expanded roster and hugely more varied combat, and of course, the graphics, gameplay, singleplayer modes, soundtrack, hell nearly EVERYTHING about Budokai 3. So, if history bears out and Dimps can fix at least some of those issues from the first Xenoverse, while expanding on it’s strengths and adding in some new flavor, then I’m willing to go on a little faith, and forget most of those previous issues in hopes of a shining past/present/future.