Dragon Ball Xenoverse is a very fun Dragon Ball experience that has unfortunately been stretched out almost to a breaking point. It’s not the most technically in-depth Dragon Ball fighting game by any means, but its core gameplay remains interesting for quite a while. Just, perhaps not as long a while as the developers hoped.
3D arena-based fighting is the core gameplay mechanic of DBXV, but the game is structured much like an RPG (perhaps even an MMO) in general. You start by making a custom character of one of five races (human, Saiyan, Namekian, or the Buu or Frieza races), including a choice of gender for the two humanoid races as well as Buu’s. You’ll gain experience, money, and in some cases randomly dropped gear and abilities from your fights, and levels and upgrades are key to continuing through the game. While every battle yields experience, in the form of points, the game has three types of quest advancement that are designed to work in tandem.
The core story is contained in Time Patrol quests, which proceed in a linear fashion and roughly follow the events of Dragon Ball Z and the Battle of Gods movie. Typically your character will be inserted into a classic fight to correct some change (usually a power-up given to the opponent, but there are some surprises) and have to make things right. The story isn’t bad, but it’s nothing special. While you’ll run into many familiar characters, the major players are mostly new (with the exception of future Trunks, who acts largely as an advisor). You’ll gain levels but not abilities from doing Time Patrols, meaning you’ll very likely have to delve into other areas of advancement to get through the full story. The main benefit of advancing in the main plot is that you’ll unlock more of those other quests.
The game has a mentor system where you can learn abilities from various characters such as Goku, Vegeta, or Piccolo. There are 10 of these to start with, with more added via DLC. Conceptually, this works very well: you learn abilities associated with each mentor, and they will comment on your performance on all quests while you’re under them. Unfortunately, new mentors appear at random, so it can be frustrating to find the one you want. The process of learning their abilities is also needlessly drawn out, and subject to some vague rules that may or may not actually speed things up.
Finally, there are parallel quests, which are the real meat of the game. These appear as offshoots of the main Time Patrol quests, often with much crazier premises. For instance, instead of fighting super-powered Frieza, you may fight with Frieza against every good guy character that was on Namek. Parallel quests differ from other quests in a few key ways: first, you can bring two characters with you (including other actual players if playing online), which allows for more-or-less fair fights against large numbers of opponents. It also triggers banter between various sets of characters, which is super fun. Second, you can earn gear and abilities as random drops, either from specific foes or as a benefit of completing the quest. And finally, each parallel quest has special conditions to trigger an ‘ultimate finish’ which adds a more difficult second objective. The game is merciful in that you still get credit for the quest even if you lose at this point, but most of the best drops are earned with these finishes.
The problem with parallel quests is that the drop rates are abysmal. You’ll find yourself playing the same quest a dozen or more times trying to get everything, and when the drop is something crucial like the Super Saiyan powerup, this gets old very fast. Not only that, even if you trigger the correct Ultimate Finish conditions, there’s a random chance you will get the normal finish anyway. Some of these quests are very long and have complicated conditions, and fulfilling them without even getting a chance at the drop you’re looking for just feels unfair.
The other major problem with the game is that combat gets much cheaper in the harder quests. In combat you have three bars: health, ki, and stamina. Ki powers your attacks, while Stamina is mostly used for defense. You go through Stamina incredibly quickly, and losing all of it will put you in a defenseless state enemies will take full advantage of. Computer opponents, on the other hand, spam stamina abilities at impossible rates. Completing some later parallel quests legitimately is beyond me, though anything can be powered through with the patently unfair Super Saiyan power up. (I hope you’re playing as a Saiyan! If not, good luck.)
While there’s not much to the game beyond the quests, it does make some very interesting choices that are extremely cool. If you make another character, you’ll have access to all the abilities and items you unlocked with your first character, including those you can’t normally get until very high levels. The only downside is that there’s really no compelling reason to keep playing except leveling up.
All in all, Dragon Ball Xenoverse is a great game trapped within a lot of bad design choices. The fighting isn’t the best in the world, but the new abilities and even the banter keep it interesting. If they fixed the drop rates, master system, and generally tried to get less mileage out of making everything a grind, this could be a truly great game.