Published on January 29th, 2020 | by Ignis
REVIEW – Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
As one of the most iconic Anime series ever, Dragonball Z has long been associated with fighting games, which makes sense given that this is a series about fighting immensely powerful villains and overcoming seemingly impossible odds. But it’s always been a series I felt that had a lot more potential than a series of (mostly) mediocre games and my personal favourites in the series were always the RPG series such as Legacy of Goku that give us a deeper look at the pretty expansive world Dragonball has to offer.
Enter, Dragonball Z Kakarot. An ambitious game that is a retelling of the Manga (not the Anime, which has some slight differences) in a more Open World, Action RPG style that is supposed to be a new start for the Dragonball saga. Indeed, trailers for the game did make it out to be quite expansive and the combat looked deep and a ton of fun; but is the entire game able to capture that spark?
Concept/Story: Anyone who has played a Dragonball game before, watched the series, read the Manga, heard about it from your friend’s brother’s uncle knows the story of Dragonball. Goku (Kakarot is his Saiyan name) is the main protagonist of the series (though funnily enough, isn’t really the main protagonist of the game considering it’s named after him) and is a care-free, fun-loving and battle-hungry Saiyan who has grown up on Planet Earth and has established himself as Earth’s most powerful warrior. He and the Z-Fighters join forces to defend Earth from a number of invaders that seek to destroy it.
The concept of Dragonball is well known, so I’m not going to spend too much time on it. The story itself is also well known, as it follows the main story arcs of the Manga (off which the Anime very closely follows) and covers everything from Raditz and the Saiyan Saga, all the way through to the end of the Buu Saga. Do bear in mind that as of the time of this review it does not cover any of the movies as they were never covered in the Manga nor does it cover any of the original Dragon Ball, Dragonball GT or Dragonball Super though I’m sure this will change given how much there is to play with. For what it is, the story is as respectable as it always is and it’s faithful to the source material. You’re not going to find too much new here and if you’ve played any more than 1 or 2 Dragonball games before you’re likely going to be yawning your way through much of the story as you’ve seen and heard this before in just about every Dragonball piece of media that has ever existed. If you’re new to the series or if you remember Dragonball fondly having watched it 15 years ago, you’re going to love what’s on offer here, a pretty huge story (I would argue more story than actual gameplay) that is one of Japan’s modern media classics.
The thing that I loved the most about Kakarot’s story is it goes the extra mile in terms of explaining questions you’ve always had about the Dragonball series that were never really answered. Why do Goku and Gohan stop growing their tail back? Ever wondered why Future Trunks is so secretive about who he is and what he’s doing here the first time he comes to Earth? That’s answered too. Kakarot does a fantastic job of explaining exactly how everything matches up and makes the timeline MUCH cleaner and even the most hardcore fans of the series will likely find something new here.
Graphics: If you’ve ever played a CyberConnect game before (famous for the Naruto fighting games and the criminally underrated Asura’s Wrath) or games like One Piece, the JoJo series, or even older Dragonball fighting games then you know what to expect here. The art style comes across as trying to take the anime and bring it to a 3D platform, which does look good and fits well into the Dragonball art that we all know, though after being spoiled by the beautiful 2.5D art of Dragonball FighterZ it’s hard to say this is the best the series has ever looked.
Characters are animated really well, Trunks’ hand gestures before his Burning Attack for example looks just how I remember it and the same goes for pretty much every character. Fighting looks incredible and it’s the small things you notice like how Goku backflips when he teleports backwards that shows a lot of work has gone into the graphical side of this game, there is an attention to detail in terms of battle animations, character poses, facial animations that just feels so right.
The game runs at a smooth locked 30FPS with a dip here or there if there’s a lot of particle effects on screen or if you’re flying near water which is great, given how hectic this game can be at times, the game needed to be rock-solid 30FPS to keep these dips at a bare minimum. During cutscenes you’ll find that Kakarot can cause consoles to really struggle to keep up with what’s going on, the incredible particle effects of explosions and dust clearing always seemed to make my PS4 Pro sound like an aircraft taking off and was the time where I experienced the most slowdown, though it was rarely noticeable enough for me to consider it a negative.
