Another year, another Dragon Ball Z game. And why not? It’s a franchise that hardly needs any introduction. A household name to anime fans worldwide, Dragon Ball along with its iconic characters and exciting adventures have entertained fans old and new for many years now.
Fast forward to 2020 and we have nearly every type of Dragonball game imaginable, including the fantastic fighting game Dragon Ball FighterZ. New year, new game? You bet, as the latest entry into the Dragon Ball portfolio now introduces a semi open world action RPG that mixes RPG elements with fast paced fighting action that the franchise has been known for. Curious to see how it’s turned out? Here’s our review of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, which we’ll refer to DBZ Kakarot moving forward, is an action RPG that retells the story of all the sagas of the Z anime, from the invasion of the Saiyans all the way to the Buu Saga. As you would expect, there are a LOT of things from the Anime that fans can look forward to. From the opening cinematic that lets you rock out to the iconic “Cha-la Head Cha-la” track, you’ll be bombarded one after another with references and “Aha!” moments that is sure to bring a smile to your face.
You will find iconic Dragon Ball locations like Kami’s lookout tower and Capsule Corp., even meet classic side characters like the Pilaf gang and Mr. Popo. It’s quite literally the Saturday afternoon habit we had from about 20 years back turned into a fantastic looking game.
And fantastic would be quite the understatement as the game is very easy on the eyes. Lush mountains, bright cities, wide open plains, Planet Namek… they’re all here and faithfully recreated that you feel like you’re actually sharing the world with these beloved characters and locations.
What adds even more authenticity is being able to play the game in Japanese or English voices, and while both are amazing, there’s just something about Japanese dubs with English subtitles that sweetens the package for us. Pair this with character models that look nearly as perfect as they were from the Anime series along with all of their special moves and you’ve got yourself pure nostalgia goodness packed in a blu-ray disc.
Overall, developers CyberConnect2 has done an admirable job in translating the anime into the game, staying as faithful as possible while adding a few touches here and there to better suit the medium. It’s what makes the game special, but at the same time, it’s what also hinders it from being a great title, which we’ll get to later.
RPG -- lite
Now as an action RPG, it’s safe to say Dragon Ball Z Kakarot ticks the basic boxes for an RPG checklist. While it doesn’t have a massive open world, the different areas are big enough to merit exploring and within these areas are quite a number of things to do. From flying around to blasting dinosaurs, from random encounters to sidequests and even collecting the legendary Dragon Balls, it has almost all of the elements of an RPG that fans would want in a game.
Exploration is a mixed bag. Flying around the world looks cool and the sense of speed is well translated, but the world itself doesn’t give you much reason to do so. Z orbs are scattered all throughout the land and will be your main currency when upgrading the numerous skills each character has. Progressing through the storyline naturally will give you enough orbs and at a certain point, you’ll end up with more orbs than you can use which makes spending actual time to collect these not advisable.
There are also random encounters while exploring the world and as is standard with RPG’s, this should be your main source of leveling up in order to progress throughout the game. A good thing though is that grinding is not necessary in the game since the regular story battles will give you enough experience points to naturally progress and even reach the end.
Side quests also abound in the game and will actually show you quite interesting interactions with various characters in the DBZ universe but one thing that’s quite unique to DBZ Kakarot is the Community Board and Soul Emblems.
Throughout the game, you can collect Soul Emblems which you can place on the Community Boards, giving you various bonuses unique to each board. The more emblems you place, the higher the Board’s level goes and each board in the game gives certain buffs, like Chichi’s Cooking Community Board boosting the effectiveness of food items and Goku’s Z-Soldier board providing buffs that will increase your effectiveness in battle.
There’s a bit of strategy involved here but nothing too complex. You’ll get certain bonuses when you place two related Soul Emblems beside each other. Goku and Gohan will get a bonus while placing Kami and Piccolo together will net you the another bonus, adding more stats than usual and allowing you to max your board faster.
Fast paced frenzy
Now Dragon Ball isn’t really Dragon Ball without the over the top and fast paced fights, and you’ll be getting a lot of it here. This isn’t FighterZ but DBZ Kakarot delivers on the intensity and excitement of the fights you’ve grown to love from the franchise. Throughout the story, and it should come as no surprise, you’ll be facing off against some of the classic villains of old -- Vegeta and Nappa, Frieza, Cell, and even the mighty Majin Buu. Nope, the more recent opponents won’t be making an appearance (yet) but you’ll get enough here to satisfy fans of the series.
You play from a 3rd Person perspective and lock-on to one enemy at a time where you’re free to unleash ki blasts or 1-button melee combos. You’ll also be free to move around across the playing field in all directions, just like how Goku would in the Anime. The fights give a great sense of freedom and movement as opposed to the 2D FighterZ gameplay, so this is a very welcome variation.
Each character you get to control has their own signature special attack, like Goku’s Kamehameha or Gohan’s Masenko, which can be further upgraded later into stronger variants. Each of these attacks consume Ki, so think about it in RPG terms as mana to cast spells, pretty standard stuff. Don’t fret if you’re not able to access Vegeta’s Final Flash or Goku’s EX Spirit Bomb, these will be available for use later in the story along with their corresponding Super Saiyan transformations!
