To those of us in the West it may not seem like it, but Dragon Ball and Nintendo have always been cozy. Nearly every Nintendo console, home or portable, has been host to at least one if not several Dragon Ball games. Unfortunately, the Wii U was one of the few Nintendo consoles not to receive a Dragon Ball game. Bandai aims to rectify that with Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2, but does it succeed? In a word, yes.
Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 is the follow-up to the lauded last-gen 3D fighter, Dragon Ball Xenoverse, the main draw of which was the ability to create your own character and let them join the Dragon Ball universe, taking part in iconic battles in a sort of alternate timeline that plays with the canon in a clever way.
Before we get into the particulars of the game, let’s talk about how Xenoverse 2 survived the conversion to the Switch. In short, it actually looks pretty good, though there are some obvious compromises that were made in order to cram such a large game onto the diminutive device. The most noticeable among these is the drop from 60 to 30 frames per second on the hybrid system. If you’ve played Xenoverse 2 on a competing platform this will be the first thing you’ll likely notice. We also noticed some minor stuttering when bringing up the pause menu, but ultimately it didn’t hinder our experience. If you’ve never played this game on another platform it'll likely seem absolutely fine, as the performance is rock solid throughout. We did note one strange choice, as one-on-one battles between players are actually 60 frames per second, which felt jarring after spending quite some time playing the main story mode. If anything, we feel Bandai would have been wise to keep this locked across the board, but let's not complain too much about one mode being that bit smoother.
Beyond the dip in framerate, some visual tweaks had to be made as well for the Switch version of Xenoverse 2. It seems as though there is no anti-aliasing on characters and environments, which can lead to a little bit of shimmer on some of the finer details on characters’ outfits, such as the lines in Vegeta’s armour. That said we’re told Xenoverse 2 runs at 720p in handheld mode and 900p when docked, and it looks fantastic. The anime style visuals really pop, thanks in part to the gray filter that plagued the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game being removed on the Switch. Because of this we actually prefer the visuals on Switch to those of its larger cousins, but it's all subjective.
The Switch also has the distinction of having added motion controls to the experience. Yes, you can perform Goku's signature Kamehameha by pantomiming the motions required with a Joy-Con in each hand, but will you want to? It's a novel way of performing moves, but beyond being good for a laugh we just don't see many wanting to play this way, apart from young children. On the upside, controls using any of the traditional methods feel great, so there's little harm in these optional motions.
Otherwise, Xenoverse 2 on Switch does a great job of replicating the frenetic battles from the source material. Battles are fought mostly with the four face buttons, with two melee attacks, a projectile and a jump putting the inputs to work. After a brief tutorial you'll be flying around smashing people into craters; the inputs and combos are simple to learn but can be difficult to master. Even the simple button-mashing combos should be enough to get you through the story if that's all you're interested in, however. Xenoverse 2 fully understands the spectacle of Dragon Ball and as such its Ultimate techniques are incredibly flashy, eye-catching affairs that will impress onlookers. It's not quite at the level of the gorgeous Dragon Ball Fighterz, but it will turn some heads.
Xenoverse 2 focuses on the adventures of your custom character throughout Dragon Ball’s history. You can create a saiyan, human, namekian, majin or Frieza race character. Each class has its own advantages and disadvantages, but the game doesn’t do the best job of explaining these. Ultimately, the differences in each race are minor and your choice will come down to personal preference.
Customising your character is the key to doing well in Xenoverse 2. For a fighting game there are actually some deep RPG-like elements woven into its core mechanics. Each fight nets your character experience, which will in turn level you up. When you level up you will be awarded skill points which can be used to boost your attributes; your stats are broken up into HP, stamina, ki, base attack, striking supers and ki supers. The game does a great job of explaining what each of these stats are for, though their names are mostly self-explanatory. Your clothing also has its own attributes, with each piece either adding points to or removing points from a specific stat. As a general rule of thumb, if a number of points is added to one stat from your clothing, another stat is losing the same number. This isn’t true of all clothing, but it is for the vast majority.
To negate some of these effects you can dump unwanted clothing into a machine you find later in the game to create a QQ bang. QQ bangs are items you can equip that override the stats of your clothing, giving you a set boost so you can customise your character’s look without worrying about the impact to your stats. Silly names notwithstanding, we found the QQ bang system to be something of a waste, as there’s seemingly no rhyme or reason to how it creates these items. Putting two identical outfits into the machine yielded two very different results. If you’re willing to spend the time to grind away at this you could end up with some really great results, nevertheless.
