By Dalton McClain / March 17th, 2020
|Title||Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot|
|Developer||BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment, CyberConnect2|
|Publisher||BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment, BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment America|
|Release Date||January 6th, 2020|
|Platform||PS4, Xbox One, PC|
|Age Rating||T for Teen|
I have to start this review by saying that I am a longtime fan of Dragon Ball. I started with Dragon Ball Z, and gradually worked my way around to watching all of the material up to Broly. It’s even one of the few manga that I dabble in, being knee deep in the Moro arc right now. So when I heard there was going to be a new video game, and by the same people who did the Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm games no less, I was in awe. But did it live up to its own hype?
Now to be honest, when I heard that Kakarot was just going to be rehashing the story of Dragon Ball Z again, I lost a little bit of that excitement. Sure, I love it. It’s what got me, and many others into the franchise. But after countless games rehashing the series over and over again, it just became old news. There isn’t much for me to talk about here. You’re Son Goku, a kind-hearted Saiyan from Earth. You go through 4 different sagas to protect Earth from whatever evil may be threatening it at the time. If you know the story of Dragon Ball Z, you know the story of Kakarot. The side quests are the only things that are different. And while some have cool ramifications lore wise, most of them are just filler content that doesn’t lead anywhere, which a lot of people love in Dragon Ball, but I’m not personally a huge fan of. The story itself is super condensed, even compared to Dragon Ball Kai, which itself tried to condense the story. I don’t have much of an issue with it being shortened, even though I’d use that term with a pinch of salt. But there are some moments that are toned down, or even outright omitted that I feel would have served the narrative much better. Without naming any spoilers, there’s a certain defining character moment in the last saga of the game that’s relegated to only a couple of still images. It’s a shame that in a near 50 hour game, we couldn’t have gotten more detail on moments like that. But to the game’s credit, it does give a lot of attention to the main story beats, just some of the minor ones got a little shafted.
And boy howdy, did those main story beats shine with this art style. You have probably already seen from the glorious picture above, but the art style in this game legitimately almost brought a tear to my eye. To see my childhood in an art style this beautiful and reflective of its origins, is an emotion that’s very hard to describe. Certain fan favorite scenes, like a transformation in the latter half of the game, are recreated to absolute perfection, and captured that feeling of watching it for the first time. It’s also just a blast to explore all of the areas that have been seen in Dragon Ball. It’s all to scale, and I had no trouble finding places from the show just from memory alone. I’d give a standing ovation to the artists of this game if I had the opportunity to. They did an amazing job.
Now we get into the meat of the review, the mechanics. Being that this is an RPG, there are a lot of mechanics to cover, so I’m going to try to get through them as painlessly as possible. Most of what you’ll be doing in this game is collecting items, fighting random enemies, exploring, and completing objectives. As you do these things, you’ll level up. This doesn’t do a whole lot, apart from increasing your stats and potentially unlocking new moves. Some of these are gated by story progression, and the enemies don’t really drop a whole lot of EXP, so it’s not really worth it to grind. You’ll just unlock things normally as the story progresses if you continue checking your skill tree. These do require orbs, which you get from both exploring the overworld, as well as doing quests and beating enemies. You get to play as 5 different characters including Gohan, Piccolo, Trunks, Vegeta, and Goku. They all have their own moves and abilities that you can change around to fit your liking. Some skills will require you to complete image training, which just means fighting a few opponents at a certain level, usually 2-3. If you’re having a rough time, you can always try to stock up on healing items, or cook some dishes. The dishes give you permanent stat boosts, as well as temporary ones. You can also cook Full-Course Meals, but those can only be done by Chi-Chi at Goku’s House. I recommend this highly, especially when you know a big fight is coming. These give you drastic boosts, and they carry over to all of your characters.
There’s also the Community Board, where you collect what are essentially Pogs, or Milk Caps, of characters from the show. They can be arranged in different boards to give different boosts like more cooking bonuses, more EXP from enemies, and even more defense/attack. These are a neat little side thing, and I recommend experimenting with them. Each Pog has different stats, and some can go up to 25. They also combo together, and can be given gifts to raise their stats. Experimenting with them is some of the most fun I had in the game. If you really need the extra EXP or some really good skills, you could decide to go to the Training Room. This is unlocked later in the game, and allows you to challenge really strong fighters for some amazing skills, and even do Bonyu’s quest if you have it. It’s really worth it, but make sure to bring your most powerful healing items.
