Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot Review – Authentic, Ambitious, Adequate
Dragon Ball Z: KakarotJanuary 17th, 2020
I understand the desire to explore the Dragon Ball universe better than anyone, believe me. I, like many Dragon Ball fans, first started watching the show in my early adolescence, and its resurgence in recent years with movies and a brand new animated series and manga adaptation has been heartwarming to see. And even in video games, Dragon Ball FighterZ was an amazing game which not only stayed true to the style and substance of Dragon Ball but offered a truly excellent fighting game, so good that competitors unfamiliar with the franchise couldn't help but be drawn in. It is truly a fantastic time to be a Dragon Ball fan, and Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot promises to bring the world of Dragon Ball to life, with huge, open environments reminiscent of Akira Toriyama's genre-defining series, dozens of recognisable characters, and the frantic action you want from anything Dragon Ball. In many ways, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot delivers on its promises, but it falls flat in a bunch of others. This is a game that won't live up to the hype for everyone.
As many Dragon Ball games do, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot retells the story of Dragon Ball Z, which is the Saiyan arc, through to the end of the Buu arc. Everything has been filled out and expanded with side content and some new "filler" content that bulks out the number of hours required to play through the main story. The filler content works a lot like filler episodes in the original anime, things will get a little sidetracked, like Gohan going to find recipes or a celebration once Goku returns to Earth. These scenes are nice to see, but much like filler episodes in the anime, you end up wishing you could skip over them. The side quests are very similar. They often bring back Dragon Ball characters which are a bit more obscure, like Fortune Teller Baba, and involve you either searching for items or defeating some enemies. There isn't too much variety, admittedly, which is certainly disappointing to see, but not all that surprising.
The world that the side quests take place in, however, is a weird thing to tackle. On the one hand, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot's world is huge, and looks just as the anime series portrayed it. On the other hand, the anime series often portrayed vast fields and deserts with very little to see, and that is all too clear here. The city environments are much better than the barren wastelands that seem to fill up most of Namek and Earth, but then your skillset is wrong. While in the city you want to move around at a brisk pace, but Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot's open-world movement is built for these huge, empty environments, not narrow city streets. If you fly at full speed, you'll go way too fast. Flying at the slower speed often feels too slow. Jumping often doesn't jump high enough. Jumping while running, however, will give you absurd vertical height, but then won't give you much horizontal velocity, absurdly. It feels unnatural to control at almost all times, and while I could say that the running jump, which is very high indeed, is mainly for looking around and surveying the area, that would be fine if I could fly out of it. Just, jump really high, fly from that point. But you can't, instead, you can only take off into flight from the ground. Nothing flows into other actions and as a result it all often feels stilted and awkward.
I guess it's not too bad, considering all you do in that open-world when exploring, other than completing side quests, is collect orbs. Orbs are scattering the ground and air everywhere, and these can be used to upgrade your abilities in a series of complex menus. This is an action RPG, after all, and therefore your character's abilities in battle will be dictated by a series of unintuitive menus and skill trees, all fueled by different orbs and experience that you can gain when exploring, progressing the story, and levelling up. I just truly wish all of this had been simplified. The skill trees to upgrade your abilities feel hidden away in the character menu, while the comparatively rubbish Community Board and Soul Board is given a centre space on the menu. On the Community and Soul boards, you'll be filling up skill trees with character icons for bonuses. Link characters that know one another together and you'll get extra bonuses, unlock extra experience, extra attack power, more health, or other abilities. These are nice but aren't as necessary as brute strength and your key ability upgrades when push comes to shove.
And then we get into the combat system itself. It is not bad but is yet another aspect of the Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot which feels unnecessarily stilted and awkward. You lock on to an enemy in battle, and can then strafe around them while shooting energy, or move in to attack. You can have four combat abilities on your L1 menu wheel, and support items, or party character abilities, equipped to an R1 menu wheel. Outside of those abilities though, there is one attack button, meaning a single basic attack combo to mash out each time you engage an enemy. On the last hit of the combo, the enemy will be hit into the distance, either allowing you to chase them, or use a long-range energy attack to deal more damage. You will rinse and repeat this formula into oblivion. It is a blessing when the story has you control other characters, such as Piccolo and Vegeta, and the offers a new moveset to play with. Although, this could happen more often than it does, frankly.
When enemies attack you can block, and with enough ki, counter by teleporting behind them and unleashing your own combo. Enemies will often start tanking hit with super armor, and when this happens, it always means a strong attack is coming to blow you away, and special enemies have other attacks in a similar vein. Boss characters, like the main Saiyans, Frieza, and other strong enemies throughout the series' story, will have special abilities, and of course, much more health. The special abilities will usually include a large enemy attack which you will have to dodge in a pattern, although, spamming the dodge button might be a better way to do things than any traditional strategy.
The bosses, and many of the cutscenes in the game, are undeniably cool. In these moments, the game shines. I have complained about nitpicks almost incessantly in this review, and when it comes to the bosses and the bigger and better cutscenes, I shan't. When this game is firing on all cylinders, it becomes some of the best Dragon Ball fanservice we've had since Dragon Ball Super. The cutscenes are beautifully lit and animated, giving the world depth, crazy, sweeping camera angles, and big energy beam blasts. I enjoyed all of the bigger cutscenes of the game. And I say bigger because in between those, there certainly are a lot of dialogue scenes with static poses and little of interest happening. I will say though, that the side content and new scenes included in the game also ooze that same level of fan service and attention to detail which will make long-time Dragon Ball fans smile. I just don't know if many other aspects of the game will elicit the same response.
The Dragon Ball fan in me loves Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, but the game fan in me was getting tired very fast. Those cool setpieces and cutscenes kept me playing the game to see more, but too much in between those moments to spoil things. It becomes overlong, tedious, and repetitive. But simultaneously, it is wonderful for fans. I wouldn't torment myself by forcing through to 100% completion, but many other fans like me will feel compelled to at least finish the main story.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 (code provided by the publisher).
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is a mixed bag. If you're a Dragon Ball fan, this game will offer so many nice moments and make you occasionally beam from ear to ear. But then during exploration and combat, things quickly become tedious. At full price, it's hard to recommend this game, but when it becomes affordable in a sale, it'll be hard for fans to resist.
- Dragon Ball fanservice
- Ambitious open world
- Faithful, authentic
- Some awesome cutscenes
- Repetitive side quests and combat
- Tedious exploration which feels stilted
- Unintuitive menus