Remember getting up for school, smashing some peanut butter toast and watching Dragonball Z on Cheez TV? I sure do. It was the best of times and although I lost interest around the Cell Saga, I’ve still got really fond memories of Dragonball Z. The latest game from Bandai Namco and Cyberconnect2, Dragonball Z: Kakarot is counting on those memories and that nostalgia. Unfortunately, while it’s ok, it falters early on and never recovers.
That’s not to say Dragonball Z: Kakarot is a bad game. It’s simply average. Once the initial shine and excitement of playing a Dragonball Z game that looks like a cartoon wear off, you’re left with a button-mashing brawler with empty open-world hubs.
People like me who haven’t watched Dragonball in years will definitely get a kick out of the retelling of Goku’s story. But fans of the series will likely be frustrated by the cliff-notes retelling.
Neither group is likely to be wowed by the fighting even though it is visually impressive.
Dragonball Z: Kakarot Review
Dragonball Z: Kakarot retells the Saiyan, Frieza, Cell and Buu sagas by focusing on the main beats and, mostly, the fights. Essentially, you’re going to be flying from fight to fight on the semi-open world map, beating up baddies and getting the basic story as you go.
I would have much preferred a more focused approach. Let us have the story unfold much more slowly and give us something to do in between fights that isn’t collecting floating orbs. If Cyberconnect2 had have focused on one or two sagas instead of four, we might have had a richer, deeper experience.
Unfortunately, instead, we’re rushed through Goku’s story without ever really getting a feel for what’s happening and why.
Thankfully, the voice acting is flawless, in both English and Japanese, so it delivers on that front. Hearing all of those voices again really made me feel like I was in Year 7 again, getting ready for school and pretending I too, could charge a Kamehameha.
Since the game skims over most of the story and focuses on the fights, you’d think that the fighting mechanics would be top-notch. Sadly, they’re not. Ki Blasts are mapped to Square, Ki Charge to Triangle, Dodge to X and Melee to Circle. To fight, you really just need to mash Circle and occasionally block by pressing L2.
There are some ‘advanced’ techniques like flanking, super attacks and support attacks from friends. They do help to alleviate the vanilla combat but not in any meaningful way.
It’s such a shame that the actual gameplay and mechanics of these fights is so dull because they look great on-screen. The combination of the wonderful visuals, fast-paced movement, great camera work and visual flourishes really make the fights look like something from the cartoon. It’s a real shame that the gameplay makes it feel like a chore rather than a battle between two supercharged beings.
Outside of combat, Dragonball Z: Kakarot doesn’t fare much better. You’re able to explore open hubs that are filled with orbs to collect (used for levelling up), ingredients to find and the occasional side quest. At first, I was pretty excited to be able to explore Dragonball Z’s version of earth, but each of these hubs is so desolate that I gave up and went right back to the main missions.
Side quests are ok and fill in some of the story a little more, but they’re mostly fetch quests with a fight thrown in. I stopped bothering with them after a while as well.
Even exploring the world is a bit of a chore. You can fly around the world with your characters which should feel great, but something about it just feels off. Raising and lowering your altitude is done by pressing R1 and R2 respectively. However, I never felt like I was really in control. It doesn’t feel as though there’s analogue control of your altitude and instead it feels like you’re moving in degrees.
It’s kind of baffling when you’re meant to fly through groups of orbs with fluctuating altitudes but you can’t move up or down quickly or smoothly enough.
The RPG and community aspects of Dragonball Z: Kakarot are definitely my favourite. Starting out, your faves don’t have access to their most famous moves, just like in the show.
Over time, you can level each character up, unlock moves and make them stronger. Even better, is that you can see their current Power Level. Little nods like that to the cartoon certainly helped make me feel more positive to the game.
The Community Boards in the game allow you to slot characters in to unlock bonuses. There are a number of boards, each anchored by a key character. The Z community is anchored by Goku, for instance. If you slot Gohan into the Z Community, you’ll unlock a special Father and Son bonus.
There are tonnes of these bonuses to find and unlock and experimentation is key. These communities improve HP, Ki, EXP bonus and so on. It’s in these boards that you can customise your game the way you see fit and it’s where most of the RPG elements come in. It’s a lot of fun to experiment with character combinations to get the bonuses that suit your playstyle.
I said in the beginning, Dragonball Z: Kakarot isn’t a bad game, it’s just an average one.
In trying to deliver the ultimate Dragonball Z experience, the game sacrifices too much and leaves players with a rather empty, hollow fighting game.
If even one aspect had been better — fighting, story, exploration — Dragonball Z: Kakarot would have been a much better game. Unfortunately, each element is average at best leaving the overall experience as mediocre.
I still had fun with Dragonball Z: Kakarot but I expected more.
Dragonball Z: Kakarot was reviewed on PS4 using a digital copy provided by Bandai Namco.
Game Title: Dragonball Z: Kakarot