A port of sorts of the successful Japanese arcade game, where the characters from all stretches of the Dragon Ball universe are represented as playing cards and when I say all stretches, I mean it! Beyond the obvious from all four series, including GT, there are also characters from the Xenoverse game series and Android 21 from Fighterz. Beyond that, there is even unique what if characters such as Super Saiyan 4 Broly, Super Saiyan 3 Bardock, Golden Cooler, and so many more. These are particularly cool, as a long-time fan myself wondering about some of these characters, being able to see them in a somewhat official capacity is awesome.
So how does it all work? First, you select your deck, and where it is called a deck it is only 7 cards, for a battle. Each card has three stat values: HP, Power, Guard. Your team’s HP is the combined value of your deck. Power is then how strong your character is, and guard is their defence. Unlike other card games, predominately they are all fighters, aside from a handful of support characters (which you are only allowed 1 of per deck). However, each card does have a support skill of some kind, with some a lot more than others, which activate under certain battle conditions. These can be transformations (such as the iconic turning Super Saiyan), but what is interesting is some cards have the characters in already powered up state. Still, it is a tactic to throw off an opponent, transforming one of your cards get stronger in the second round. Other than transformations it can be general boosting stats or a special attack. Further to this, some are activated by having certain other cards in your deck to create a squad or to fuse the characters. These usually require you to “move the cards” in particular ways, which translates in this port to moving the control stick or touch controls. Where in the arcade I can imagine this to be a cool feature, it gets a bit annoying repeatedly doing this… It is a shame that the actual cards do not work with the game as that I can imagine would be more satisfying, although I say that fully understanding it would need a peripheral for it to happen but even if you could unlock the cards by scanning them would be a cool way to launch the cards here as well.
So, what do you do with these cards? Each turn you then place your cards onto one of four rows on the field. The closer the card is to the opponent, the more stamina it uses up, and the back row is an area to recover stamina. However, the closer the character to the opponent, the more combat power they have so the trick is to balance the two. Particularly as the Berserker types deal HP damage, but Elite types attack stamina damage, with Hero doing either based on the card. The player who sets up the highest combat power attacks first, with characters attacking one by one, although if you have two or more attackers of the same type they will attack together for extra damage. Each encounter sparks a charge impact meter, and the player who manages to stop the bar at the highest point wins. If it is the attacker, the attack is successful but if defender, they block and minimise the damage. When you have built up hero energy, this also determines if you can unleash your special attacks. Generally, the stronger your card the more hero energy you need. Stronger cards also speed up the meter, making it a bit of a gamble. There is a maximum of 5 rounds, and the winner is determined by KO or whoever has the most health left at the end of the fifth round.
As you can see, on the surface there doesn’t seem to be a lot to the game, but actually, there is really deep mechanics to inform your strategy. Indeed, on top of this, you can select a round to get a bonus in. The bonus you get depends on ones you have unlocked randomly, ranging from: stat boosts, lowering your opponent stats, even summoning particular characters. However, it is so deep that actually, you can stumble across strategies without intending to which is cool but can be confusing. Particularly as it is fast paced, things pop up rapidly but once you are used to it, doe makes the game more engaging than overwhelming. It is very much a case of the more you play the more you get out of this game.
Moving to the visuals, you can tell it was an arcade game from how flashy it all is. Things pop up in bright ways, loud sound effects, which build up the intensity in battles. More so, you can tell it is the arcade game is from 2011 as the graphics do look quite out of date… The character models are rendered in HD, but they haven’t updated the models which makes them look worse. The animation as well can be quite clunky on the attack phases, which is made worst considering you end up seeing the same battle animation over and over, but the special attacks tend to look quite good. It does also seem more geared for handheld play as everything appears quite big on the screen, which I say but I reckon is same as the arcade version which means it was again done to keep this feeling.
