On the surface, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot has everything that a successful Dragon Ball game should have: fast-paced combat, the ability to train characters and customize their movesets, and an open world with a variety of activities and sidequests — some of which play with the existing lore in fun ways. Additionally, as a role-playing-game, it’s inherently built around progression, the motivation behind most every character in the Dragon Ball franchise.
Unfortunately, once you dig below the surface, it’s surprisingly bare. While the combat and story deliver an experience that feels true to the source material, the rest of the game feels uninspired. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot feels like a love letter to the franchise, albeit a poorly written one. It’s got some spelling errors, poor choice of words, but above all, (just like the source material) it has too much filler in its composition.
What Is It?
Developed by CyberConnect2 and published by Bandai Namco, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot isn’t a actually retelling of the story of Goku — it’s essentially Dragon Ball Z: The Game. Starting at the dawn of the Saiyan Saga and concluding following the Majin Buu Saga, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot covers the entirety of the commonly revered anime.
Taking the form of a semi-open world RPG that turns into a third-person fighting game during enemy encounters, you’ll spend a lot of your time flying around wide open spaces rife with enemies, cities, fishing spots, and even some familiar faces from the series’ past.
Why Should I Care?
The high-flying, fast-paced combat that is a staple of the franchise is the highlight of this title. The combat system has a lot in common with the Budokai Tenkaichi series, but trims a lot of the fat. With each type of technique being assigned to one button, it’s easy to mix and match your different techniques in order to make up some incredibly satisfying combos on the fly. You can also fight alongside up to two other characters, where you can take control of when they use their special moves, adding a thin layer of strategy in coordinating team attacks.
Unfortunately, combat isn’t an experience that varies from character to character. Kakarot’s cast of series favorites might as well be unlockable skins as opposed to separate characters, because they all feel and function the same. There’s no noticeable differences between these characters in terms of speed, power, or anything that would encourage you to try a different play style, making playing as a different character feel pointless, unless you’re trying to complete a character-specific side-quest.
For the most part, the story follows the main sagas of Dragon Ball Z to a T, but falls short when it comes to its presentation. Some pivotal moments of the series are recreated with such care and attention to detail that they could stand toe to toe with the animation from Dragon Ball FighterZ; unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the rest of the game. More often than not, cutscenes consist of characters standing idly, speaking lines to one another while donning flat facial expressions with little nuance when it comes to non-verbal communication. This makes for some uninteresting visuals that feel more like watching footage of a collection of Dragon Ball figures with dialogue dubbed over it.
Fans of the franchise will likely find a pleasant surprise in the game’s various sidequests. Many of its sidequests ponder on a few loose ends that the original series left. Why does Gohan never regrow his tail? What are Dragon Ball series regulars Launch and Eighter up to now that Goku is an adult? These questions, and many more are answered in ways that should appeal to fans of the lighter-hearted nature of the original Dragon Ball series.
However, despite these sidequests having some fun callbacks, their main fault is that they stop being engaging after the first few are completed.. They’re mostly all structured the same; you’re almost always going to a marked spot on the map to either fight someone or find something. The quests don’t feel designed around the open world or in-game mechanics; they feel more like they exist simply to justify the open-world nature of this game, but fall flat on their face because of their lack of respect for what the open-world has to offer.
Kakarot boasts a lot of game mechanics, many of which it will throw at you in the first hour of the game, but the sad truth is that a lot of them don’t really matter. Cooking dishes and placing Soul Emblems on a Community Board will boost your characters’ stats, but Kakarot is not a particularly hard game to begin with, so they feel inconsequential. Crafting vehicles allows you to roam the ground in a car or a bipedal mech, but when the alternative is flying anywhere you want, the game doesn’t do a great job convincing you to travel differently. On paper, all of these mechanics should work, and have been executed well in other games, but in Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, they feel half-baked; like they’re in the game for the sake of having them, rather than to enhance the player’s experience.
What Makes It Worth My Time and Money?
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot aims to create the definitive Dragon Ball Z experience in a video game. On some level, it succeeds with its robust combat, and faithful emulations cutscenes of the series’ most iconic moments. Combine those elements with callbacks to Dragon Ball and cute moments of world building that feel kind of self-aware, and that’s when Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is at its best. However, the game’s biggest issue is that it wants to be a big game, but it’s size is never justified. It has an open world, but it feels empty; it has a lot of side-quests, but they’re all structured the same way; it has multiple playable characters, but they all function the same, and it has loads of mechanics, but most of them are inconsequential. Simply put: it has too much filler, rather than fleshed out mechanics that go hand-in-hand with one-another.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot isn’t a particularly bad game — it’s average at worst, but it’s simply frustrating to see it miss the mark on so many things that should work in a Dragon Ball game. If you’re looking to rent a vehicle to drive down the highway of nostalgia, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot will definitely get you to where you need to go, but strap in and be wary, it’s going to be a pretty bumpy ride.