Developed By: CyberConnect2
Published By: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
It seems we just can’t get away from Dragon Ball. Throughout the years, we have been getting almost a plethora of Dragon Ball games in various forms – though mostly in its best representation being a brawler style game. In 2018, we were given Dragon Ball Fighter Z, a 2D fighting game which is still widely played by the fighting game community and at the same time Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 which is also still getting more content and is widely played by the Dragon Ball community. Fast forward to 2020 and Bandai Namco brings the long-time franchise in a new form. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is an open-world RPG coupled with many other mechanics along with it. While the RPG mechanics aren’t somewhat new but the approach and implementation are pretty refreshing. So how does this new entry of this age-old franchise do? Let’s find out.
Here we go…again
Dragon Ball Z needs no introduction. The story has been told countless of times and any fan who has followed the story would know the plot like the back of their hand. Suffice to say, there is nothing more that has not been already told. Upon firing up the game, you will be greeted by a nostalgic feel as you listen to the series’ well-known opening song. As a fan, this will truly hit you to your childhood core.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot starts off immediately in the shoes of Kakarot or his more well-known name, Goku, who is doing some mental training in which he fights with Piccolo. After that, he wakes up and is greeted by the face of his son, Gohan. He is reminded that they need to fetch food ingredients for Goku’s wife, Chi Chi. Anyone that is familiar with the manga/anime knows that is not how the whole Dragon Ball Z story starts instead this serves as a mini-tutorial on the general controls as well some features that you will experience in the game. From there on, the game will proceed on with the main sagas of the story.
Even though this is their first foray being an open-world RPG, DBZ: Kakarot only provides the barebones of an RPG. You have a levelling system in which you gain experience points to level up. Each time you level, your basic attributes such as health, ki, attack and defence will increase. Furthermore, you also open up more options to further improve a character’s skills. Speaking of characters, while the game is named Kakarot, you do get to play many of the major characters as you progress throughout the story. Each of them has a skill tree which allows you to enhance their skills as well as unlock usable passives. The game uses a special currency called Z Orbs which you can obtain by collecting them around the field, defeating enemies, completing main and side quests.
In addition, apart from engaging in the main story, there are plenty of side activities such as cooking, fishing as well as crafting that you can get yourself involved in. Many of these side activities provide additional help in character growth such as fishing allowing you to capture certain fish that can be used to cook certain meals in which after consuming provides an additional boost to some of the character attributes. Furthermore, the game also introduces another system called the Community Board which acts as another way to gain even more passive bonuses that will assist you greatly throughout the game.
The Community at your Service
On the Community Board, there are 7 communities which focus on different bonuses that correspond to other general stuff in the game. For example, the Z Warrior Community focuses on passive bonuses that are helpful during battles and the Cooking Community focuses on bonuses during cooking such as the success rate when cooking as well as the duration of the effect for each food. However, to make use of these bonuses, you will need to level up these communities. All of these boards are not opened up to you immediately and will be unlocked as you progress through the game by meeting specific characters. In order to increase the levels for each community, you are given yet another mechanic which utilizes what the game calls Soul Emblem.
These Soul Emblems are in the form of character portraits of each character throughout the Dragon Ball lore. These can be placed on any of these Community Boards which then adds up points on the community bar in order to level them up. Furthermore, each of these Soul Emblems has extra bonuses that add up even further to the community bar. For example, placing Yamcha and Krillin along with Goku activates the Turtle School Disciples which adds an extra 3 points to the community bar.
Depending on how you place them on the board, you can stack up the bonuses in order to gain some extra benefits in the core gameplay. Many of these emblems are obtained by progressing through the main story-line as well some are obtainable through post-game. One may consider the Community Board as DBZ’s way of character building although it is somewhat simplistic.
The general controls in the game are quite straight forward. While in the field, you get to run, jump, fly and shoot ki blasts (although only through the first-person view). Whereas in battle, you have one button for each action – attack, block, charge ki, & dodge. You also get extra actions such as using special moves by pressing and holding the shoulder buttons. If you have played the Xenoverse games then DBZ: Kakarot shouldn’t feel foreign at all. Being an open-world concept, it means allowing you to traverse around many of the known locales throughout the Dragon Ball universe. However, many parts of the world are segregated into parts as you can’t fly from the Kame House to the Goku’s House even though it doesn’t look to be that far apart looking at the World Map. You have to go into the World Map and select from there to travel. It is a bit of a shame but nothing too overly disappointing.
When it comes to fighting, the bouts in this game takes a similar approach to Xenoverse, as mentioned before. The attack button provides the most of your basic attacks. Pressing it continuously allows you to form an auto combo. Each character has their own auto combo moves which can be extended by unlocking it through their respective skill tree. The shoulder buttons provide extra options such as super attacks as well as ally specific attacks which provide additional leverage should the fight turn out to be difficult. Much like Xenoverse, these attacks can be customized to suit your preference.
The visuals in this game are absolutely lovely to look at. The cell-shaded graphics make everything look catchy and pop out. While we have already seen such graphics before from previous Dragon Ball games, it is still truly astounding to see how are they able to bring out these characters in full motion and retaining the feel and look of the original source. Each character throughout the game stayed true to how they look like their original source counterpart but even better thanks to cell-shaded graphics. Many Dragon Ball games have come and go and none have brought out the identical effect as the anime like in this one.
Furthermore, many of the sound effects from the anime are all in here. The sound of ki blast, to the sound of hitting enemies to explosives. It is just as every fan have experienced watching the anime. Furthermore, they even brought back all of the original voice actors and actresses including the smaller role characters. They really did an amazing job in this department. As a long-time Dragon Ball fan, I am overflown with tears of nostalgic joy.
