As anyone who grew up in the late 80s or 90s will tell you, Dragon Ball is the godfather of Manga. Over the decades, the incredibly popular comics and TV series have been turned into several games, all of which possess that unmistakable quirkiness that leaves one in no doubt that they could only have come from Japan. And the latest, Dragon Ball XenoVerse 2, is no exception. But beneath its rather endearing oddness, there’s plenty of pleasingly original and deep gameplay to be found.
The Dragon Ball faithful should find it reassuringly familiar, since it picks up where 2015’s XenoVerse left off. Its general format is identical to its predecessor, placing you in a large city-hub, from where you must head off on countless missions that involve mid-air beat-em-ups. As in XenoVerse, you’re a Time Patroller, the control system (give or take a few tweaks) is more or less the same and you can even import your old character, who will be hailed as a hero in XenoVerse 2 and often join you on missions as a computer-controlled ally.
Dragon Ball XenoVerse 2 may be similar to its predecessor, but it’s also a much better game. Whereas the original was a tad ragged around the edges, XenoVerse 2 is impressively polished. Because it was specifically made for the Xbox One/PS4 generation of consoles, yet naturally has anime-style graphics which place lower demands on the systems than photo-realistic ones, it runs in a solid 60 frames per second and, bar the odd spelling mistake in captions and some inexcusably jaunty music, it feels very nicely put together.
Initially, you can spend an age customising your character – picking from the different races that have featured in Dragon Ball and tweaking your appearance and play-style — before you set foot in Conton City, the game’s hub. Conton City is pretty huge (seven times larger than XenoVerse’s equivalent, according to Bandai Namco) and rammed full of shops where you can pick up random missions (known in the game’s glorious jargon as Parallel Quests, or PQs), buy clothing, items, skills and the like and generally converse with the locals.
At first, it pays off to perform a bit of grinding in order to level up and improve your stats. There’s an almost bewildering amount of things you can choose between — Conton City is dotted with instructors who take you through the intricacies of the control system, which is as arcane as any beat-em-up. As well as countless punch-and-kick combos, you have special and ultra attacks which can be triggered when your Ki levels are high enough, along with an array of special moves with a more spatial element. Because, when battling, you and your opponents can fly, it pays off to learn how to get behind enemies, momentarily teleport when they are attacking you and so on.
For once, training is a joy rather than a chore, as Dragon Ball XenoVerse’s action is super-fast, incredibly hectic, spectacular to behold and extremely enjoyable. As you hit milestones of proficiency and your attributes and status grow, new mission-threads unlock and new activities unfold centred on Conton City. There’s an overarching story involving time-travel and various periods of Dragon Ball lore, but unless you’re a Dragon Ball aficionado, you’ll find it hopelessly confusing.
There’s an important online side to the game: you can take on other human Time Patrollers in 1v1 or 3v3 battles (the latter are chaotic but great fun), for which the matching seems pretty rigorous, and up to six players can take on co-operative missions. The pinnacle of these allow you and your Dragon Ball-loving friends to join forces against ridiculously powerful bosses.
Dragon Ball XenoVerse does feel as though it’s preaching to the converted, being very much aimed at fans, while those new to the franchise may find it twee and a tiny bit confusing. For series diehards this is a blast of nostalgia that will drag you back to childhood, but even non-fans will find it a fast-paced, meaty and surprisingly original — if bonkers — game.