Whilst there hasn’t been a shortage of Dragon Ball games released over the years, they’ve never really dived into the story arcs of the saga in the same way that Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot does. With a slightly condensed (but still incredibly meaty) re-telling of the Dragon Ball Z narrative, it gives both newcomers to the franchise and Dragon Ball veterans the opportunity to experience the tale in depth but with an action-RPG twist.
It makes for an enjoyable experience for the most part too, though it’s with its RPG-like mechanics that Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot can begin to lose its way across its fairly lengthy adventure.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot really goes all out as far as the narrative is concerned, with it covering all of Dragon Ball Z’s story arcs all the way from the introduction of Vegeta up until the showdown with Kid Buu, with all of the other iconic villains (including my personal favourite Cell) making their threatening appearances in-between. It’s a fantastic way to introduce yourself to the wider storyline of Dragon Ball Z if you’re completely new to the series and there’s no need for any previous knowledge to enjoy it, whilst existing fans will probably just appreciate seeing the story unfold once more in video game.
Understandably, not EVERY sequence from the anime is present within Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot and there are some missing scenes that will probably disappoint some die-hard fans, but it still does a very good job of going into detail with each narrative arc. The more important scenes are presented in an impressive cinematic manner too, which further emphasises how imperative they are to the story. That being said, some animations during minor interactions can feel a little robotic, but it never deters from the story nor does it feel distracting.
One of the most interesting things about the narrative is that it introduces all-new interactions and side-stories not seen in the anime. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that these additional sequences really expand upon the lore in meaningful ways, but they will certainly bring a few smiles to the faces of gamers who’ve found themselves invested in the Dragon Ball Z lore for so many years. It’s a nice touch and gave a fresh outlook on some of the relationships that the characters share with each other.
Of course, whilst the story is at the forefront, this wouldn’t be a Dragon Ball game without some over-the-top combat that focuses on both mobility and destructive move sets. Thankfully, it delivers that in spades, though there are some minor hitches to be found within the combat mechanics.
It’s easy to get to grips with combat, with basic combos unleashed by simply mashing a button and special attacks used by holding down L1 and then pressing one of the four main face buttons. You’re also able to charge your Ki with a simple button press and unleash it with another, whilst guarding and dodging is easily performed too. You’ve also got things like assists, finishers, and the typical Saiyan transformations to utilise mid-battle, but again, they’re all easily performed.
If you checked out a gameplay video of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot’s combat in action it’d be easy to feel a little intimidated, but the controls are so accessible that it’s simple enough to perform just about any action in the game – you’ll be re-creating the epic encounters that you’ve seen in the anime series with just a few button presses, and believe me, it always feels rewarding and fun.
There is a sense of the combat being ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’ though, and that’s something that’s present during the main encounters with foes. This is an action-RPG so you can expect quite a few random encounters with menial foes that can be taken care of with just a bit of button-mashing, but when you square off with a major character you can expect a proper fight where careful planning is integral to your success.
One of the most important aspects of combat comes down to the distance between you and your foe, and there’s a big emphasis on traversal mid-battle and ensuring that you’re out of range of any impending attacks. This is easy in one-on-one situations, especially since your opponents typically have tells that they’re about to hit you with one of their special moves or will show themselves absorbing the damage of some of your own, but when facing off against multiple foes at one time it can be a little annoying. Attacks can come at you from all directions and with the auto-lock function of your attacks, it’s often difficult to focus on everything that’s going on around you – there is a marker that’ll let you know the direction enemies may attack from, but given the speed of combat and the fact that so much is going on it can be difficult to keep track of.
It left some battles feeling a lot more frustrating than they needed to be, which is a shame. Some of Dragon Ball Z’s most iconic battles come against groups of opponents, so the fact that these made for some of the more annoying encounters left me dreading their appearance in-game. Still, at least you know those one-on-one showdowns are going to be great, especially against the likes of Frieza and Cell who’ve got some pretty unique tricks up their sleeve that are unique to the game.
Given that Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is an action-RPG, you can expect to find yourself investing into your characters and levelling them up as you progress through the game. You’ll earn experience points from completing quests and beating up enemies, which are then used to level up – yeah, it’s pretty simple. However, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot also has individual skill trees for each character to unlock abilities and improve pre-existing ones, with new skills unlocked by spending the orbs you can collect across the game world.
Interestingly, there’s also the Community Board system in place that allows you to increase specific stats, with the special emblems you collect during your time playing used to give yourself a boost. There are multiple Community Boards for you to upgrade that increase different aspects of your stats, so you’re able to invest in those that suit your playstyle – whether that’s to earn more experience points, dish out more damage, or save yourself a bit of cash when purchasing items in shops. There’s quite a bit of depth to the system thanks to the Soul Links which grant better boosts based upon where you place your emblems on each Community Board, but it’s a satisfying mechanic to utilise and one that gives Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot a unique little hook.
As is the case in a lot of RPGs, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot features a wide range of open environments to explore that are full of activities to partake in, side quests to complete, characters to interact with, and random battles to compete in. It’s probably worth noting that those random battles won’t do much to boost your experience early on in the game, with their best use coming when you’re at a higher level.
It’s nice that Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot offers plenty to do, but I couldn’t help but to feel a little underwhelmed. The side activities such as cooking and fishing are neat, but there’s not enough depth to the systems that made me feel particularly invested in them. The majority of the side quests are run of the mill too, and typically consist of beating up some enemies or just collecting some items – it’s something we see a lot of in RPGs anyway so it can’t be held against the game too much, but it did put me off seeking them out. It is worth mentioning that there are some side quests that are a bit more unique and offer some of those additional story details I mentioned earlier in the review, but they’re few and far between so it’s difficult to sing their praises too much.
It’s not that Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot’s RPG mechanics are bad, because they’re really not. They’re just not particularly exciting and outside of the combat and story sequences, there’s not a whole lot there to encourage you to explore or invest yourself in the game world. But hey, at least traversal is neat with multiple ways to get around in the game, my favourite of which being the iconic Flying Nimbus which you get access to early on.
I do have to give a shout out to the visuals of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, with the iconic landscapes and vistas of the Dragon Ball Z universe looking better than ever here. The combat sequences are impressive too, with the moves of each character not only fluidly animated but clearly packing a punch. Whilst nothing in the game hits the visual levels seen in Dragon Ball FighterZ, it’s still very pretty to look at and will make you feel like you really are playing a part in the anime series.
With its faithful and meaty re-telling of the Dragon Ball Z storyline and its enjoyable action-packed combat, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot will tick plenty of boxes for both newbies and veterans of the much-loved anime. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t hit those heights with its RPG elements, with the side-quests and exploration aspects feeling a little dull in comparison.
It’s forgivable for the most part, but given that the adventure can take close to forty-hours to beat, it’s disappointing that its RPG aspects couldn’t have been a bit more fleshed out with more interesting things to do. Still, there’s no doubting that Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is a fantastic Dragon Ball Z game that’s certainly worth checking out – I just wish it could’ve been a fantastic action-RPG too.
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC