'Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot': Game Review

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot - Publicity - H 2020
Courtesy Bandai Namco
A near-complete retelling of 'Dragon Ball Z' designed for fans of the anime.

Developer CyberConnect2 delivers an open world RPG that hews closely to its source material.

The Dragon Ball Z saga is, like the series’ Snake Way, an incredibly long and winding road. From start to finish, it’s comprised of 291 episodes, split into several story arcs that stretch across dozens of hours of lore-building. There’s a lot to unpack, and Dragon Ball Z is technically the middle of the story. Ignoring Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball GT (which is no longer considered canon) and Dragon Ball Super, you’re in it for the long haul for the middle stages of the franchise alone. That means, as far as video games go, there’s plenty of content for developers to draw from. 

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot takes you through a near-complete retelling of Dragon Ball Z. As opposed to what the title suggests, this game isn't just about Goku. You'll fight as Goku (obviously), but you'll also control Gohan, Vegeta, Piccolo, Trunks and others as the game progresses. One of the game's biggest strengths is its faithfulness to the source material. It takes you from Raditz's landing on Earth, all the way through the Buu Saga, and everywhere in between. Sure, the story has been slightly abridged, but you catch all the high points. This is the most thorough retelling of DBZ in game form to date.

Unfortunately, Kakarot's reluctance to deviate from the original source also dampens the title's appeal. For one, if you're familiar with DBZ, you already know what's going to happen. There are no what-ifs present here. Alternatively, if this is your first experience with the franchise, the fan service and references will be lost on you. This game's appeal seems a bit mistargeted. Those who love DBZ might find themselves bored, and those who are unfamiliar with it may not have enough points of reference to enjoy the game thoroughly.

The better move for Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot would have been to start the game with the story of the first series. Let's face it, a lot of people who love DBZ have never seen Dragon Ball. If the game had started with Goku's first adventure, this outing would have been a good introduction for those new to the universe or those who have never gone back and watched the original series.

You're also stuck with the same powers you saw in the series, and characters roughly acquire them at the same pace. So there's no busting out Super Saiyan 3 Goku during the fight with Frieza on Namek, or any transformations past what we saw in the series. That means there's no Super Saiyan Blue or Super Saiyan 4 (if you're a Dragon Ball GT fan) to look forward to, even in the post-game. 

This adherence to DBZ lore also makes Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot fall into one of the oldest and most annoying video game tropes. You'll fight a lot of battles in this game, all of which require you to win. However, even if you wreck your opponent, if it's not time for them to go down in the story, then they'll pop up in the next cutscene and tell you how much of a weakling you are. This wouldn't be such a big deal if combat didn't feel so loose.

Fighting in Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is enjoyable enough on the surface. Mashing one button performs a physical combo, tapping another sends out Ki blasts, one guards, one dodges and one charges your Ki. Your standard combo isn't anything too exciting. You can either shoot energy blasts, ending with a strong one, or punch and kick for a few hits ending with a slam. 

To perform more advanced moves, you need to hold a shoulder button and select your Kamehameha, Spirit Bomb or what have you from a menu. There are also transformations, like Kaioken, which makes your strikes more powerful at the expense of continually draining your health, and Super Saiyan, which does the same thing except it drains your Ki instead.

Combat can be engaging, but most of the challenge comes from enemies spamming super attacks over and over as they approach death. Some of these super attacks have interesting mechanics, like switching the camera angle and making you dodge multiple area effect blasts. Still, some simply seem to exist to draw fights on longer.

Fortunately, the open-world segments offer some variety in gameplay. At specific points in the game, you can fly around either Earth (or Namek during the Frieza Saga) and collect orbs used to unlock new moves, do side quests and collect items used to craft meals and whatnot. It's exciting to fly around the world of DBZ, and there's plenty of fan service hidden about for longtime fans to discover. You'll take side quests involving original characters, some from Dragon Ball, some obscure ones from Dragon Ball Z and beyond. Most of these side quests require you to collect items or kill several enemies. However, they're often short and give you a decent reward.

The RPG part of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot isn't very deep, but it doesn't have to be. Your characters level up, but the game gives you so much XP that there's never a need to grind. There are also Community Boards where you can place collected character emblems to gain permanent buffs. You can also unlock new moves by using orbs and special items. Still, they're never vital to completing the game. The RPG systems come off more as an opt-in system than being an essential part of Kakarot, which is excellent for players who want to fight their way through the story. However, this lack of depth in the game's myriad systems may be a turn off for those looking for a traditional action RPG experience.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is very focused towards a particular group of people. It's a love letter to Dragon Ball Z, and it's completely faithful in its attempt to replicate the experience you get from watching the anime, no more, no less. If you're looking for the what-if scenarios from the Xenoverse games, there's none of that here. So, if you love DBZ and want to experience it again in video game form, this game is fantastic. For others, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot may stick too close to the source material for comfort.