Dragon Ball Z was the one of the hallmark series of a 90’s childhood. Where you may spend 3 or 4 episodes waiting for somebody to actually finish powering up, arrive, or decide to finally do something. But heck, I was glued to that screen, so yeah I still loved it. Most games that came out for Dragon Ball would predictably be fighting or brawl-based games. So none of them really could tell the story of this beloved series, but that changes now thanks to CyberConnect 2 and Bandai Namco putting together Dragon Ball Z : Kakarot for us to enjoy, but just how fun is it?
Production (4 / 5)
The models for this game look great, every character seems to have been carefully put together to move and act as their anime counterparts would in convincing fashion. They’ve taken notes from how it was done in Dragon Ball FighterZ and made wonderful renditions of pretty much all of the cast, by mixing in sprites with model-specific textures, you get wonderfully animated scenes of the more dramatic scenes, especially in battle. It’s also pretty cool that they included as many characters as they can throughout the series, even if many of them are just side-quest givers.
The scenery however is another thing, aside from some key locations you can more or less tell it’s pretty much a copy-paste template wherever you go, so exploration isn’t really that rewarding unless you’re simply looking for loot, which happens a lot.
Japanese and English voices are available in this game, and on this rare occasion I heavily favor the English voices over the Japanese ones as I have a much stronger bias towards the English dub. Also hearing Goku’s original Japanese voice can be grating as I really have a hard time connecting the voice to his adult form. This effect is compounded with the fact that they throw out pretty much the same voice lines for every event that happens. They will, without fail, say the exact same thing when they encounter or do something. So imagine going through the sky avoiding, avoiding unwanted encounters, where you hear “I think I can handle this” or something similar, depending on character, every 3 or so seconds. The most powerful being in the universe can do with a bit of a lower voice, in my opinion. The sound effects are directly lifted from the series so there’s not much to complain about. However, the music does need much to be desired.
One last thing I’d like to bring up is how they came up with an opening sequence for the game with the immortal song, Cha-La Head-Cha-La. How they kept this title sequence more or less the same with some minor changes for the game version was definitely getting me pumped every time I booted up the game.
Mechanics (3.5 / 5)
Those who are familiar with the older games would claim that the fights are more or less an updated version of Xenoverse, and checking online, I would say yeah it may very well be that. You have a ‘fight’ button which is your melee attack, a ki-blast attack button, you can also dash which can be a dodge if you time it right before getting hit by an attack. By holding shoulder buttons, you can access assists as well as your special moves, and guard. You can also access items with your dpad, which can make difficult fights a heck of a lot easier.
Combat is pretty straightforward, where there are some interesting twists presented when the boss you’re fighting triggers their signature attack. Considering that nearly all of your story battles are basically boss encounters, the combat can feel fresh for the most part as you’re always fighting something new. When it comes to fighting grunts, you wish you had a fast-forward button.
One thing that’s absolutely annoying with bosses though is that the rules on how they’re going to get stunned is inconsistent, where you’re more or less constantly on the defensive and just making minor damage for every little opening they make, unless of course you have Krillin with you who can force a stun on your target. Right after the ‘how do I stun you’ issue is the camera, while it’s pretty okay for the most part, there are times that it having enemies too high or low forces the camera to get disorienting.
Apart from combat, DBZ Kakarot presents several systems in the game that are all meant to make your characters stronger. Eating food offers stats boosts that are both temporary and permanent, managing community boards boosts all sorts of passive skills for you, like item drop rates, boost to recovery items, attack power, and even experience points. And then you can progress the skills and mastery boards of every character as they unlock through the story.
Overall, the mechanics generally center around making fights better and more satisfying, how effective that is may vary depending on your tastes. Personally I would have enjoyed it better if fights, especially with bosses felt like there was a consistent rule set to be followed. It’s not as mash heavy as people might think, as planning your actions and within battle is far more rewarding than mashing out a basic fight combo and finishing it with a kamehameha, but constant interruptions when trying to finish a combo is more than annoying.
Content (4.2 / 5)
DBZ Kakarot off-the-shelf covers from Raditz upto the Buu saga, meaning there’s a good amount of content to play through. That is, if you’re okay with looping stories, because that’s pretty much the nature of Dragon Ball. Barely getting through a fight, then training for the next big opponent, that’s pretty much Dragon Ball for the most part. Though that’s not to say it wasn’t an uninspired approach to the story at all, many cut scenes were played out accurately and were generally a pleasure to watch. Most of them got me pumped to get to the next boss fight, and the game truly shines during these sections. It’s actually pretty cool that they made some minor changes or additions to the scenes so that the story makes more sense without you
Side quests are there for you for several reasons, first is to make grinding reasonably paced, so that you don’t have to rely on random encounters for xp, what would follow would be gathering soul emblems or items. It’s also nice to be able to meet all the characters of the series, where you may be surprised how many of them don’t actually fight. Unfortunately these quests are generally a slog, usually a mixture of fetch item x or fight enemy y, if anything, they’re at least short.
Features (3.5 / 5)
The game has an encyclopedia and a diary that you can follow the story beats with as well as check on terms, locations and character profiles in case you’re somehow not familiar with any of Dragon Ball’s lore.
Then there’s wishing on the dragon balls that allows you to either fight previous bosses and collect their soul emblems for beating them, or wish for power ups or riches that generally makes the game more convenient to play.
There’s also the incoming DLC for the Tournament of the Gods, which should make the game shine a little better considering all the fights that will follow that arc.
I actually appreciate CyberConnect 2’s swing at the DBZ series, as it attempts to mix the brawler and RPG genres and it veers away from Bandai Namco’s reliance on hub-world style interfaces. The experience tends to be lopsided as doing things outside of fighting the next big baddie can easily become a snooze fest because of it’s repetitiveness. However, it’s clear to me that Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot has an intended experience for you and doesn’t really want to make it a grind heavy-jRPG.
While it rather clumsily attempts to balance the systems together, it doesn’t forget where they should be keeping their focus on and largely delivers on that end. Boss battles are entertaining enough to keep you going despite minor issues I found with the combat system.
I wouldn’t place this on my top recommendations list, but this does make for a rather refreshing take on the DragonBall series. I honestly appreciate the no-nonsense approach and their focus on re-creating the big moments of this phenomenal series and get you involved in the action as much as they can. I believe that this would be a good pick up for are curious or passionate for the show as it’s not a bad couch game.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot might be a wish come true for some, as it’s a passable 3.8 / 5 on my radar.
Available on PS4, XB1 and PC.