Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot captures the aesthetic of the anime, but its gameplay is a mixed bag that reeks of unfulfilled potential.
Title: Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
Publishers: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platforms: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbox One, Windows
Release Date: January 17, 2020
In my experience, when it comes to licensed anime titles, there’s hardly enough chances that are taken. Most often, especially in regards to the most mainstream titles (e.g. Dragon Ball, Naruto, One Piece), these take the form of fighting games with huge rosters that offer slivers of different playstyles.
While these types of games are, mostly, solid attempts at capturing the spirit of the anime they cover, they’re often just that: solid. While there is occasionally a game that admirably tries something a bit different (e.g. Naruto: Rise of a Ninja), you’re mostly getting sequels upon sequels to fighting games with recycled formulas and such.
In theory, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot could be an answer to those concerns. It’s an open-world RPG that tells the main Dragon Ball Z story and all of its epic moments and characters. That is, of course, why they call it a theory, because Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot doesn’t manage to live up to most of its ambitions. While there’s certainly still stuff to like about this latest outing with Goku and friends, the entire project feels like it could’ve been so much more.
Kakarot tells the story of, well, Kakarot! Spanning across a multitude of events from the anime including the Freiza and Buu arcs, the game is essentially a retelling of the most iconic moments in Dragon Ball Z history. You’ll spend most of your time playing as Goku, but you’ll also have the opportunity to take control of other main characters when the situation calls for it. You’ll relive the moments in glorious cell-shaded graphics, from the first fight between Goku and Vegeta to Gohan’s bout against Cell.
If you were to just look at Kakarot based on presentational aspects, it’s great! It’s been a while since I had any sort of encounter with the Dragon Ball Z story, and the game does a phenomenal job at bringing it to life. It’s perhaps the best rendition of it ever done in a video game. The game’s cutscenes, voice acting, and even boss battles all ooze with that kind of heart that makes Dragon Ball Z so beloved.
There’s something to be said for the game’s story to make me feel nostalgic for a series I wasn’t exactly infatuated with in the first place (I’ve always been more of a Naruto guy), yet here we are. Even with all the things I didn’t like about Kakarot, I still found myself relatively engaged 20 hours in just because I wanted to see how developer CyberConnect2 would recreate the next memorable scene from the anime.
When it comes to those things I didn’t like, there are plenty. The gameplay is, in a lot of ways, similar to the fast-paced action of the Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm series CyberConnect2 is known for, as well as touches of, say, Dragon Ball Xenoverse.
The biggest difference, however, is that there are more RPG elements involved with the entirety of the gameplay experience. Raising your stats, learning new moves, and collecting items all play a fixture in the experience, but this is where the game’s shortcomings start to rear their ugly, uninspired heads.
For all the heart and soul put into capturing the spirit of the anime, Kakarot feels like a game merely pretending to be bigger than it actually is. I found myself confused early on with how many of the RPG elements were even supposed to work, including the “Community Board” system that revolves around placing character medals, of sorts, that you have collected and pairing them with each other. One board could increase your basic attributes and ability to gain more experience after battles, while others focused on things like the meal system. These boards are suited to specific characters, but the system felt largely contrived and unnecessary — even if it was, theoretically, a neat idea.
There’s also a meal system which, although slightly easier to understand, feels like it isn’t a must-do aspect of the game. That’s kind of how most of the upgrade systems and menus feel, actually, and is a hamper on the core battle system because of how forced it all feels. The game does a terrible job of explaining how things work and why they’re necessary — choosing instead to just give brief written instructions that are hard to decipher.
How exactly do I assign different special moves? What do I need to unlock new ones? Where do I even go to see what moves can be unlocked? Messy doesn’t describe it well enough, and it shouldn’t take me hours to figure out basic functions of a game, and especially one predicated on being an RPG with — again, theoretically — several levels of depth.
Another aspect of Kakarot that feels shallow is the whole premise of an open world. Sure, you can fly around various areas at blazing speeds and feel empowered for a bit, but it quickly wears off as you realize there isn’t a whole lot to do. There are side missions, but these usually either boil down to the most basic of fetch quests or “hey, kill this guy for me!” excursions that don’t drastically change in the slightest.
I wasn’t expecting Kakarot to feel like a Rockstar title, but I was hoping that it’d actually have some more interesting activities to do in a franchise ripe with possibilities. It feels like a Mafia II idea of an open world created purely just for the excuse to say it’s an open world.
The only thing that’s even slightly salvageable is the activity of collecting random orbs scattered throughout the area. It’s like a poor man’s version of Crackdown since it’s not nearly as fun and you don’t really get to see the results of your labor play out in real-time. Collecting things can be a nice distraction, but it quickly grows stale if you feel like they’re actually
However, this leads to what makes Kakarot peculiar. Because while I’ve spent the majority of the review so far tearing apart for its seemingly half-baked ideas and jumbled mess of a system, there’s still some joy to be had with the game’s combat. It isn’t particularly deep — especially in terms of upgrading — but I often found it to be a high-octane version of a game of chicken.
There are no crazy button combinations to master and all of your special moves are easily accessible with a pop-up menu. Instead, it’s about understanding how your opponent’s tendencies work and waiting for the proper times to rush in for a basic combo, utilize your allies that might be available, or be more reserved and use long-ranged attacks.
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The battles are simple, especially when it’s not a major fight against someone like Freiza, but they’re engaging despite all that. I found myself consistently intrigued by what the next boss could play like. Well, at least for the first 10-15 hours, since the game does lean toward being more repetitive than not by the time you’re 30 hours in.
I respect how much of the story that Kakarot covers, but it’s hard to feel like it’s not a chore to get through it when everything surrounding it is so mediocre. Am I excited to see the beautiful animations and remasterings of classic scenes that make me feel like a kid again? Of course! But what it costs to accomplish that can be far too great of an asking price.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is not a terrible game. In fact, I wouldn’t even say I at all regret playing through it. The problem is that, despite how much heart and soul the team clearly pours into making it feel authentic, the game just can’t match the ambitions it promises. It reminds me a bit of One Piece: World Seeker from last year, which was also an open-world game. While Kakarot is infinitely more polished and without any infuriating moments like that game had, it simply boils down to being a disappointment.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.