Title: Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
Developer: CyberConnect 2
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Genre: Action RPG
Available On: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Official Site: https://www.bandainamcoent.com/games/dragon-ball-z-kakarot
Release Date: January 17, 2020
Where to Buy it: PSN, Xbox Store, Steam, Retail
I’ve been a Dragon Ball Z fan as long as I can remember. I watched much of the original cartoon when I was younger, I own the most recent Blu-Ray release of the entire 290-plus episode series (and I’ve seen them all!), and I’ve played pretty much every game released over the past 15 years. Needless to say, Dragon Ball Z has been a big part of my life, and I’ve loved every scream, power raise, and drawn out fight this series has to offer. That’s why when Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot was announced, my interest was instantly piqued. An open-world RPG taking players through the high-octane fights as the Z Warriors save the world? Sign me up. It’s just a shame that DBZ: Kakarot can’t reach Super Saiyan levels its titular character does.
Dragon Ball Z: Retelling the Story
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot begins with a small, quiet moment to introduce many of the game’s mechanics and RPG systems. It’s a charming reminder that not everything about this franchise is over-the-top, crazed action with a sprinkle of screaming. You’ll control Goku (Kakarot is his Saiyan name) as he brings his son, Gohan, through some menial chores in DBZ: Kakarot‘s open-world-lite interpretation of Earth. Not long after, Kakarot then moves into the tried and true beginnings of any Dragon Ball Z game, the Saiyan Saga.
The presentation of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot varies from moment to moment. On the one hand, the game is outright stunning. Rendered in 3D, Kakarot nails certain moments with its cel-shaded graphics. It’s hard not to revel in these cutscenes. Seriously, some of the final moments of the Cell and Buu Saga had my jaw open in sheer amazement. These scenes are gorgeously animated and bring to life the high-octane moments this series is known for.
On the other, it’s a shame that during most parts of the game, characters are stiffly animated, accentuated by the poor lip-syncing. I’ve come accustomed to most RPGs cutting corners during these long stretches of dialog, but Kakarot‘s is downright offensive. I can think of hundreds of different scenes from the anime that were beautifully animated, teeming with life, expression, and character that gets lost in translation here. If nothing else, playing this game made me want to rewatch the anime so I can watch these moments as they are meant to be seen.
Kakarot goes in-depth on many story beats from the anime, all expertly voiced by Sean Schemmel, Christopher Sabat, and the other members of the Dragon Ball Z crew. In fact, Kakarot goes deeper than practically every other DBZ game released yet. How deep? Remember when Goku and Piccolo got their driver’s license? Most people might say no, it’s never been touched upon in past games, and it’s not even in the manga; it’s an infamous filler episode of the anime. Kakarot forces you to play through the driving mini-game. It’s not a bad moment, and I’m not here to complain about that. In fact, I love it because it’s something new I haven’t experienced in a DBZ game yet.
However, Kakarot doesn’t treat the main story any differently than what’s been done in the past. Sure, getting Goku’s driver’s license is great, but I’ve played each of these Sagas dozens of times over the years. Beat for beat, I was able to predict what was happening and what was about to happen. Kakarot doesn’t even dip into some of the movies that have accompanied the anime over the years. Sure, there are references here and there, but it would have been awesome to have an entire side-quest dedicated to Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan or Cooler’s Revenge. Your mileage might vary on these movies, but they’re fun stories that have only been touched upon in select games of the past. I would have loved to see the in-depth storytelling of Kakarot give the same treatment to these movies.
An Open-World to Train
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot features an open world to fly around in. Featuring many locations from the source material, the segmented levels are easy to navigate around and find hints at the greater world. Finding Grandpa Gohan’s house in the mountains or massive dinosaur bones are fun touches that bring life to the world. Scattered throughout are four different colored Z Orbs begging for you to gather by merely walking or flying by them.
You use your Z Orbs to unlock upgraded versions of your super attacks and transformations on a massive skill tree. Once an attack fully upgrades, you can then find a training location to unlock a new attack. For instance, you’ll start with the Kamehameha, and once you max it out, you can unlock the Super Kamehameha to deal even more damage than before. I didn’t focus on the skill tree until I completed the Frieza Saga and I noticed a slight increase in difficulty. Once I did, I found a new enjoyment for the game since I started to feel like the characters in Dragon Ball Z — I was getting stronger.