Speaking of cutscenes, I really can’t speak about Graphics without speaking about how incredibly beautiful the cutscenes are in this game and I’m very specifically talking about Ki explosions or Ki blasts colliding from Great Apes firing lasers to Goku and Vegeta firing their signature Kamehameha and Galick Gun at each other, the particle effects of the beams look absolutely jaw dropping and some of the explosions in this game look like an entire Hollywood movie budget went into it and kudos should be given to CyberConnect2 for making this aspect look so incredible.
Gameplay: There are two aspects to this, the open-world and the combat itself. I’ll cover open-world first as I believe it’s by far the weaker of the two.
Kakarot features semi open-world instances with a number of locations that are pretty expansive that you can travel to, but you can’t seamlessly travel between them. In each of these locations you’re free to fly or run around the environment however you wish until you decide you wish to continue the story. You’ll find orbs to collect which can level your party of characters up, gather resources to create recipes, complete various side-quests which are primarily fetch quests with a side of battling generic robots or testing your power against other members of the Dragonball universe to even having the option to collect the 7 Dragon Balls to make wishes.
While this sounds like there’s a lot to do and the novelty of being able to fly around freely and experience the Dragon Ball universe is a lot of fun at first, my primary criticism is quite the opposite. The open world for the most part feels dull and empty. You can collect the various coloured orbs to level up, or you could do side quests/random battles/story battles and get many many many more orbs. Gathering resources for recipes is inefficient when you could simply gather the 7 Dragon Balls and wish for rare items which give you the completed recipes themselves. There are a lot of NPC’s around but very few of them are ever worth talking to which means that a lot of time spent in this open world is you blasting through various environments to get to the next main story/side quest.
There’s a pretty basic cooking mechanic in the game which requires you to gather various fruits and vegetables and catch animals or fish (there’s a basic fishing mechanic here too, that involves you wiggling your left stick around , then pressing 2 button prompts to catch your fish) which offers both permanent stat boosts to your characters along with a temporary boost as well. The Dragon Balls make an appearance and are collectible mostly during the Intermissions (Which take place after every main story arc and allow you to roam around freely with most of the characters from that specific arc) and allow you to wish back those who may have been killed in the previous arc, wish for money, resources, orbs to level. The Dragon Balls respawn every 20 minutes in these intermissions and collecting them is often worth the reward, and there’s normally enough content that you can continue to do side-quests while collecting the Dragon Balls every time they spawn without too much downtime.
There’s a leveling mechanic here as well, Goku and friends will gain experience after every battle and will level up giving you access to their various skill trees. These trees require a certain orb colour (red, blue, green) to level up and are primarily used to obtain new special skills (Kamehameha, Masenko, Big Bang Attack, etc) during combat or power up existing ones you already have. It’s simple and user friendly, I just wish there was a little more depth here as it more or less restricts what you can learn based on where you’re up to in the story and there’s usually a few upgrades you’ll be making during each of the 4 main arcs that will involve you going through once in a while and buying anything and everything you can. Orbs are very easy to obtain after all but for what it is, the leveling system serves its purpose and is good enough.
Combat is the other bread and butter apart from the story and it’s a lot of fun. CyberConnect2 have done a good job of simplifying the controls so that anyone can pick it up and use it, Circle/B is your attack button which allows you to follow your current Hero’s attack string, Cross/A is your dodge which can allow you to reposition yourself and restart your attack string allowing you to start racking up some pretty crazy damage. Square/X is your basic Ki Blast which fires semi-homing small ki blasts that deal small amounts of damage and are more used to interrupt enemies when they’re charging or preparing special moves, R1/RB opens your special list in which you can spend Ki to unleash powerful and iconic Special moves from the characters currently known arsenal and Triangle/Y is to charge your Ki so that you can spend it on Special moves. It’s simple to pick up and play and has enough depth that you’ll want to keep playing through your 30 – 40 hour adventure, I only wish you could combo attacks into specials which isn’t something that can be done on its own and more often than not found myself attacking for a bit then dodging back for a special attack given that they’re so much more powerful than normal combo enders.
Enemies you encounter will have their own arsenal of special moves they’ll use against you with handy indicators letting you know the direction they’re going to use it so you know what to expect and how to dodge it, they’ll spend time charging their Ki just like you will and will sometimes attempt to combo you. More often than I’d like they stand there and let you hit them a little too much since a lot of their moves have hyper armour that is uninterruptible and I wish they had more of a middle ground between interrupting enemy attacks rather than you hitting them 20 or 30 times then they glow red meaning they’re about to throw an uninterruptible move so you have to back off, dodge it then repeat.
