Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Switch

What is Dragon Ball Heroes? Well, it’s a lot of things. It’s a card game based on the Dragon Ball franchise which includes a ton of “what if?” scenarios and almost fan-fiction style characters. It’s an arcade game in Japanese arcades that uses actual physical cards as play pieces. It’s an anime based on the card game that brings all of these wonderful “what if?” characters to life. Now, it’s an RPG based on all of these things that has come to consoles and PCs.

But we are several degrees of separation from the original Dragon Ball franchise now. While fighting games and adventure games might tap into the core fanbase, will something as obscure as Super Dragon Ball Heroes: World Mission actually have mainstream appeal here in America?

A Dragon Ball Tale

The story of World Mission is basically what would happen if you mashed up Yu-Gi-Oh and Dragon Ball. It takes place in a futuristic alternate world where everyone is into the new Dragon Ball Heroes card game, based on real-life Dragon Ball characters. Except then the characters from the cards start coming to life! It’s up to Beat, a young plucky spikey haired kid who has a strange knack for Dragon Ball Heroes despite having never played it before to save the day.

Yeah, it’s a pretty thin plot, and honestly it harms the game more than helps it. Yeah, there’s a certain level of cheesiness expected from licensed anime properties like this, but this isn’t a fine brie, it’s that leftover American cheese that you found in the back of your fridge and have to sniff to be sure it’s still OK. It’s stale. It’s uninteresting. It lasts way too long. I’ll be honest I started skipping the plot sections to get to the action.

So let’s talk about the action. The rules of Dragon Ball Heroes are pretty simple as far as card games go. You have a deck of seven cards each of which summons a different hero onto the battlefield. There are four zones on the battlefield, a rest zone and three attack zones of increasing strength. Every turn you maneuver your cards around the battlefield in order to have them attack the opponent. Placing them in a higher level attack zone raises your power level and your damage but also drains more of your card’s stamina. Keeping them back drains less stamina and putting them in the rest zone recharges stamina but makes you take even more damage.

Card power

This might seem straightforward, but there are a lot of interesting card interactions that allow you to develop complex strategies. Some cards are good at damaging the opponent while others strike at the opponent’s stamina, making their cards unable to attack. Some cards have special effects while resting or in a particular attack zone, some have special effects that rigger when used in combination with other cards, some have special effects that just activate after a certain amount of time passes, and some can even activate based on moves your opponent takes.

No strategy is flawless and every card has some sort of counterplay. You might find a strategy seems to K.O. the opponent on turn one every time, only to run into Super Saiyan Royal Blue Vegeta and end up taking three times your attack damage in counter attack damage, killing yourself in the process.

Battle takes place through a series of cutscenes with quick-time events. The major gameplay mechanic, outside of formulating your deck strategy, is attempting to stop a power bar when it’s as close to full as possible. It kind of feels like one of those ticket churning games you’d play at a family arcade, which makes sense considering this was originally an arcade game.

Arcade vs. console

The original arcade game had you move cards around to perform special attacks, like Kamehamehas and the like, World Mission replaces these with yet more quicktime events, usually involving a wiggling or rotating control stick. Frankly, it’s just not as cool as the arcade version. Moving your actual physical cards around into patterns in order to activate your special move makes you feel like a protagonist from a card game anime. Waggling around your right analog stick just makes you feel like someone who is taking Mario Party a bit too seriously.

This is the major problem with World Mission. The best parts of the arcade game just can’t be mimicked on a console or PC. For example, when you would obtain new cards in the arcade game it would actually print them out for you. You don’t have to spend real money for cards in the console version, but all you are getting is a random jpeg and it’s just not as cool.

World Mission tries to make up for this by adding as much content as possible. There is a classic arcade mode on top of the story mode if you just want to get some matches in. There are online modes which let you battle opponents all around the world. There’s even a creation mode that lets you make your own missions and even your own custom cards. All of this is really neat and interestingly enough it kind of guides you through the basics of rudimentary game design.

Frankly, all this content is held back by the original IP. Dragon Ball Heroes first came out in 2010, and World Mission still uses the models and animations from the original release. They look extremely dated, especially compared to more modern properties like Dragon Ball FighterZ and Jump Force. Not to mention, most of the animations are re-used from character to character.

The audio is re-used too, and it suffers the most. It made of badly compressed low-quality samples which probably sounded fine coming out of an arcade cabinet in a busy arcade but sound awful in the silence of your own living room.

It makes me wonder who World Mission is for. Anyone who has been lucky enough to play the original arcade game will probably find World Mission to be nowhere near as immersive. However, most people won’t have played the arcade game and to them this is just a game that looks and sounds like it’s 10 years old being sold at full price.

There’s a lot that you can enjoy in World Mission. Just seeing characters like Super Saiyan 3 Teen Gohan or Super Saiyan Nappa is a joy. The game mechanics aren’t that bad either, despite being far simpler that other card games like Yu-Gi-Oh, Hearthstone, and Magic: The Gathering. But the low quality of presentation, poor writing, and dated graphics make it a difficult game to dive deep into. I almost wish that Bandai Namco waited and applied this general formula to a new IP with new models rather than converting a game nearly a decade old. Maybe then it would have had a chance to be something more than a passing curiosity.