You’ll be hard-pressed finding anyone who hasn’t seen an episode of Dragon Ball Z. Growing up when I did, this serialized anime series was the talk of the town in my high school and friend circles. We were young, full of testosterone and ready to watch Goku take on Frieza, Cell, and Buu as he became the strongest warrior in the universe. Since the early 2000’s we’ve seen hundreds of adaptions depicting the familiar tales of Earth’s Mightiest Warriors. Now, with Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, we’re going through the motions again, only this time it’s as an RPG as we recycle the source material in a new way.
Starting in Kakarot sees you playing as young Goku, with his baby boy Gohan following behind him as they venture out into the wilderness to establish the mechanics and introduce us once again to the hero of this series. We meet Piccolo, who hasn’t yet become friends with his opponent, and thus we move into a tutorial that explains how to battle in Kakarot.
In my time playing through the Saiyan Saga, Namek Saga, and well into the Android Saga, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about the combat. Mechanics feel shallow when striking opponents, and you only have one button for physical attacks, one button for Ki attacks and an evade/vanish button. However, the way the systems work together to keep you busy against either one or a handful of opponents offsets the simplicity because you’re always adjusting to an attack landing or having to dodge at the right time. Simply put, this isn’t a deep combat system, but it is satisfying the longer you spend time learning how things work but at the end of it, leaves much to be desired. I will admit I am having fun the more I unlock through progression.
A Saiyan’s Pride
I spent the first handful of hours button mashing the attack button but learned the hard way that doing this doesn’t work in important battles and learning to dodge, block or burst an opponent is crucial to win. Add in the stun meter, which I thought was a gimmick, turned out to be my saving grace when Frieza was at max power and Goku faced a barrage of energy beams homing on my location. Stun turns the tide when in a pinch and the damage output can make or break a battle.
I enjoyed the way CyberConnect 2 split the story sagas and who you’re playing at during crucial moments. At the start, we experience things from the perspective of Gohan, before shifting to Piccolo, Yamcha, Krillin, and so on. Allowing the cast their moment in the spotlight is a great way to keep the game fresh as each character plays a bit differently. However, when shifting back to playing as Goku, I find myself having the most fun due to his power and abilities.
Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
Moving onto the intermission period between the Saiyan Saga and Namek Saga, for example, we can freely explore the world, complete sidequests and also train to get stronger. You’ll be able to fish in each area, hunt animals for food, and do some shopping in each of the cities. While none of these systems are particularly deep, they are necessary, and you’ll need to cook to gain buffs in battle. You’ll also be buying potions and other odds and ends just like you would in any RPG, mapping them to your in-battle menu to serve as a respite in a pinch.
Sprinkled throughout each saga are sidequests that are often mundane. One sidequest might include Master Roshi asking Goku to find hidden smut magazines. Another sidequest involves helping Emperor Pilaf deal with some enemies. Moving to Namek, one of Frieza’s henchman wants your help in creating a powerful juice that boosts health. More times than not, these substories offer little of value and pad out the main campaign and act as the anime filler Dragon Ball Z is known for.
Will Our Heroes Survive?
Sadly, the sidequests, fishing, and cooking come across as hobbled together, making the world less lived-in and more built for busywork. Nothing is particularly broken or bad, but this is the world of Dragon Ball and I want more from it. Exploring each area is a basic loop where you’ll search for various coloured orbs that are used in each character’s skill tree. You’ll also find the same handful of enemies moving about the world and waiting to be pummelled. In some parts of the world, Red Ribbon Towers are strewn about, but they do nothing other than grant items.
Moving around works well enough but if I could compare the movement it’s like having Sonic the Hedgehog trying to be precise at a speed-designed level; you miss things because you move too fast. Also, Kakarot introduces community Boards and Spirit Emblems which I found to be confusing at first due to how they’re implemented. Spirit Emblems are based on various characters and each one offers a potential bonus when connected to a specific Community Board; Chi-Chi excels at cooking, Goku at fighting and so on.
All things considered, I’m having fun playing through the familiar narrative of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot. My total game time lasted around 45 hours and I completed the majority of the sidequest content. Sure, the game is hamstrung with some design issues, but the core is solid. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is rough around the edges but when things work, the gameplay shines and offers some momentous moments worth revisiting. Playing through Kakarot is one of the better ways to experience the series but the lack of finesse weighs the game down.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]