Review: Dragon Ball: The Breakers
Given its status as one of the most recognizable franchises on the planet, the Dragon Ball series has seen video game adaptations across a wide swath of genres. From fighting games to RPGs and action adventure titles, we’ve seen different takes on the events of the series from a variety of gaming perspectives.
Dragon Ball: The Breakers represents the addition of a new genre to said swath: the asymmetrical multiplayer game. Developed by Dimps and published by Bandai Namco on October 14th, 2022 for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch, it pits seven regular civilians against one player behind the wheel of an iconic villain from the series. It seems like a surefire hit of an idea, but is its execution up to par?
The PS4 version was played on a PS5 for the review below.
As Temporal as It Seems
Something that should be immediately cleared up regarding the narrative found in Dragon Ball: The Breakers is that there isn’t one—at least not in a form that could be reasonably labeled as such. The single-player elements are only there to prepare you for what you’re going to encounter when playing the game proper.
That’s not to say there’s no explanation for the events of the game, though. The player learns very quickly that the matches are a result of their character being pulled at random into rifts of spacetime called temporal seams, for example, and that they’re able to channel the powers of Dragon Ball characters via objects called transpheres.
Trunks imparts tidbits like this after you finish creating your character, and what follows is a brief gameplay segment that takes roughly twenty minutes to run you through the objectives you’ll work toward as a survivor in a full multiplayer match. This portion also puts you alongside Bulma and Oolong, but once you’ve reached the lobby afterward, there are no more cutscenes or narrative to be found. This isn’t much of a surprise given the game’s status as a multiplayer-focused game, but it’s a shame there wasn’t more.
It should be noted that The Breakers does take place in the same continuity as Dragon Ball: Xenoverse 2, so perhaps the locations and background events of the setting may give some more enjoyment to those familiar with that title, but the story here is paper thin on the whole.
Raider, Meet Raided
If you’ve played asymmetrical multiplayer games before, you’ll largely know what to expect with The Breakers. Each fifteen-minutes-or-less match pits seven survivor players against one player controlling the Raider, a notable baddie from the series. It’s the goal of the defenders to round up power keys scattered throughout the map in order to activate a time machine to return to safety, while the Raider scans the map from above in an effort to stop them from doing just that. The more keys found, the less time survivors need to stay alive in order to win in the final phase.
To better defend themselves, players have access to items called transpheres that allow them to channel the powers of series mainstays like Goku and Android 18, complete with an outfit change. As they grab more keys and rescue trapped NPCs, the survivors power up these transformations in order to protect the time machine from the Raider.
At the same time, the Raider is powering up from similar methods, hunting down players and transforming into a more powerful version of themselves. This mutual gameplay of both sides gradually garnering power and searching for—or in the survivors’ case, avoiding—the enemy is one of the game’s greatest strengths. It creates a tense feeling that’s always on your mind as you’re attempting to carry out your objectives.
While everyone is scurrying around trying to grab power keys for the super time machine, you’ll get notifications that you teammate has been defeated and thus increased the capabilities of the Raider, reminding you that you could be next. The gameplay is similarly engaging when you get the chance to be the enemy player, as each one has multiple phases and different objectives pertaining to their powers in canon, which is a great touch.
Dragon Ball: The Breakers is very much about teamwork, but the starting experience and barebones tutorial can make it feel the opposite. Once everyone gets loaded in, they’ll typically scatter to the four winds and begin the hunt for the power keys. This is the most efficient way to get things done initially, but the final phase of the match is when everything really comes together (or falls horrifically apart) thanks to survivors and the Raider having the same objective.
The super time machine is planted in the middle of the map and a progress bar starts to build at a rate relative to the amount of power keys the survivors were able to nab. The Raider needs to interact with it to destroy it, while the survivors need to interact with it to speed up the process, forcing the two sides to finally clash.