Other than that, the only other thing I can talk about is the minigames, which aren’t great. They’re fine and a neat distraction, but don’t really give any good rewards, and some get really grindy. There’s Time Attack, Home Run, and Fishing. Time Attack is a simple racing game, where you either fix up a car and drive it, or fix up a walker and jump up a mountainside. In Home Run, you hit a baseball whenever it gets close to the center. Fishing is…well fishing. You try to catch a fish for either a quest, or for cooking. All of these are really simple, and can be challenging, but I never really found a need to play them. Some of the story missions and side quests required them, which led to some funny moments, but the games themselves seem really out of place here.
This game was a blast for me to play at times, but a chore at others. I mentioned how the game was “shortened” earlier in the review, and that wasn’t an understatement. Even compared to Dragon Ball Kai this is chopped up. Meaning it’s hard for me to recommend to people who aren’t fans of the show already, since Kai is arguably the best way to watch it, and it’s almost as long. It’s also hard to recommend to hardcore RPG fans, as even though grinding is optional, this game feels grindy and like it has a lot of fluff. Since most of the monsters are just reskins, and don’t give much EXP, I found myself running from them more than actually fighting them. And while some of the side quests were amazing for me (namely the Arale one because of my love of Dr. Slump), most were just boring and required almost no thought on my end. If it wasn’t for Roshi giving you gifts, the cooking and buying healing items probably would have been a grind as well. I know I use that term a lot, but it’s the main one I can think of when I remember this game. Even the titular Dragon Balls are scattered across seven different areas, meaning to get them, you have to load all 7 areas. This took a lot of time because the loading screens are very long, but the reward of either getting Zeni, Orbs, Items, or boss rematches was too good to pass up. Even if I only get one at a time (three later on in the game), and have to wait 20 minutes in between uses.
Seeing as how Dragon Ball Z is a shonen anime, you’d naturally expect fighting to be the main aspect of the game. In typical Bandai fashion, this game does a wonderful job in capturing the high-octane energy that the show is known for. I’d compare it to the Xenoverse titles in terms of scale and spectacle, with a lot of the important fights getting extra care. You feel like you’re a character in the world of Dragon Ball, and overall it’s just really fun to fire massive beam blasts at people. You have the choice of either melee, super attacks, or dodging, and that’s basically it. The simple controls lead to a very easy to pick up experience. I do wish there was some more finesse to it, but that’s a small gripe that I can get past. The real problems arise though when you get to the random enemies. Because this is an RPG, you have normal encounters outside of the story. This is where the game shows some cracks in its design, as these can get tedious really fast. The enemies are almost either an absolute cake walk, or complete bullet sponges. I found myself running from them more often than not, just because they didn’t give a whole lot of EXP, and were making the game less enjoyable. I understand that they’re a staple in RPGs, but here they’re more of a nuisance than anything. I feel like the game would have been much stronger without them. Other than the fodder enemies, the boss fights are actually really enjoyable, as they each have their own moves and different quirks. Bosses even have a special mode that they get later on in the fight called “Frenzy Mode,” where it becomes near impossible to stun them, and they’ll probably do a combination of really strong super attacks. They’ll be stunned afterward, which is usually the best opportunity to get a ton of damage off on them.
This game is weird to me. It’s very long, and has a lot of boring activities/fluff that makes it annoying to play sometimes. But in all honesty, the game is just too charming to put down. Its style, score, and even length are all so deliciously Dragon Ball that it puts a smile on my face. I’ve put more than 50 hours into this game, and just keep coming back. This feels more like a love letter to Dragon Ball than a game, and honestly I’m okay with that. There’s nothing technically wrong with it, other than some minor frame drops, and it even has a Compendium of information and collectibles from across the Dragon Ball world, including some of the old card game from the Dragon Ball Z: Collectible Card Game. Every last detail, even the title cards with narration, just makes me feel like I’m a kid again watching my favorite Saturday morning show. I can’t really recommend this game unless you’re both a die hard Dragon Ball and RPG fan, and also feel like spending $59.99 on a story you’ve probably seen thousands of times. But if you are like me, I think you’ll find a lot to enjoy about this game, despite all of its flaws. From the second that “Cha-La Head-Cha-La” starts blaring, to the image of Goku staring out over the wilderness, I guarantee it’ll spark joy inside you. It truly is the best example of a Dragon Ball Z video game.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Bandai NamcoCyberConnect2Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot