The Dragon Ball franchise is a series that really needs no introduction. For over 35 years, this iconic series has cemented itself in manga, anime, toys, and of course, video games. Being one of the most well known action stories from Japan, Akira Toriyama’s saga has yielded over 80 games. Many of those games have been of the fighting genre. With so many fighting games and so many games to tell the story, one would think the story would grow stale. In the newest release, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, players will experience the story as an action RPG, not unlike the Game Boy Advance title, Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku. With the current generation of hardware, this leads to a more definitive package, giving an experience worthy of such a legendary franchise.
As many may know, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot tells the story of Goku throughout the entire Dragon Ball Z canon. Because of this, much of the filler content from the anime and movies is non-existent. Despite this, some of those stories remain intact simply for gameplay variety, like the episode where Goku and Piccolo take their driver’s test. On top of this, the developers also inject new elements, like characters introduced much later through other mediums. Whether those characters are integrating into the canon or not, the game still covers all the pivotal moments of the manga. Featuring the Saiyan, Frieza, Cell and Majin Buu sagas, the game even includes a few additional surprises for fans of the series.
While it’s definitely covering old ground, the genre change is a welcome breath of fresh air. While the game still has a lot of fighting, the change to an action RPG adds an emphasis on exploration and customization. Players will have plenty of side activities like fishing, mining, hunting and cooking to distract them between fights. While not quite an open world, the game features several zones that are each pretty expansive and large on their own. Flying free and at high speeds throughout this iconic world simply feels right. Fans can find popular landmarks and see everything together in a way that most have never seen before. They’ll even be able to track down the Dragon Balls and make wishes.
Perhaps the biggest fan service comes from the amount of references to the original Dragon Ball. The game has collectibles scattered all throughout the world, each calling back to fun scenes from the original series. Players will find things like Yamcha’s front teeth, Goku’s training turtle shell, and even Bulma’s infamous bunny outfit. On top of that, several characters from Goku’s past will show up as well. This includes characters like Android 8, Master Shen, and Launch, all of whom will offer their own side quests. It’s a nice throwback for fans, and it’s great to see these characters have a bigger presence in the Z storyline.
Taking it one step further, the game offers the Z-Encyclopedia, a massive tome of unlockable lore and references to Dragon Ball. Even if you know Dragon Ball inside and out, there’s surely something in these writings that fans may have never seen. This includes collectible trading cards, relationship charts, added story bits and more. While some may never attempt to look inside, the game encourages it by offering rewards for occasionally checking in. Overall, for a game that covers a story we’ve seen multiple times, this game definitely delivers it best.
When it comes to the action, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot has it in spades. Enemies are littered all over the map, from Red Ribbon robots to various henchmen. Players can encounter these foes by flying toward them, or even flying through them for an instant victory if they’re weak enough. When fighting, the game will feel similar to some of the previous fighting titles. While some of the commands may be rearranged, it won’t take long to pick up the controls and get into the fights. Combat is pretty engaging, and while it can get repetitive sometimes, the game throws some curve balls at you every once in a while.
Despite being called Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, the game has multiple playable characters aside from Goku. Fan favorites like Piccolo, Vegeta, Gohan, and Trunks are all playable, as well a couple brief fusion fights. While it’s great to have a little variety, it’s surprising because we miss out on so much Goku stuff. We don’t see him run on Snake Way. There’s no training montage on his way to Namek. The game definitely prioritizes what’s important to present, but it’s still interesting to see the omissions. Either way, it’s good that each character feels different, and the game even offers moments where the player can customize their party for two more support fighters.
Characters will level up, albeit a bit unevenly, but it never feels unfair when it comes to plot progression. Players will earn Z-Orbs when finishing fights and also have the opportunity to collect them around the games settings. Spending Z-Orbs will earn you skills on the skill trees for each character, but some skills need to be unlocked. This is either by progressing in the story or by using the Training Grounds to unlock skills with D Medals. The pacing is a little different than players might be used to in a game like this, but it manages to work. If you’re really feeling up to a challenge, then the Villanous Enemies will likely test your mettle.
One of the main features to add extra depth to the game are the Community Boards. These are various bonus boards separated in different categories to offer different buffs and benefits in the game. By collecting Soul Emblems, players can organize character medals of various skill types to unlock these special bonuses. Upgrading Soul Emblems can even earn rewards for doing so. A lot of Soul Emblems will be earned by playing the story, but many of them will also be incentive for doing certain side quests. If you come across a character offering a Sub Story, and you don’t have a Soul Emblem for them, chances are you’ll get one by finishing the side quest.
The game has several activities and minigames, including a chocobo race-like game involving a bipedal walker robot. It’s a bit clunky, but at least the other games work fine. The fishing in the game isn’t very deep but it luckily doesn’t overstay its welcome either. Hunting and mining feel more like distractions, though there’s something rather silly about making Goku gut-punch a deer. There’s even enemy bases to destroy and dinosaurs to incapacitate to earn items, which involve shooting ki blasts in the overworld. Speaking of ki, the game allows players to detect ki energy from collectibles, enemies and other life forms. It’s a neat feature that surprisingly has a lot of detail.
Graphically, the game does a great job bringing the Toriyama style world to life. Characters are true to their designs and environments are colorful and plentiful. Attacks and other special effects look fantastic and CyberConnect2 brings in their stunning animation for some really amazing visuals. Some standout moments include Vegeta taking a blast from the Spirit Bomb or Android 16’s attack on Cell. Unfortunately, there is one flaw in the visuals, and that comes from the unnamed NPC characters. For whatever reason, these NPCs just lack several details, and the lighting engine just hurts their case. There are many moments where an NPC is shown up close, and it just feels out of place, like a product from the Budokai days. It’s a little disappointing considering CyberConnect2’s pedigree in visuals.
When it comes to the music, the soundtrack does tend to get a little repetitive. Some of the most epic moments in the series had some really great music to accompany them. Sadly, Kakarot suffers in this department. Sometimes it’s because the music isn’t as fitting, and sometimes, it’s because there’s no music at all. Hopefully the anime music pack helps to fix this, though it’s unfortunate that fans have to pay for that. At least there’s charm in the instrumental “Cha-La Head-Cha-La” theme to keep us entertained.
The voice cast is full of fan favorites, in both English and Japanese. The English cast does have some slight changes, but they still all do a great job. Sean Schemmel continues to provide a great voice for Goku while Chris Sabat works extra hard to provide several key voices. Many of the villains have excellent performances as well, like Daman Mills as Frieza and Dameon Clarke as Cell. Granted, not all performances are great, though this is perhaps due to direction. While the voices don’t really match the mouth movements, it’s pretty standard for anime licensed games.
Being a sort of open world game (to an extent), the game does suffer from a few bugs. Aside from some bugs I’ve seen others experience, I’ve run into a few interesting ones myself. Most have been minor, but the worst ones have been audio glitches where sounds from special effects continue to play through other moments, including cutscenes. Sometimes the super move menu will also stay on the HUD and make it into those scenes too. Aside fom the audio issue, nothing seemed like a bit issue, more rather like an inconvenience.
While it’s not perfect, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is an incredibly enjoyable experience. Not just a retelling of the story, but ultimately the definitive way to play the Dragon Ball Z saga. It perfectly blends the combat of the 3D fighting titles with the sense of exploration and accomplishment of an RPG. Reliving the greatest fights in the series and seeing it with a higher level of detail really makes a difference. As many times as Goku’s story has been told, this is an adventure no Dragon Ball fan would want to miss. Hopefully this game design formula leads to other anime games in this style.