The other week, we published an article from one of our writers about how they had no excitement regarding Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot; their reasoning being that the game is just another recreation of the franchise’s most famous storylines. After spending many hours with the game, it’s an assessment that’s pretty close to the truth, but that’s why Kakarot works so well.
In the past, Dragon Ball Z games that focus on the official storyline of the franchise offer a brief cliff notes version of events. Between fights, you’d be given a Star Wars-esque text crawl (with narration if you’re lucky), along with the occasional cutscene that adds flavour to the upcoming fight. Sure, you have the likes of Xenoverse that change the storyline entirely to offer something new, but for anyone who grew up playing Budokai or Budokai Tenkaichi, you know what I’m talking about.
Kakarot instead goes for a full RPG experience, deciding to deep dive into the storyline to give players more of the Dragon Ball world than we’ve ever seen in a video game. You’ve still got the main plot points that fans of the series will remember, such as Goku vs Vegeta, the first Super Sayian transformation, the Cell Games and so on, but it’s the bits in between that make Kakarot a wonderful experience.
Instead of going from Goku and Piccolo vs Raditz straight to the Z Warriors vs Nappa and Vegeta, the game gives us more insight into Gohan’s training under Piccolo in the year between that fight. After beating Frieza, most games would skip straight to the fight with Android 17 & 18, but Kakarot includes Mecha Frieza and the 3 years of training before Androids 19 & 20 show up.
Previous games in the series were designed more as an accompaniment to the original source material, but Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot offers enough context to accurately convey the key narrative beats of the series. Showcasing the relationships between the characters, along with the important mid-fight stories, helps give the overall narrative more legitimacy than it’s ever had in the gaming medium. It’s easier to buy into the character’s plights when you’re actually being given the reasons to care.
Don’t get me wrong, Kakarot still maintains a level of assumed knowledge, regularly referencing events that occur in the original Dragon Ball series. You’ll meet characters like Emperor Pilaf and Launch and hear about the events of the World Tournament and Goku’s fight with the Demon King Piccolo. Fortunately, Kakarot comes with an expansive Encyclopedia of information to ensure even those new to Dragon Ball understand what the hell is going on.
As for the game itself, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is an action RPG with gameplay similar to that of Dragon Ball Xenoverse. If you’ve played either Xenoverse game, Kakarot should be immediately familiar to you. The B button controls simple combos, though you can perform different enders by pressing another face button during a combo. Holding LB and pressing a face button will also initiate a deadly Super Attack, and by clicking the left stick you’ll charge at high speed towards the enemy you’ve locked onto.
Honestly, the core gameplay of Kakarot is pretty much the same as any other modern Dragon Ball game outside of FighterZ, but that’s fine. There’s a reason it’s similar and that’s because it works, as the simplistic controls mean anyone can enjoy the game, regardless of whether or not they’re a seasoned gamer or just an anime fan looking for something a bit more interactive. Besides, nailing a sweet Kamehameha is always satisfying.
There are one or two tweaks to the combat to keep things fresh though. Depending on the context of the story, you’ll be accompanied by support characters who you can order to perform super attacks, with a short cooldown each time. It’s a small addition but one that gives you more tools to use during a fight, and can even turn the tide back in your favour.
The real sweeping changes come outside of combat. In between fights, you’ll explore a variety of open areas, completing quests, collecting Dragon Balls and other collectible materials, levelling up, training for new Super Moves and more. If you’re just focused on the main quest alone, there’s still plenty to get through, but with all the side content on top, you’ll be playing Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot for a long time.
While the game feels more open later on, as new areas become available and you’re free to explore during the majority of the second half, the first two arcs feel quite restrictive in terms of where you can go and what you can do. The majority of the Saiyan Saga locks you into the one area, while the Frieza Saga happens on Namek, separate from all the other normal areas in the game, plus you can only collect the Dragon Balls once the Frieza Saga concludes.
Any side quests that show up during the main story must be completed there and then, otherwise they’ll be missed, though the game fortunately throws out “point of no return” warnings like senzu beans. It’s also worth noting that a free update will add Saga backtracking for players to complete quests they missed. These side quests usually consist of the usual “go there, fight this and fetch that” objectives, but they can offer unique and interesting perspectives and revelations regarding characters and events.
There are intermission periods between arcs where you’re allowed to explore at your own leisure and switch characters at will, and it’s here where the game feels more like an RPG. During the sagas, Kakarot feels a bit more like a guided narrative adventure under the guise of an RPG. Instead of levelling up normally, you’ll often find characters jump in power considerably due to the story, which is accurate at least, but feels weird to get used to. It doesn’t hurt the game necessarily, but it does make gaining EXP through encounters with random enemies feel pointless.
There are other RPG mechanics at play though that can be used to improve your stats, the main one being Community. As you play through the game, you’ll receive Soul Emblems based on characters in the game. These Soul Emblems can be levelled up and placed on one of seven community boards that improve various stats from EXP gained to melee and KI damage, and more. The more souls you have, and the higher level they are, the better you’ll be.
The twist in the formula is how they’re placed on the board. Soul Emblems have different proficiencies across the seven boards, and spaces are limited, so you have to choose carefully where to place what. Emblems can also be Soul Linked if the characters have some kind of relationship or connection, further boosting their power. It becomes like a puzzle, as you try to figure out the optimal way to arrange your characters to achieve the best results. It’s unique and thoroughly engaging.
Less engaging are the options to create and upgrade a hover car and a robo walker, as they have no real benefit other than for minigames. Sure, the driving gameplay allows us to revisit that moment in the series where Goku and Piccolo learn how to drive, but aside from that one distraction in the main story, and the occasional side quest, the hover car doesn’t see much action. As for the robo walker, after 30+ hours of play, it still hasn’t left the garage.
There are also some minor issues with glitches throughout the game. The over the shoulder camera is still a bit temperamental, often getting stuck behind objects or in the floor, making it hard to see what’s going on. The subtitles also could use some work, as there are a number of spelling mistakes, and enemies have a tendency of starting fights inside the geometry of the world, which is fun.
Aside from these issues, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot feels both new and familiar. The story might be well trodden ground at this point, but it’s never been showcased to this level of detail before outside of the anime and manga. For fans of the franchise, it’s a welcome addition to the legacy of games, while new fans could consider this the perfect jumping on point.
That, or just watch Dragon Ball Z: Abridged.
A copy of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot – Ultimate Edition was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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While we've seen the story of Goku and the Z Warriors before, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot offers enough detail and fun gameplay to warrant a purchase.
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