Bosses can get pretty manic at times and have moments (signified by a short cutscene) where they will launch their entire arsenal of moves at you, they may launch a huge number of Ki blasts at you followed by a huge beam attack before teleporting toward you for a physical attack and ending it with a giant planet busting ball. These battles are a lot of fun and they have a huge health pool meaning the key to winning these fights is to either brute force your way through it by spamming healing items or to dodge these all-out attacks before punishing them as they get exhausted after launching everything they’ve got at you, they can do this 5 or 6 times throughout a battle so endurance is really important in these fights.
Most importantly though, the game makes you feel as though you’re a Z-Fighter and combat flows together really well, attacking a few times and then dodging back to let off a Kamehameha never gets old and AI is smart enough that you need to mix up playstyles a few times each battle. There are a few games in the Dragonball series that you can get through simply by charging Ki and letting off planet buster after planet buster and eventually killing them, that’s not something that can really be done here, enemies will eagerly dodge obvious specials thrown at them and will punish you with specials of their own so you need to put thought into when you use them and mixing up your gameplay style is the key to success here (though at times it feels like the actual key to success is to mash attack and teleport over and over).
Sound: Kakarot sounds like it’s taken straight out of the anime which is a great start, from the noises made when Goku descends from the air to the sounds of Kamehameha’s being fired, it sounds true to the series and fits in perfectly with the game. The soundtrack itself features some of the most iconic pieces of music from the Dragonball series (Cha-la head cha-la makes an appearance among others) and is good for that nostalgic hit, the rest of the music in the game is trying to meet that old-school Dragonball aesthetic and sounds like it’s ripped straight out of the 80’s which is great for those who want to feel like a kid watching DBZ again but it does get a bit cheesy at times and I think trying to make it sound a little more modern would be great.
Most of the game is entirely dubbed in both Japanese and English with the original cast reprising their roles where possible, I played the game through with the English dub as it’s what I’ve grown up with and the voice acting is fantastic as always, Goku, Piccolo, Vegeta, Gohan all sound exactly as you remember them and are all excellent in their roles in both Japanese and English. Side quests unfortunately aren’t dubbed, and dialogue there is mostly relegated to one word answers and grunts which is to be expected with games of this size, though I wish they’d gone that extra mile. Christopher Sabat should be given a ton of praise for his work as Vegeta, he really stole the show in terms of voice work. Sean Schemmel does a great job as Goku like always as well but his range of emotion is nowhere the level that Chris has to go through being the ever emotional Vegeta who always seems to be yelling about one thing or another and he can go from being arrogant and cocky to incredibly frustrated in a heartbeat.
Awesomeness: Probably the coolest part about Kakarot is how it makes you feel, because of how the game is built, you feel yourself becoming significantly more powerful after every few battles, you’re made to feel like you’re out of your league at times just like in the show and Manga where heroes were going up against unbeatable odds before the savior comes in at just the right time to even the odds. You feel like Goku, you feel like Gohan, you feel like Vegeta. That’s a very hard thing to do, especially given how many games this series has had, I’ve never really felt like I was the character since I was always jumping between sagas so quickly and forms, and previous entries in the DBZ universe have always tried to skip through it.
Kakarot takes it’s time and lets you build up, it’s a pretty lengthy game but it uses that length to make you go from a kid who could barely dent Raditz’ armour to stopping the entire Galaxy from being wiped out and it does this incredibly well, by the end of the game you feel truly powerful.
Final Thoughts: This game feels very much like a love letter to Dragonball Z fans from people who love and understand DBZ. Kakarot is by no means a perfect game, but it may very well be the most accurate and closest you’ll get to being a part of the Dragonball universe. It’s ironic that the game is called Kakarot though, because Goku isn’t really playable as much as you’d think he would be and it’s more the legacy of Goku, Gohan, Piccolo and Vegeta and everyone else that make this a complete experience rather than the namesake it’s based on.
The game has its flaws, but Kakarot has tried to do something new and should be praised for doing so. Hopefully this means we will get more games like this in the future that aren’t half-baked or entirely fighting games and will allow us to be even more engrossed in the DBZ universe. It’s a lot of fun, it’s nostalgic and man this game can blow you away at times. Kakarot is the beginning of something great and I hope we get to see more of it over the coming years.
Out of 5 Bugs!