Reviews

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot Review

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is a must-play RPG for both long-time fans and newcomers, offering one of the most well-rounded DBZ gaming experiences to date.

Dragon Ball Z is arguably one of the most celebrated anime and manga of all time, with its sphere of influence affecting almost all known modern shonen. The increasing popularity of the franchise has spawned a wave of different adaptations, including novels, one live-action film (that we shall not speak of), toys, and spin-offs (some of which we will not speak of as well). That said, Dragon Ball Z has seen a lot of success on the video game market, spawning dozens of games directly adapting the show, or loosely being inspired by its events. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, the latest effort from Bandai Namco and CyberConnect2, is perhaps the most faithful video game adaptation of the series to date – one that rises and occasionally stumbles based on these merits too.

Kakarot adapts the entirety of the Dragon Ball Z story – “entirety” not being an exaggeration either. Almost every single event, down to the smallest details and even minuscule filler, have been lovingly recreated in the game. Ditching its traditional fighting game model in favour of a heavy emphasis on RPG elements, Kakarot breathes new life into the gaming franchise. By adopting a bevy of ideas from previously established RPG titles like Persona 5 and Final Fantasy XVKakarot strips those more complex elements down to their bare minimum – which actually works to great effect. It makes for an easily accessible RPG that can be enjoyed by a wide audience without necessarily resorting to overly complex mechanics, more or less.

Every big story beat and battle is present; in some cases, Kakarot even goes above and beyond…

For the large majority of the story, players assume the role of Goku, and take an expansive journey across the various sagas of the Dragon Ball Z universe. Everything is painstakingly covered, from training to remedial slice of life moments in the show. Needless to say, fan-service is plentiful, and might be the quintessential way to faithfully experience the entire Dragon Ball Z story without even omitting its more intimate moments that made the anime so enjoyable. Thankfully, it also knows what content to remove altogether in order to make the big four story arcs – Saiyan, Frieza, Cell, and Buu – more cohesive and less padded out than the show’s notorious stand-offs. Every big story beat and battle is present; in some cases, Kakarot even goes above and beyond to deliver battles that may have just happened in a small time span.

In between the big story battles, which are touted as boss fights, players can enjoy some of Kakarot‘s more laid-back RPG elements. There’s fishing, collecting Z Orbs to upgrade your skills, gathering resources and materials, and even a driving mini-game. Where the RPG elements really shine, though, are in the Community Boards. By having Goku center of a branching skill tree involving various other fighters, you can connect with them to build up their experience using Orbs and gain their assistance in battle. This is pivotal as you’ll constantly be joined by partners to aid in the boss fights, so you want to make sure that each side character is given attention by increasing their abilities and earning them new ones in the process.

There’s fishing, collecting Z Orbs to upgrade your skills, gathering resources and materials, and even a driving mini-game.

At first, the Community Board is daunting to learn. In fact, it took me a while to really grasp the rewards of using these trees. Once you get accustomed to having AI companions in battle, though, it alleviates some of the stress that comes with managing your partner while focusing on some fairly challenging boss encounters. Like most typical RPGs, entering a daunting fight under-leveled makes for a far more grueling battle, but not one that can’t be overcome. Gathering Soul Emblems to level up is perhaps the most disappointing aspect, as the rate in which you earn them is unbalanced between side quests and main quests. It deterred me a few times from actually going out of my way to do the side quests, which are sadly dwindled down to tedious fetch quests or basic enemy encounters. Running through the lengthy main quest is the way to go most of the time.

The segmented open world is clearly given a lot of attention, lovingly recreating some of the show’s most iconic landmarks, from Capsule Corp. and the surrounding cities all the way to Kami’s Lookout and the desert wastelands where a chunk of battles take place. The world, despite some areas bustling with NPCs desperately wanting you to take on the odd job, can sadly feel a bit hollow at times. Outside of the main story, there’s no real reason to explore other than getting a kick of nostalgia, which is a missed opportunity that I hope the developers can remedy if they want to continue improving on this foundation.

…it feels like a worthy refinement of the fighting mechanics that the third-person controls have been lacking since Budokai Tenkaichi 3.

The battles, while not too dissimilar to the ones from Xenoverse, are still superb, environment-reducing clashes. Depending on your skills, boss fights can range anywhere from a few minutes to 15 minute encounters, or more. Some bosses, including the brick wall that is Raditz in the early part of the game and especially Frieza, can be challenging affairs, but the rewards for overcoming them are great. Using pre-assigned skills on a quick menu, you can heal in between battles, charge up your Ki to land devastating special attacks, or call for assistance under some circumstances. Fights aren’t quite as refreshing as Dragon Ball FighterZ as those already familiar with Xenoverse might feel right at home, but it feels like a worthy refinement of the fighting mechanics that the third-person controls have been lacking since Budokai Tenkaichi 3.

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One of my favourite aspects that Kakarot lifted from other RPGs is the importance of a good meal. Before battles, it’s often important to visit Chi-Chi for some of her home-cooked meals, as they sometimes offer significant buffs in battle depending on the resources gathered for each dish. Outside of being just a lovely side objective (and Chi-Chi being awesome), I found myself relying on these dishes a lot – like Ignis’ cooking from Final Fantasy XV – if it meant just that little extra buff in attack or defense for the next fight.

At its core, Kakarot is a supremely enjoyable ride – but understanding the complexities (or lack thereof) of its surface-value RPG mechanics is a hill to climb before that’s possible. For example, there was a specific important upgrade path that I simply wasn’t aware of in the main menu at all until a good portion of the way into the game. Kakarot never really bothered to teach some of these aspects initially, so it’s just a matter of stumbling on the right part of the menu before you can make the most out of it. Overall, once these were fully grasped, I found it remarkably easy to navigate around the various upgrades and skills in the menu.

Visually, Kakarot isn’t anything to really boast about. It retains the cell-shaded style of its gaming counterparts, but touches things up with more vivid detail in the game’s explosive fights. Attacks do visible damage to environments that often linger long after the battle begins, and each punch bursts with a satisfying aura of Ki energy. Not much attention was given to the mouth animations, though, as dialogue either fails to sync up or in the worst case, doesn’t even work (I’ve had a few awkward moments of characters blankly starring at each other while mouthing weird motions). On the plus side, the soundtrack is great, and even includes the iconic “Cha-La-La” song in its opening, ramping up the nostalgia factor.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is not without its problems, but for the most part, it’s one of the best times I’ve had playing a Dragon Ball game since Budokai 3 and 2018’s FighterZ. It can comfortably sit on a list of the best DBZ games to date. I loved that it placed a stronger emphasis on RPG mechanics over the more traditional one-on-one fights of the past, as it made revisiting this familiar universe more captivating and fresh. There’s a good foundation here, but there’s still a bit to be improved on if CyberConnect2 wishes to build on these RPG elements for future titles. However, it’s more or less a perfect entry point for newcomers to the Dragon Ball Z series, and provides plenty of untapped fan-service for long-time fans to appreciate. Dragon Ball games are back in full force, and I’m glad that we’re seeing them evolve for the better.

ProsCons
+ Painstakingly faithful to source material– Doesn’t tell you everything about the menus
+ Great combat– Bizarre mouth animations
+ Remarkably well-rounded story– Soul Emblems
+ RPG mechanics are refreshing
+ Cha-La-La!
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
8/10

Verdict

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is a must-play RPG for both long-time fans and newcomers, offering one of the most well-rounded DBZ gaming experiences to date.

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