Dragon Ball Xenoverse: Why is this Game so Polarizing?

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This is an actual move, not a cinematic, and it never gets old :p

Dragon Ball Xenoverse has been one of those rare cases where particular elements are being bashed by one critic and praised by another.  We have many reviewers raving about the game and many others that it just doesn’t click with. Meanwhile, the user reviews are significantly more positive than those from the critics, meaning this game certainly has an audience. 

After the break, we’ll explore what it is about this game that is causing such a love/hate divide.

First off, the combat system is a tad peculiar. The game borrows a lot of ideas from Dragon Ball: Battle of Z. In fact, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to call this game a sequel to it. However, this game has made improvements to the system through the use of special attacks as combos.  Unlike in Battle of Z, special attacks can be chained together with regular attacks allowing the player to create their own combos. Without fully exploring this system, combat in the game feels stale, resulting in some of the negative opinions.  Aside from having more freedom to chain together special attacks, the system has other welcome improvements.  Characters are no longer impervious to attack the moment a combo ends meaning that team battles open up the possibility for some truly amazing combos with your teammates, as well as the ability to get incredibly irritated with your enemies.  Characters are still invulnerable when knocked onto the ground, however it doesn’t feel as stiff as it did in Battle of Z thanks to the change in what triggers that invulnerability, as stated earlier. This doesn’t mean that you will be trapped in an infinite combo if you are outnumbered, but it does mean you want to find a teammate fast.  Despite all of the improvements, the game still isn’t as deep as what was seen in Budokai Tenkaichi 2 and 3, and I believe that is ultimately why the combat system is considered to be disappointing for many.

Despite the improved combat system, the game has an odd focus on your created character and only your created character. It is built like an RPG/MMORPG, yet most of the depth in the combat comes from playing the canonical characters.  For the first time since Burst Limit, fighters truly feel unique. The same button combo with one character won’t do the same thing with another, and because of the aforementioned chaining of special moves, this is a big deal.  Players need to learn the character they play as in order to do well. No longer is the game a battle of who picked the strongest character, although that admittedly still plays a role.  For those that haven’t played the game yet, this may not sound like a problem at all, in fact, it is a great thing.  The issue however, is that the game never encourages you to play as anything but your created character.  The purpose of questing is to build up your character for the next story mission, and the player is limited to his/her created character in those missions. In order to play as the canonical characters, the player must go to the online/offline battle counter and play a match that doesn’t count towards anything other than rewarding your time with a little bit of money. Even if you play your created character in these matches, you won’t get any experience for your efforts. These matches are not worked into the RPG-esque progression path in any way, making either the RPG system or the battle system feel out of place, depending on your perspective.

With that said, the game’s RPG elements aren’t fleshed out as much as they should be, which is odd since that is the primary focus of the game. The unique fighting styles of each character in battle mode bring out this flaw even more.
Every single created Saiyan character will attack the same way as every other created Saiyan character and the same is true for each of the five races.  As stated before, the player can change their special moves, which do offer a good bit of freedom, but it isn’t enough for a game that pushes you to play as one single character for hours and hours. Without a staggering amount of depth, playing one character ad nauseam makes the combat feel bland, which makes the critiques against the game fully justified.  Another feature of the game which makes the design decisions seem even more boneheaded is the Mentor system which allows you to choose a mentor and learn their special moves.
This sounds like a great idea, right? It is, however it would be nice if they did more with it. You only learn their special moves. The system should have been designed so that your created character could adopt the master’s fighting style as well as their special techniques. Ultimately, the Mentor system is a real tease for what it could have been, although not bad when taken for what it is.

On the topic of half-hearted design, the ally AI in Dragon Ball Xenoverse is certainly lacking. When I say it is lacking, I mean it is visibly lacking. In this case, a video speaks louder than words. That is only one of many examples of the frustrating ally AI in this game though. Your fellow computers will often get stuck on a path to revive you, stand just outside your healing circle, or flat out ignore that you are dead, only to be pummeled because they are too incompetent to fight back. Don’t worry, the enemies will always be able to get to you and beat you up if you are in their line of sight, and they’ll do it noticeably better than your offline companions. But bad team AI shouldn’t be such a problem since the game is multiplayer focused, right?
As of the date this article is posted, playing online is totally unreliable. The connection to the server is constantly shaky, causing a return to the home screen. In a few cases, the game has been caught in an infinite loop while trying to login, forcing me to completely shut down the game and start it back up. The problem is significantly worse on the PC version, forcing the player to put Steam into offline mode in order to play the game at all. On console, or at least on PS4, it is an inconvenience since selecting the single player lobby is truly single player.  As an addendum, online is only available for regular battles and parallel quests, not story quests, so the player will still need to put up with shoddy AI in the story. Because the ally AI is awful, the game can be a little difficult.

Actually, Dragon Ball Xenoverse is ******* hard!  The difference between this game’s difficulty and games such as Dark Souls or Shovel Knight is that Dragon Ball Xenoverse throws out enemies that do more damage and have more health than you, and not by a little bit. Since the beginning of gaming, this has been the easy method of creating difficulty and it can be frustrating.  The game forces the player to grind through parallel quests, which are the non-story quests that can be completed in order to gain loot and level up, and then take on the next saga of the story. For a skilled player, he/she may only need to play through the parallel quests one time in order to get strong enough, but it will be a struggle.

With all of that said, I came to a realization the other day: This is exactly how the storyline of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z worked. Some villain shows up that can take more hits and do more damage than ever seen before, so now all the heroes need to get stronger to face the new evil, or die anyway if their names are Krillin or Yamcha. I don’t want to excuse the lazy design, but I can’t completely hate it either. It truly feels like you are a Dragon Ball character and it feels rewarding to win. Again, a skilled player can conquer an overpowered enemy. It isn’t all about stats.

All things considered, Dragon Ball Xenoverse is a great game with a mediocre presentation. The best features of the game are tucked away so that the player needs to find them, the AI leaves much to be desired and the RPG elements needed just a little more time in the oven.  Overall, it is a fantastic game for Dragon Ball fans, although it will disappoint those wanting a great fighter or a great RPG. It is instead a good brawler, possibly misunderstood, with RPG elements that weren’t quite fully realized, and that is why I think the game is so polarizing. There is a lot to like and a few big things to hate, so it comes down to what the player expects from the game and what they can tolerate.