You’ll start your game off in a hub world dubbed Toki Toki City, which is huge but sparse. There’s a central square with merchant stalls for buying clothing, techniques and items, all of which are helpful; if you’re feeling generous, you can use the Timespace Delivery booth to send unwanted items to a friend in need, which is a nice touch. There a lot of areas surrounding this, but they’re not used for much. Random NPCs litter the entirety of the city to randomly give you items or side quests, though these side quests often involve little more than a single one-on-one fight.
Toki Toki City is so large that getting around on foot is something of a chore. You’ll be gifted a hover platform to move around early on, but movement still feels cumbersome until you unlock the ability to fly around town later in the game. With flight unlocked it becomes clear why the area is so large; flying just feels right. In fact, it’s a shame that there isn’t more to do on the ground. Various characters from the Dragon Ball universe, heroes and villains alike are positioned all around the city waiting to teach you their trademark moves. Each one of them will have you complete a series of quests that usually involves using their moves in order to move forward in their quest chain. Old favourites like Krillin and Yamcha are available alongside new faces like Whis and Beerus.
In the skies above Toki Toki City there are several time rifts which you can travel through to experience different parts of Dragon Ball’s story through mini storylines and quests. For instance, you can enter one such rift to board Frieza’s ship and join the Frieza force for a series of side missions that see you help the evil galactic emperor assert dominance over Goku and friends. Another such rift takes you to Guru’s house on Planet Namek to defend his home planet from Frieza and his minions, in exchange for an increase to your level cap.
These objectives are on a timer, meaning you can do one part of these side stories, then continue on your way through the main story before taking a break to return to these. The story mode, however, is the best part of Xenoverse 2. Xenoverse 2’s story spans from the beginning of Dragon Ball Z, when Raditz comes to Earth and teaches Goku of his Saiyan heritage, to the end of the series when... well, let's leave you to find out.
Ultimately an evil force is altering history in an attempt to change the outcome of the most pivotal moments in Dragon Ball’s history, and it’s up to your character - a time patroller - to right the records of history by averting disaster and setting things right, often by assisting Goku and company in defeating whatever evil they face. It’s a clever way to let you play through the same storylines that have been presented on Nintendo consoles since the NES days, with a new twist to keep them fresh.
The original Xenoverse never saw the light of day on a Nintendo platform, so Bandai thoughtfully included the entirety of the original story mode for Nintendo loyalists that haven't yet played it. To access them, once you've beaten a saga in Xenoverse 2's story you'll find a helpful little bot that will let you play that same saga the way it was presented in the original. It's a thoughtful addition that Bandai certainly didn't need to make, but is definitely welcome.
Beyond the story mode, which can only be played solo, Xenoverse 2 offers a number of alternate-universe missions called Parallel Quests. In a Parallel Quest you won’t get any kind of narrative cutscenes, but you’ll be placed often on the opposing side of an iconic battle, such as helping Frieza defeat Super Saiyan Goku, or helping Cell defeat Gohan. You’ll also participate in some non-canon battles such as those found in the Dragon Ball GT series or in any of the movies.
Parallel Quests, as well as any other non-story mode content, can be played with a few friends in a party. Unfortunately Xenoverse 2 has no voice chat support in-game, but it’s also a game that doesn’t require much by way of strategy or coordination, as it’s a simple fighting game. Joining up with a friend is as simple as putting their name in a terminal in Toki Toki City and registering them within the game. Once you’ve done that you’re good to go.
Online play was mostly lag-free in our tests, but we did experience some occasional hitching when playing with fighters overseas. This is par for the course with the other Xenoverse releases on competing platforms and is something we suspect is an issue with the netcode used for these titles, though few games can boast seamless play across oceans. It’s worth noting that lag only appeared in our player-versus-player matches. Co-op content ran without a hitch across all the events we were able to test.
As of this writing we’ve been unable to test Xenoverse 2’s invasions, as none have happened in the time we’ve had the game; we’re confident based on what we have seen so far that they will work as well on the Switch as they have on other platforms. Invasions are Xenoverse 2’s equivalent of end-game content, in which high-level bosses appear in the city through large time rifts and large groups of players team up to take them down. They’re functionally the same as other co-op content, albeit with a limit of six players.
Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 was a massive game on other platforms and is even bigger on the Switch. The visual downgrades were expected, but the removal of the gray filter present on other platforms actually makes the Switch version look better overall, in this scribe's opinion at least.
The brilliantly rendered cutscenes, deep character customisation and fine-tuned fighting mechanics make for a title that is easy to pick up but hard to put down. This is another case of a game that makes one wonder just how much developers can do with Nintendo's diminutive console. Fans of fighting games and Dragon Ball alike should look forward to picking this one up.