Some battles throughout story mode will introduce new mechanics such as Recoome’s barrage where the screen changes to a top down view that let’s you see where his attacks will land, prompting you to dodge like crazy. In some instances, you’ll get lucky and time your attack at the same time as your opponent, triggering a power balance mini game where mash the button to push back your enemy’s attack. It’s a Dragon Ball scene that’s as iconic as it gets and is a fantastic touch while battling it out.
Battles are not brainless, as there are quite a number of button presses and combinations you’ll have to access in order to finish the game. While most of the fights will be rather straightforward and will end up having you repeat effective loops of dodging-mashing Circle-Special Attack, certain fights are quite challenging (damn you Dodoria) and will require you to stay on your toes and time your dodges better than usual.
Luckily, you’ll also have access to a Tension meter that, once full, can put you in a Tension state which increases your stats and introduces Super Finishes, extra animations that add some spice to the end result like launching the opponent to space with a Kamehameha.
You can see the care that the developers put into recreating almost every bit of what makes Dragon Ball Z an iconic series into the game but while that’s the case, something feels fundamentally amiss about the title that we’ll try to get into shortly.
It’s NOT over 9000
It would be unfair to push all praises for the game because while it is a new and refreshing direction for the series, part of what makes it good is also what makes it not quite the title we’re looking for.
Overall, the game is wildly inconsistent with what it wants to do and how it does things. As mentioned earlier, exploring the various vast and colorful areas is somewhat fun but apart from being eye candy, there’s really not much interactivity between you and your surroundings. Apart from the usual side quests and shops, there’s really no reason for you to explore. Z orbs are a painfully slow to collect in their own and over time, you’ll be able to gather them naturally with enough extra by the time you finish the game.
Grinding out enemies also is not advisable because at a certain point, you’ll need millions of points of EXP just to raise a level and each random battle is more wait then it is worth. Some RPG’s have you face a wall which you cannot pass if you haven’t leveled up enough but Dragon Ball Z Kakarot tips the scales in your favor so much that you don’t even have to go through ANY random battle to finish the game.
The side quests are also something of a mixed bag. Though they give out some useful items and unlockables, they really aren’t too interesting to keep your attention in check. There are just 2 varieties (fetch or fight) or maybe even a combination of both but it largely feels like not much though was placed into designing these quests, not to mention some of them really feel out of place at times. It just really feels weird that right in the middle of Frieza’s invasion of Namek and during a very tense moment from the anime, that you find a side quests of an alien tourist that happens to be there and is oblivious to everything that’s happening. It would be maybe understandable to find these side quests during the intermissions between story arcs but right in the middle of an important moment in the Frieza arc? Talk about a break of tension.
The story arcs also proved to be somewhat of a detriment to some point given the fact that it provided almost no flexibility for some parts of the game. Now we all know that Goku beats Vegeta during their invasion while Gohan takes the spotlight fighting Cell, but that’s just it. The game introduces some sort of party system which you cannot use outside of intermissions (free roam time boxes outside of the story arcs) so having your dream team of a combination of any 3 characters won’t happen just because the story arc dictates that it’s Goku and Frieza who fight in the end.
Now speaking of story arcs, you definitely can’t find fault in the adaptation of those in Kakarot because they’re as faithful as they come but it just would’ve been nice if they retained some of the quirky moments that gave the show personality. For those looking for it, hate to burst your bubble but you won’t hear Vegeta say the famous “OVER 9000” line or see the Ginyu Force do their trademark dance that weirded even Frieza out.
By wanting to stick to the story arcs too much, DBZ Kakarot wasted opportunities to further add drama and improve on some scenes to make the experience much more epic. It was quite a cringey moment to some character meet their death only to have the music stay the same or the look on their faces be as deadpan as can be. While a few moments were certainly spot on, like Goku breaching Super Saiyan against Frieza, we wished the same treatment could have been done with the other dramatic moments in the game.
The loading times in the game are quite atrocious as well, prompting you to load everytime you fast travel to another area, which you’ll be doing often throughout the course of this 30+ hour journey. The game will hang on you sometimes while loading and you’ll encounter some frame dips while exploring but it’s quite notable that during the battles, you’ll be enjoying the pace and flow unbothered for the most part.
What we liked:
- Story arcs are faithfully retold
- Intro sequence is a fantastic tribute
- Fighting sequences are fun
What we didn’t like:
- Amount of loading times are a pain
- Game is very inconsistent
- Fights can be reduced to a simple and repetitive loop
Verdict: Wait for it…
It was really a tough call on what to score DBZ Kakarot. On one hand, they did a really good job of recreating the world of Dragon Ball Z, characters and battles and all. On the other, these stories have been retold over and over again, prompting Nostalgia to carry the heavy load which can get tiring over time. Sure, those who are new to the DBZ lore will appreciate this but the game can only get you so far, especially with it not knowing what it wants to be. With half baked RPG mechanics and a story arc that forces its inflexibility on you, DBZ Kakarot is a game that has great potential given the right tweaks and fixes but for now, it’s quite hard to recommend it at full price to relive something that’s nearly 30 years old over again.