The story of Dragon Ball and specifically that of Dragon Ball Z – has been retold copious times in as many different ways over the past thirty years. What more can be done to keep it fresh? Developers CyberConnect2 have risen to the challenge with Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, a semi-open world RPG that aims to shed a brighter light on the world of Dragon Ball.
Being a DBZ game, the main plot spans from the Saiyan Saga to the Buu Saga. Not only does it present the story in a way that makes it accessible to newcomers, but it also fleshes out and makes playable details from the anime that have never been explored in prior games – such as Gohan’s training with Piccolo during the Saiyan Saga, and even the filler episode where Goku and Piccolo attempt to get their driver’s licenses.
Additionally, the side quests or sub-stories, and many collectibles cover every corner of the Dragon Ball universe and, alongside the in-game encyclopedia, fill in many gaps and plotholes left in the anime. These are highly appreciated additions and can range from details as minor as why the Saiyans’ tails no longer grow back despite being shown to have that ability, to details as significant as what happened to Launch. The quests themselves are presented in the style of an episode of the anime, title card and all, and at the end of each arc Goku even gives a “next time” preview, right down to the “Be sure not to miss it!”
Since this is a Dragon Ball game, let’s tackle the combat first. Kakarot runs on an adapted version of the same engine as Xenoverse, and as such has similar combat. You lock onto opponents and engage them with melee attacks, ki blasts, and an arsenal of super attacks accessed by holding down one of the shoulder buttons. The controls are tight and responsive – as is to be expected from Dragon Ball – and entering combat is seamless, with potentially the entire map available as your arena. Due to the lack of PvP, enemies will frequently gain super armour during battle and break out of your combo to launch a counterattack, incentivising learning enemy attack timings and discouraging button-mashing. This adds a layer of strategy and makes sense for bosses, but can get irritating during regular encounters.
Like Xenoverse, you can also have up to two AI-controlled opponents fighting alongside you, and at the touch of a button can command them to fire off their own supers similar to assists in FighterZ. At the end of a battle, you are rewarded with EXP and a rating, the latter of which seems rather generous. I’ve been brought down to near death and only won by spamming healing items, and still got an A. But on the plus side, beam struggles are back!
Fighting is only part of the package, as there is a vast world to explore. Or rather, a huge world map comprised of many individual hub worlds that are still vast in their own right. These can be traversed either on foot or in flight and later on, you can build and drive your own vehicles. Each hub world is uniquely distinguishable from one another – one minute you could be flying through forests and open plains, and the next you might find yourself in a desert or approaching a town or village, all with zero loading times. On the flip side, switching between hub worlds via the map – and even just loading in from the main menu – can take well near a minute. The hub worlds are also very dynamic, with wildlife roaming freely or cars driving along roads, all of which can be interacted with (read: shot at). The hub worlds also change accordingly with story events, such as Vegeta’s artificial moon remaining in the sky or Yamcha’s iconic dead body.
Of course, shooting ki blasts isn’t the only way to interact with the world. You can scour the earth for crafting materials and Z Orbs, the latter of which can be spent to upgrade your character’s skill tree. You can also hunt, fish and gather for food, which is a lot easier to do than they sound. The hunting tutorial advises you to sneak up on game from behind to successfully bag one, but being a Dragon Ball character, you can outsprint your prey with ease. You don’t even need to attack, just hit the button prompt as soon as you’re close enough and you’ll automatically grab it. You can also hunt dinosaurs, but that isn’t much better as you can just stay in the air out of their reach and shoot them down. Overall, hunting is just gathering food off the land with an extra step.
Fishing is the only one with any amount of challenge or depth, letting you use various kinds of bait to increase your chances of nabbing higher-quality fish. Once you have one hooked, you can then knock out your catch with a pair of quick-time events. When you’re done pounding the tuna, you can either cook your food at a campfire for a permanent boost to a single stat or bring it to a chef who will make it into a full-course meal that grants a temporary buff to multiple stats.
Last but not least is via the Community Board system. As you progress through the story, you will receive Soul Emblems – coins that each represent an in-game character. Once earned, these can be placed on one of the many Community Boards from the pause menu. Each board governs a different area of gameplay, such as one for combat, one for cooking, one for crafting, etc. Placing Emblems on a given board will increase that board’s overall level and unlock relevant perks, such as making buffs from cooked meals last longer. You can also increase the levels of the Emblems themselves by giving that character gifts, similar to Dragon Age or Persona. Additionally, placing certain characters together on a board grants further bonuses depending on their relationship with each other. There is a surprising amount of depth to this system and players would be remiss to ignore it completely.
Speaking of other characters, the game may be called Kakarot, but you will spend more time playing as other characters than you do Goku. While this would not usually be an issue and makes sense due to the plot, only a small handful of characters are playable, and roughly 80% of the time you are forced to play as Gohan. Even during the intermissions between arcs when you are free to play whoever you choose, most of the sub-stories require you to play as Gohan. So unless he’s your favourite character – and especially if you don’t like Kid Gohan – you’re in for a bad time.
The combat isn’t the only thing adapted from the Xenoverse series. DBZ: Kakarot’s visuals looks just as clean if not more so, blurring the line between anime and video game as many iconic moments from the show are lovingly recreated here, right down to the facial expressions. The level of detail is astounding – from the big, flashy super attack explosions to the fur of a great ape visibly falling off their body as they transform back, and even kicking up dust and water as you zoom across land and sea. Unfortunately, there are frequent frame drops, and the game tends to freeze for a few seconds during autosaves, at least on a base PS4.
In the sound department, the game’s soundtrack is ripped right out of the anime – specifically the Japanese soundtrack – and evokes a sense of late 80s/early 90s charm, seamlessly switching between tracks when you enter a town or village. Additionally, both the English and Japanese voice cast return, and while they bring their A-game for the most part, there are a few clunky deliveries here and there. There are also some awkward pauses during the English dialogue in order to match the Japanese timing, a persistent problem in Dragon Ball games. But most egregious of all, the infamous line “It’s over 9000!” is missing, making this game a 0/10, worst game 2020.
In all seriousness, while Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot does suffer from a lack of polish in places, its sheer amount of content and faithfulness to the source material succeed in bringing a fresh perspective to veteran fans, as well as inviting newbies who have somehow managed to avoid Dragon Ball up until now makes it an entertaining addition to the long-standing series.
While the game certainly has its technical flaws, there's no denying that fans of the franchise will find a lot of love and attention paid to the classic series. It may not add anything truly new to the DBZ saga, but Kakarot is an interesting diversion sure to spawn several sequels or spin-offs.
+ Fleshes out events rarely explored in prior games and fills in plotholes from the anime.
+ Tight, responsive controls and strategic combat.
+ Beam struggles!
+ Vast, dynamic and detailed maps to explore and interact with.
+ Dynamic soundtrack that just oozes the 90s.
- Too much focus on Gohan.
- Super armour on low-tier enemies gets irritating.
- Hunting is too easy.
- Frequent frame drops and freezes.
- Awkward dialogue pacing in English.