Of course, with any card game, the main downfall is the cards you get are random which sends things one of two ways. Either you get great cards straight off the bat, or you get the not so good cards… I think it is a lot easier in this game to get the good cards due to the in-depth strategies you can twist cards in quite a few ways, but some do rely on specific other cards which can be a pain to get. In this instance as well, it isn’t gated in a way that you start by getting the more basic cards, then stepping up as you progress. Where it seems great, it can mean you breeze through the story by brute force with no real strategy. There was one point in the story mode, where strategically I was being absolutely owned but because my cards were so strong, the opponent did barely any damage to me and I managed to just push through. Where there are tutorials, these focus more on mechanics than actually developing strategies. I feel if the way you gained cards was staged in a way, it would help develop a strategic play.
To get new cards, you have to use gacha tickets, although each one’s list does not really tell you much other than which character the cards are. This does make it a bit frustrating if you wanted to aim for a certain card with a certain effect, particularly as the gacha tickets take a bit of time to earn. At least there is an ultra-ticket as well to guarantee a rare card for your deck. Still, it is slightly redeemed that you get part tickets for repeats, which when you collect enough you can trade it back for either ticket type. Plus, if the 1000 odd cards aren’t enough for you, you can create your own cards using parts you win or buy from the shop to allow you to build your own strategies. Although these can only be used in story mode and more casual play, it is a nice feature but there are so many cards you can get away without it.
Other than straight forward battling, there is a story mode and arcade mode. The story mode follows a boy who has just rocked into “Hero Town”, where the Super Dragon Ball Heroes card game is all the rage, and where our hero is a big fan of Dragon Ball he has no idea about how to play this game yet gives it a go anyhow. In typical Shonen Jump fashion, turns out he is a natural genius at this game and the mysterious Saiyaman 3 brings him into the fold about mysterious events where the Dragon Ball timeline is being altered (like in Xenoverse) and characters from the game are appearing in the real world. At first, I was a bit sceptical of it, but there is some humour in there, whether it is intentional or not, I’m unsure… Still is a bit cliché, and the cutscenes are a lot of text. The lack of dub (even in Japanese) makes it a bit plain, and further mentally draining. As the story progresses, you gain allies, which at times you can use their decks and can be a chance to try out some new strategies. There are points where you are forced to use them which can be annoying, but I did benefit from trying out new cards.
On the other hand, Arcade mode features particular scenario battles which for the most part are original plots, but there are some from the recent Super series. Where there is a story element to these, there aren’t any cutscenes and tend to be straight forward battles. There is a really annoying feature to this mode where after you have completed a battle, it sends you back to the arcade overview menu instead of leaving you in the saga you’re on which really baffles me. I have to say it put me off the mode quite a bit as it makes it that much longer. There is also a single player tournament mode, but there is nothing particularly special about it, to be honest.
To further try and develop my own strategies, I did some online battles and it was frustratingly laggy. Where it didn’t seem to affect button presses and the like, it was slowing down the pace and made battles drag out a bit. Where it is advertised as a way of finding new strategies, it’s strange you can’t see at the end what cards your opponent used after a match. With so many variants of the same character, you could both have a specific Goku but completely different abilities, requiring you to know about the card if you happen to have it if you wish to adopt their strategy. Still, in this early stage, the matchmaking isn’t quite fully ranked so I would suggest playing a lot offline first as perks and cards all transfer to the online battles.
Overall, I have to say I started off being unsure if I would like Super Dragon Ball Heroes: World Mission but I did surprise myself with how into it I got. The gameplay is incredibly deep, requiring a lot of hours of gameplay for you to understand it. Where it does tend to throw everything at you at once, at least being able to get any card from the start allows you to develop your winning strategy from the start. Visually, more could have been done to update the graphics but really it isn’t what the game is about. Where it does get repetitive, a way to get around this is by using different cards to see if you can improve your strategy. Hopefully, this may launch the physical cards in the West, but the game works fine without them. I won’t deny this isn’t for everyone, but if you like strategy games this one is worth looking into.
Super Dragon Ball Heroes: World Mission is out now on Nintendo Switch and Steam.