Even if a player’s transphere is fully powered up, they still aren’t able to take down the Raider solo, requiring players to pick the right times to attack and distract in order to achieve a satisfying, hard-earned victory. Of course, it was very rare that this level of teamwork between the survivors actually worked out so cleanly while queuing up solo, but even my majority of losses still had some fun moments of close calls and clutch victories.
And yet despite greatly enjoying my first few days of matches in Dragon Ball: The Breakers for these positives, it didn’t take very long for the negatives to rear their ugly heads. The more time I put into the game, the less exciting and surprising each match felt. With only three Raiders and three maps available at launch, playing in extended sessions feels like you’re experiencing a majority of what the game has to offer in record time. Even the survivor victories, rare as they are, start to lose their veneer when the feeling of playing them out feels the same regardless of the actual methods used.
The grinds certainly don’t help to stave off this feeling either. As you play, you earn a currency called Spirit which can be spent to upgrade the cooldowns of highly useful skills like the grappling hook and jump pad. This is an important part of the game as it allows you to use character-specific skills (such as Oolong’s missile traversal ability) on your own character, but each upgrade before reaching that point shortens the cooldown by less than a second, making it feel superfluous and unrewarding as you work your way there.
Moreover, there’s a free battle pass (with purchasable levels, naturally) that rewards players with cosmetic items, voice lines, and the like. But the amount you can progress through the battle pass is limited heavily by daily and weekly missions that disincentivize the player from spending more time in the game than they may want to, forcibly extending the amount of time it will take to complete.
Finally, there’s an additional gacha mechanic that has players pulling for transpheres. Like the battle pass, the ability to make pulls can be earned via normal play, but the units you pull can have a variety of different skills and costumes, which feels like yet another extension to consume more of the player’s time and in-game currency they could be spending elsewhere.
None of these mechanics would seem too out of place in a free-to-play release, but Dragon Ball: The Breakers isn’t one. It’s currently priced at $19.99 and the price tag, smaller though it may be, doesn’t quite justify a monetization system that feels like it belongs in a fully free-to-play game. When you combine these decisions with a lack of longevity in the overall gameplay loop, you get a recipe for a game that simply doesn’t feel quite right.
It’s Dragon Ball, See?
Dragon Ball games have never been known light the world on fire with regards to graphical presentation. They typically oscillate between either side of average at the time of their release, but something they nearly always accomplish is still feeling like an episode (or manga panel) of Dragon Ball when in motion.
The Breakers absolutely carries on this tradition, although it is a bit strange to be playing a new Dragon Ball game that looks noticeably lesser than 2020’s Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot. The maps themselves do a great job at feeling like familiar locations while still being new creations, and the sound effects and visual designs are exactly as you’d expect them to be, but nothing truly stands out and makes you take in the presentation at more than a surface level.
One area where the presentation deviates in an unexpected way, however, is in the music. Most of it is incredibly catchy, with the various lobby themes being standouts that explore various shades of jazz and funk. The soundtrack as a whole offers a wide variety of styles, from atmospheric backing tracks in gameplay to the operatic orchestrations of the gacha menus. Dragon Ball may be known for having a very specific style of music, but the different style here sets The Breakers apart from the collective in an enjoyable way.
An Average Power Level
After so many Dragon Ball games repeating the same story arcs and putting players in control of the same characters, it’s a fun and refreshing experience (at first) to see what events on the scale of Dragon Ball Z would feel like from the perspective of a regular joe shmoe on the street. It’s a novel enough concept that makes for some great fun in the first few days of play, but it doesn’t take much longer for the cracks to start showing.
This take on the asymmetrical multiplayer genre makes sense and there’s some appreciable execution outside of it simply being a Dragon Ball game, but it’s hard to see The Breakers really grabbing players thanks to its dearth of content, multiple grinds, and matches that start to feel a bit too familiar once you get past the new player experience.
Review copy provided by Bandai Namco for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Bandai Namco.