Also on: PS4, Xbox One
Publisher: Bandai Namco
I have been a Dragon Ball Z fan for pretty much my entire life. I grew up watching the Anime, I own all of Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Ball GT and Dragon Ball Super on DVD/Blu-ray, I have all of the movies, I have played all of the games, I force Dragon Ball on my poor children, all of it. So when Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot was announced I was ecstatic. I was a little skeptical at first when they were announcing the more open world, RPG aspects, but that did not temper my interest.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot spans the entire original Dragon Ball Z saga, from the Saiyan Invasion to the battle against Majin Buu, which is a LOT of ground to cover. 291 episodes of ground to be exact. That is a ton of content, and filler episodes aside, (looking at you Spirit Bomb), there is a lot to try and translate into a game, but not a lot of source material fit to populate an open world RPG game. Sure, there are side characters and side stories in the show but not much that can effectively make the jump to a video game. The end result is my biggest complaint with Kakarot. While the main story will absolutely blow you away, the rest is boring and quite frankly ends up being a chore when you get into the later hours of this already pretty long game.
While exploring the semi-open world, you will run into roving packs of generic robot enemies that you can fight for experience and orbs, which are what you use to purchase new moves and abilities for the Z Fighters. Now, this SOUNDS like a great idea, but in practice, it ends up being almost entirely useless. The experience and the orbs it grants you mean nothing when compared to the experience and orbs you get from simply playing the game. You might fly around for 45 minutes, fight 10 packs of robots and get 40k experience and a thousand orbs, then do one single main story fight and earn a million experience and several thousand orbs. On top of that, the game will not allow you to approach a story mission under-leveled. It falls victim to the same power issues that people have with the show. In the show, a character that needs to get strong fast hops into a hyperbolic time chamber, or dies and goes to Other World to train up and come back super strong. In Kakarot, do the same, then get a level up screen notifying you of the 750,000 experience you got and BAM, you are at the right level to fight. The experience you earn outside of the story is genuinely insignificant, so there is no point in flying around fighting the packs of enemies. This makes running into them while trying to explore and do missions annoying, and I actively avoided them whenever possible, because they are just a waste of time.
In addition, there is item collection, food collection, random NPC engagement and the ever-popular ?cook a meal for a status effect?, similar to FFXV and Monster Hunter World. These things are all only skin deep, however, and add very little to the story and are absolutely not necessary. Outside of the healing items, which you purchase from vendors, there is not much need for the rest of it. I cook meals when the story requires it, but again, nothing is so hard that you HAVE to cook a meal for the effects. Most of the fights can be done on your first try, and the plethora of healing items you can equip and use in combat leave you very little excuse for failure. You also get more than enough items from completing missions and doing your ?Turtle School training? for Master Roshi, so there is yet again almost no incentive to run around doing things in the open world.
With the failures of the open-world aside, let?s focus on the core gameplay. This is a 3D open space fighting game, not unlike Dragon Ball Xenoverse. The combat is simple but enjoyable. You can perform a variety of melee attacks and Ki blasts with the use of just the face buttons, and of course have access to all of the trademark Super Attacks that fans know and love. Super Attacks, Ki dodges, and Ki blasts are all limited by your Ki bar, which depletes based on the actions you perform. During combat, you can replenish your Ki by stopping and holding the charge button. This leaves you temporarily vulnerable but is a vital mechanic, and a smart way to add a new layer to the combat to keep it from being a button-mashing bonanza.
Fighting is a constant back and forth of offense and defense. If you find yourself on the receiving end of a tough combo, there are breaker mechanics that allow you to guard and either teleport behind your attacking opponent or emit an energy blast from your core, blowing them back. These also require Ki, so it circles back to watching that bar and making sure you don?t find yourself hard-pressed and unable to do anything about it.
Kakarot introduces a skill tree for each character, populated with some of their most famous moves from Dragon Ball Z and allowing you to unlock them by spending the orbs you get from fights and exploring the world. You can only have four Super Moves equipped at once, and the skill tree is broad enough that it allows you to tailor your palate somewhat to your playstyle. Each character has a variety of melee and Ki blast Super Attacks, so you can pick and choose what you like. It is limiting somewhat, however, and does not allow for you to mix and match moves for your character like some other Dragon Ball games. Goku cannot use Galic Gun, just like Vegeta cannot use a Kamehameha. This further strengthens the game?s adherence to the source material, but in a game branded as an RPG, it makes the skill trees seem a little bit arbitrary. There is variance, but only so far as that original character had in Dragon Ball.
Kakarot will have you participating in all of the great battles of Dragon Ball Z history. While other games have you fighting in an alternate timeline, or have the battles out of place or whatever they chose to do to make it fun at the time, Kakarot is true to the source material through and through. While certain parts are sped up or omitted (looking at you once again Spirit Bomb), the meat and potatoes of the original story are here and look better than ever before. The original voice actors are another huge bonus, all delivering their signature lines and adding some great new ones that fans will definitely catch and love. The incomparable Christopher Ayres is still sorely missed in his role as the evil Emperor Frieza, but Daman Mills does an outstanding job in the role. (Daman also filled the role in the English dub of Dragon Ball Super)
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot has a relatively long, dense main story. I spent a whole lot of time flying around initially and I tried to do every side quest I could, but I would say the main story alone will take anywhere from 20-30 hours if you don?t use the ?Fast Forward? feature. This allows you to skip the dialogue and cutscenes, which lets you jump straight into the fighting. That will be helpful for multiple playthroughs, but I would not recommend it for your first one obviously, even if you know the story by heart. CyberConnect2 has recreated the scenes so lovingly and with such attention to detail, they are more than worth a watch for everyone playing Kakarot.
A lot of this review has been spent focusing on the details and how Kakarot might play for a fan, but what about someone who is entirely new to Dragon Ball Z? I would say that if you are INTERESTED in Dragon Ball, Kakarot is one of the most streamlined ways to experience the story, and if you fall in love with it, you can go back and watch the Anime to see the story in the original form. With no Dragon Ball experience though, and if you have no interest, I am not sure this is going to necessarily be the game for you. A lot of the great moments and longer character interactions are great for longtime fans or people with great interest, but without any investment on your part, it may feel a bit tedious.
At the end of the day, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is without a doubt the most faithful retelling of the source material and an incredibly enjoyable way to relive the story. The weak RPG and open-world mechanics are a bit of a letdown, but they are carried easily on the shoulders of the solid combat and awesome cinematic moments. If you love Dragon Ball, the odds are that you will really enjoy the majority of what Kakarot has to offer.
Bandai Namco provided us with a Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot PC code for review purposes.