During downtimes in the story, you’ll find side quests in the overworld. Every side quest involves meeting with someone, listening to their story, gathering a few items, and fighting generic robots or henchmen. As I mentioned above, I would have loved to see side quests dip into the movies, or even find a way to break canon, but they don’t. You will get to see some depth to characters, such as Yamcha, but don’t expect anything more than breaking the surface of character development. For completing these quests, you’ll earn experience points to level up and a few items to craft and grow stronger.
A few other RPG-like systems are present throughout Kakarot. These include a food system where you gather ingredients throughout the overworld (and gained by finishing quests). You can cook these ingredients at campfires peppered around the map. It’s best to take these ingredients, however, to Goku’s wife, Chi-Chi. She’ll whip up a meal that gives your characters massive stat boosts, both temporarily and permanently.
Also, Kakarot features a Community Board to develop stats and benefits further. After completing specific missions and side quests, you’ll be rewarded with an emblem of a character, like Master Roshi, for instance. Each emblem has stats of their own, and by placing them on the correct board, you’ll receive a boost in health, money, or Ki. If you place emblems by their correct counterparts, you’ll earn an additional boost. These are marginal, for the most part, but it was fun to try and min/max stats.
Needs More Training
Sure, the story might not reach full power level, but how about the fighting? Unfortunately, not much better. Combat is incredibly simple and gives little reason for players to try to master anything other than basic attacks. In addition to basic fight moves, each character — yes you play as other characters other than Goku — gets four super moves, a handful of transformations (Super Saiyan, etc.), and a list of healing items in each battle. You can also add up to two party members at certain times, though they weren’t much help if they weren’t a high level.
You’ll spend most fights mashing the Circle button while looking for an opportunity to launch a Kamehameha or other super moves. You can fire off small Ki blasts, teleport around the arena, and charge your energy with the appropriate yell. A quick menu slows the fight down, allowing you to choose what super move you want to launch. There’s a bit of fun to be had with simplicity, but I wanted more. Dragon Ball FighterZ might err on the side of too complicated, but Kakarot sides too simple.
In fact, with my simple attack strategy, I was able to dominate most fights and scored an S-rank — the game ranks fights once finished — on nearly every one of them. In matches I didn’t get an S-rank, I scored the second-highest A-rank, and only got a B-rank on two fights during my entire 33-hour playthrough. I skirted death better than Goku himself, as well, I can count the number of deaths on the one hand. Is Kakarot that easy, or is there no real reason to do anything other than predictable? The enemy A.I. does virtually the same thing, though opponents love to spam super moves like they have an unlimited source of Ki.
Once you complete the story, there are more activities to complete. There is the driving as mentioned above mini-game, and a handful of side quests pop up. Enemies get more robust, and there’s a separate quest to defeat high leveled enemies to unlock a secret boss fight. You can find all seven Dragon Balls to score a set of wishes, as well. Many of these activities are available and unlocked as you play, so you might end up completing them naturally. If you’re looking for a multiplayer mode, you’ll have to look elsewhere. I also wish I could have gotten more access to some of the one-off characters such as Gotenks or Vegito, both of which have unique moves, unlike any other character in the game. Bandai Namco says an update is forthcoming to allow players to relieve past story moments and side quests, but don’t get too used to them during their story moments.
Verdict: Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot has great elements to it, but none come close to the highs they should. The RPG systems are fun, but I’ve seen better in other games. The story is always great, but it’s been well-tread with cutscenes that are hit and miss quality. The fighting system is fun, but not deep enough for anything other than button mashing. I’m confused about who Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is exactly for. Long-time fans won’t find much difference in this game compared to other titles in the past, but will this game attract new fans? That I’m not sure. Is this game for RPG lovers? Maybe. Nonetheless, there’s fun here, but don’t expect this to be the defining Dragon Ball Z experience.
- Great voice cast
- Getting stronger makes for a great power fantasy
- The story is as great as it’s always been
- The fighting and RPG systems need more depth
- No new story for returning fans
- Animations can be stiff throughout