Dragon Ball Z video games have taken us through the entire anime series numerous times. If you’re a fan of the show, you’ve likely been through all of them like I have. With FighterZ being an original story, the last time we traveled through the sagas was through Xenoverse 1 and 2.—and several fighting games before that. By now, I should be full, so why was I ready for more at the sight of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot?
Kakarot is not a trimmed down retelling of these stories like we have received in the past. Cyberconnect 2 aimed to immerse us into the story of Goku and our other favorite Z Fighters, and be fully in control of our favorite moments. Not since the Legacy of Goku games on the GBA have I gotten close to such an experience. Now, with modern technology, we are given what I’d call a definitive way to experience the series outside of watching the show, even if it does have some flaws that keep it from reaching its full potential.
Spiritual Content: This series has its fictional depictions of Heaven and Hell. A significant part of the story is the dragon balls; several characters use them to revive one another after death. A fortune teller can be found in the game that shows your character in the future.
Violence: Characters use energy power to fight one another, along with close-ranged melee attacks. Characters will shoot at one another with a variety of energy blasts that also cause environmental destruction. Cutscenes depict characters badly damaged, or even dying. During one of those cutscenes, a character has their arm broken. Some characters are blasted through the chest and torso.
Sexual Content: Adult magazines are a collectible item in the game. One of these magazines are shown, and on it is a clothed woman with cleavage. One of the characters is called a pervert for collecting them.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot puts us in direct control of not only the titular character, but the rest of the warriors that many have come to know and love throughout the show. I was surprised that I spent just as much time playing as characters like Gohan, Vegeta, and Piccolo as I did with Goku. Though it may be flawed as an RPG, the story has never been told through a more stranger presentation. The most important factor, however, is that the game is fun to play.
The game starts from the beginning of the show and ends after the Buu saga. So all of the events that take place are a known quantity for fans. There are plenty of side characters and easter eggs that seasoned veterans of even the original Dragon Ball show will appreciate. Options are in place to play the game subbed or dubbed based on your preference. Most of these licensed anime video games don’t include an English dub, so I was glad that work was put in to have both. Not every piece of dialogue in the game is voice acted, but every major plot point in the story has voice work involved.
The graphical presentation is strong where it counts. There are moments when traveling the open world where you will see a dip in quality, but the cel-shaded look holds up in all of the cinematic moments. In many ways, the visuals don’t hit their stride as often as Dragon Ball FighterZ did, but there are those moments that were successfully ripped right from the show. Even with inconsistencies, the story of DBZ has never been told so closely with such visual labor of love.
Yes, DBZ: Kakarot is an action RPG, but with mechanics that don’t mostly matter. Characters will level up and gain experience after each fight, and you collect orbs to upgrade and unlock abilities. Increasing levels feels like it doesn’t matter enough since specific characters will get a boost in levels as the story progresses. The unlockable skills also don’t matter so much since many of them are unlocked through story progression. These mechanics that are offered give a great first impression as being potentially deep, but aren’t.
The strangest part of the RPG elements within the game is the community board. It feels like a light attempt at some Persona-inspired social mechanic. When meeting characters throughout the story, you’ll unlock and place them on a virtual board. You can group specific characters for bonuses on one of the various board types, and gift them items to strengthen their level. This board system is meant to grant the player several stat bonuses throughout the story, but I could never tell if this system was impacting my gameplay experience.
What kept me continuously interested in playing through the story of Kakarot was the gameplay. Flying around familiar locations, such as Namek, at high speeds and battling familiar enemies and bosses from the show are the some of the most immersive ways to experience the story. The game world is divided into sections, but the areas are big enough that I had room to breathe as I flew around. There are also plenty of distractions in the form of side quests and collectibles to keep the most hardcore of fans busy beyond the duration of the main story.
Combat is easily the best it has ever been in a DBZ game with 3D movement. It feels much like the Xenoverse series in that specials are tied to holding a trigger and a face button, and the close-range combat feels more impactful than it ever has. I also enjoyed the assistance that I received from party members, who were helpful in battle. I couldn’t help but notice how they would sometimes step back and volley energy blasts alongside me, or fly in to get a few close-range attacks in of their own. Where Xenoverse felt much like an MMO with hotkeys for attacks, Kakarot is a much more involved experience.
Experiencing my favorite fights with such action-packed combat is my favorite part of the Kakarot experience, but I fear that others may want something more. These fights can feel repetitive at times, especially with the shallow RPG mechanics. Seeing that shallowness took away the sense of character growth that the game initially represents and eventually led to a point where I found myself coasting through the story. The effort to create a deep action RPG experience is a valiant one, but all of these elements don’t stick for too long.
Even with its shortcomings, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is the best way to experience the story without having to purchase all of the seasons in video format. All of it is here from beginning to end, and every major battle is fun to relive thanks to the engaging combat. For those who have shown interest in the series and never watched the anime, this may be a fun introduction. For those looking for a deep action RPG experience, there are other games out there that will likely be more worthwhile.
The Bottom Line
Though it falls just short of reaching its full potential, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is the best way to return to the beloved franchise on modern platforms.