What I Liked
As a Dragon Ball fan, I pretty much liked everything about DBZ: Kakarot, almost. First things first. The graphics and visuals just hit it right with me. While cell-shaded graphics will always be the most obvious approach when it comes to anime games but DBZ: Kakarot is just a visual feast to look at. Couple with the sound effects that retains the original sound effects just makes it even better to experience. The (semi) open-world exploration and the feel of really just flying to those known locales that I’ve seen in the anime and manga are just awesome and my inner child just screamed for joy.
The pacing in this game felt good. It isn’t rushed. It really gives you ample time to just soak in the whole world and digest in the new system and mechanics. You may have a quest to save Krillin but you can also stop by at the side to do some fishing. On the role-playing side, it will feel weird but it just works well too. The game does not punish you for not doing things accordingly but in fact, it felt more like it is telling the player to just feel free to explore and the main quest can wait a little bit longer.
The Community Board is somewhat a refreshing take as you try your best to pair up the Soul Emblems in order to maximize certain bonuses that you need. At the same time, once you pair up certain emblems together, you will be treated to a small dialogue between those characters that fans will appreciate hearing.
On the battle side of things, controls aren’t too complex and is easy to pick up. There isn’t too much fuss in knowing how you should fight although some careful adjustments in terms of how you approach a fight especially those boss fights may be needed. Nonetheless, while the game still is technically a brawler, it doesn’t require you to have a high skill ceiling to achieve a certain feat.
What I Disliked
While I love Dragon Ball to bits, there are some parts in the game that feels very off and cheap. The most jarring of all is how the main story unfolds each time. While it does follow the original source as closely as possible, there are certain parts that are tweaked. For example, one scene where Future Trunks dispatches Frieza and King Cold in a differently. While the attacks used are the same but how it was executed is slightly different. This is likely being done in order to fit into the narrative of the game. Although as a fan, I find it annoying as I was expecting to see some of those scenes play out just as I remembered but just to be disappointed in the end. Furthermore, some of those tweaked parts felt odd in execution and it doesn’t feel right even from a narrative aspect. Some parts of the story are either chopped out or are told in just narrative words on a black screen. Those parts add more depth into building up the story until the pinnacle point but the simplified explanation just makes the transition of the story feeling very patchy.
Coming into the newer aspects of the game which is the side quest, side activities as well as the Community Board. While their additions do serve a purpose and it does work to a certain extent, it just felt many of them are not fully utilized in order to make this game feel more complete and in-depth. While it is understandable that most games based on anime are never too complex but it felt like a real missed opportunity to break the mould by making anime games into something fun but also in-depth.
While the side quests are aplenty and do give a somewhat different experience should you wish to take a break from the main story-line, many of them are nothing more than just the usual fetch quest. It can be alright the first few times but will feel stale eventually resulting in me preferring to go through the main storyline as it is still more interesting despite already knowing the plot for the umpteenth time. As for the side activities, they do offer some variety but it isn’t strong and long enough to pull you in to keep doing it. The Community Board is one of the best additions to the game but could’ve been better. While the mechanics are straightforward and simple, it still feels like there is more that can be done. Some community boards are outright useful while some look like they are there for the sake of being there. Plus, many of those bonuses aren’t as helpful as they ought to be.
On the battle side of things, enemies can either be a cheat or downright predictable or just both. Normal fights especially the enemies you encounter as you explore around the world are somewhat dumb. Almost all the time they kept on using the same move patterns and spam special moves throughout the entire fight. The more fights like these you get into, the more it becomes a downright chore and you will end up trying to avoid them as much as possible. Bosses do pose a good challenge but eventually, they too fall into the same spamming specials syndrome. Furthermore, some of these boss fights can feel like a cheat as they always seem to be able to spam certain moves with little recovery time. However, what annoyed me the most is the camera angle. Whenever you are being pushed back against a wall, a mountain or the ground, the camera angle would just get stuck there. This makes certain fights very irksome to fight especially the ones where you will be up against with more than one opponent. With your character at the center, it obstructs the view making hard to see what your opponent is about to do which in turn makes boss fights or any fight for that matter a true unnecessary challenge itself.
Nonetheless, so long as your level is considerably higher than them, most of these tough fights are downsized to something easy to deal with. The game also isn’t even shy about letting you know about it which brings me to the next point, explanation. This game is horrible in explaining things when you are introduced to a new mechanic. Many of the so-called tutorials just give a very simple and basic explanation of things and leave out the rest for you to find out. Like when it comes to the community board, you do get to unlock some special passives that you can equip however once you unlock them, the game does not tell you much of these passives and where to equip them. The fact is that the menu themselves are hidden in layers after layers unless you do take some time to really explore them thoroughly. I do highly agree that developers do not need to spoon-feed gamers to everything and encourage more self-exploring but to go through layers of menu just to do one thing can be a bit bothersome.
What can be Improved
It is not like we may need another Dragon Ball game but then again whom are we kidding. There are definitely plenty of things the game can improve on. One thing for sure, the RPG open-world approach is definitely a step in the right direction. The only thing it needs is to expand things even further. Throw in a more in-depth system for players to get creative. Also, add in more filler content. We all know the Dragon Ball saga in and out. I believe it will be an added cool fanservice bonus to see some scenes being tied in together especially the ones that weren’t specifically shown on the anime and manga side.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot overall is a fun game although it can look to be focused more on fanservice, as it should be. That said, newcomers to the franchise can get confused on certain parts as likely many have not experienced the earlier parts of the Dragon Ball storyline. It feels like the game has not reached its fullest potential. Nonetheless, this game is taking some steps in the right direction and as a fan, this game satiates that childhood nostalgia thrill. As a gamer, the game attempts so many things that feel dated. Nonetheless, it is a start of a new year and a brand new console is coming. So new possibilities are definitely on the horizon.