A few days ago, I became a Super Saiyan. After hours of playing I finally pushed passed my limits and ascended to power levels beyond my previous comprehension. It was amazing and beautiful and I stayed up late enough that I was pretty much crying with sleep deprivation.
Dragon Ball XenoVerse 2’s various shortcomings and limited audience appeal did a lot to keep it off many year-end lists, but it has rather quietly become one of my favorite games of 2016. The story (traveling through time to ensure the canonical happening of events) borders between campy and schlocky, some of the aiming is wonky, and most games (especially this one) really don’t need hub worlds.
It’s a happy accident that I became a Super Saiyan after hours of level grinding. I’m not normally an advocate of level grinding, but I needed to defeat Frieza and Cooler and set the timeline right. However, a massive difficulty spike was ruining me. I needed to become stronger.
At the 11th hour, Vegeta opened the door. He and Goku backed me into a corner and pummeled me until I turned into a golden haired minor warrior. It was all so fitting, I was now transforming alongside Goku on the planet he originally transformed on. I wasn’t just fixing time, I was becoming part of it.
What makes XenoVerse 2 exceptional is that it makes you earn your transformation. It’s not something you can stumble upon or have your super buddies help you with. And once you can transform whole new orders of power are open to you.
Normally, the plot would just demand that you become stronger. Need to cross that chasm? Time to learn a skill to do that. Oh, you need to be faster? Here’s a quest chain that gives you a horse or something. It’s a way to gate content, dilate the overall experience, and, after a while, feels contrived as hell.
In XenoVerse 2, it’s unnecessary. In fact, if I wasn’t so trash at the game I probably wouldn’t even have needed Super Saiyan to beat Frieza and Cooler. Whether you can transform or even want to is up to every individual player. If you want to, great, better go out and earn that power. If you don’t, that’s fine too, but you should probably concentrate on the fundamentals.
I’ve pushed back on Metroidvanias before but this is a sin a lot of games commit. Until Link Between Worlds, Zelda had this in spades. Uncharted 4 had a grappling hook. Even the venerable Red Dead Redemption had an old man in Mexico who just gives you more, better bullet time.
But XenoVerse 2 doubles down on something always at the heart of Dragon Ball, training, getting whooped, training, and then coming back at the problem better and stronger than before. I earned that transformation to Super Saiyan, and being trained by two of the series most prominent characters made it feel like I was being inducted into something bigger than myself.
Who cares if it’s a fictional fraternal order? Who cares if I could have cheesed my way up to that point? I didn’t and it felt great. It made me, the real flesh and blood me, feel powerful and that’s a feeling no other game in 2016 gave me.