It’s the first big release of the DECADE, it’s a Dragon Ball game, and it’s LONG. It’s a game that tries to be more, but doesn’t always succeed. This is one of the best retellings of the anime ever, and it’s a fun ride, that doesn’t quite reach it’s maximum potential. Here’s our Dragon Ball Z Kakarot review!
A Familiar Tale
For better or worse, Dragon Ball Z Kakarot plays it very safe with the story it’s telling. For those who aren’t aware, Dragon Ball Z Kakarot is an action RPG, with a pseudo open world. It’s retelling the most popular sagas from the original Dragon Ball Z anime, up to the Buu saga, just like plenty of games before it. Kakarot really isn’t breaking any new ground in this respect, but it does spend much more time in each saga than Xenoverse did. The Saiyan Saga took me around 8 hours to complete, including all sub-stories.
The game is broken down into chunks, with each main saga acting like an episode of Dragon Ball Z, complete with the classic voice over of chapter titles, and a ‘Next time on Dragon Ball Z’ ending. Within these main sagas, you’ll occasionally see sub-stories appear on the map. These are often fetch quests or just a couple of fights against low level enemies, but they offer useful rewards, without adding anything significant to the story or characters.
The game tries its best with the story, but it still skips past a lot, using text boxes to explain away certain parts of the anime. If you haven’t seen the show, I think you’d have a hard time following along without getting confused.
It’s over 9000… Exp
Dragon Ball Z Kakarot is more than your traditional anime fighter, in that it’s added numerous RPG elements to the mix, along with various open world hubs, that you can explore between missions. Throughout the open world hubs (that are connected via an World Map that allows you to select a destination – with a hefty loading time) you’ll find multiple coloured orbs floating around. These orbs can be used to level up your abilities, and unlock new ones. You’ll also earn these orbs through battling, but they’re laid out through the open world in a fun manner, enticing you to fly through them.
The orbs however are the only enticing thing I’ve found in the larger hub areas so far – the hubs themselves feel quite empty, and lacking in life. Obviously you can’t compare this title’s scope to something like Red Dead Redemption 2, but I was still hoping for a little more going on in the open world aspect, instead I found myself flying straight past all the other attractions to get to the main event every time. The benefits never really felt worth the time it would take.
There are mini-games like fishing, which reward food ingredients to cook, which in turn gives stat boosts. You can also fight ‘villainous’ enemies which are super difficult versions of normal enemies, and MAN they’re hard. I unlocked the first villainous enemy when I was level 6, the enemy was level 29, I got one shot and couldn’t do any damage.
The aforementioned sub-stories come into play in the world hubs, and while the stories themselves aren’t all that interesting, a lot of them give valuable rewards like food, gifts, and even better soul emblems. This is where the RPG aspects of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot shine. There are 83 soul emblems to collect, and each can be set to something called a Community Board.
These Community boards each have leaders, and specialise in various elements of the game: Z Warriors, Cooking, Development, Training, Gods, Adult and Adventure. These boards provide bonuses and special effects, like extra damage, better items etc the more they level up. Each soul emblem will be suited to a certain board, but it’s not always straight forward, as you can give gifts to raise affinity with a board, and each emblem has links with other characters that provide a boost.
Goku, for example, has many different characters that can be linked with him to create a boost, but those characters could also be linked with somebody in a different board to boost a different stat. It’s actually quite a deep system and something that keeps me involved, as you can swap soul emblems in and out of boards whenever you like.
The other main RPG element to the game is obviously the leveling up system, that ends up producing some ridiculous numbers as you go, unlike Xenoverse, nothing is scaled back here, and there’s actually some clever things being done with the leveling system that ties in to the story. If a character goes through a story moment which sees them power-up (think training arc) this will be reflected with a WHOLE TRUCK LOAD of experience points, which will see their level increase significantly, which is a neat trick.
There are multiple playable characters in the game, each of which with slightly different move sets, and you’ll play as each character during various points in the story. Most of the time this is locked, but during Saga intermissions, you can at least choose who supports you in your party, which is useful in combat.
Let’s talk about combat. This is the main draw isn’t it? So imagine Xenoverse combat, it’s very similar. Most fights revolve around hitting the attack button 4 or 5 times, following up with a Ki blast, and then a special move like a Kamehameha when the enemy is stunned. Then you block or dodge their attacks, and repeat. Sounds repetitive doesn’t it? I suppose it is, but I’m actually really enjoying it, you certainly feel powerful, especially when you knock your opponent clean through multiple mountains, and you have a number of tools in your arsenal that will up your potential. Managing your Ki is also important, it’s used for special moves and needs to be recharged, which takes a few seconds of vulnerability – it’s an interesting challenge to face mid-fight.
Combat becomes more interesting when you make use of your party, who come along with their own support moves, and they’ll act offensively, defensively or ‘special’ depending on who it is. Using everybody’s special moves at once seemed like the way to go for me, mainly because it looks cool, but also you can deal MEGA damage. Another way to do mega damage is to activate your surge ability, which builds over time. When surge is active, your attacks do way more damage, and you can link special moves together, so you can do about 6 Masenko’s in a row. It’s awesome.
Transformations are unlocked as you progress through the game, starting with Kaio-ken. Again, these boost your power level, but come at a cost, as they’ll drain your HP or Ki (mana pool) when they’re active. This makes them a high-risk play, which I was initially disappointed with, as the transformations are some of my favourite parts of Dragon Ball, but over time I came to appreciate the mechanic. I was activating the transformations in a pinch, when it felt like it was my only option. It felt sort of in character, it felt very Dragon Ball.
The game never really says when you’re approaching a ‘boss fight’ – but you can definitely tell when the developers decided to ramp up the difficulty for certain fights. These fights tend to come when you would expect them if you’ve seen the anime, Raditz and Vegeta are harder to beat than Nappa, for example. In fact, I actually found these fights incredibly engaging, and challenging. I have died plenty of times to these bosses, who unlike most enemies, require some thought to go into the fight. It’s important to note the enemy’s attack animations and learn when they’ll be vulnerable to be opened up by one of your combos, kind of similar to a Dark Souls boss.
At some points in the game, you’ll have to fight multiple enemies at once, and while it sounds interesting on paper, it was actually not the best experience. It’s hard to get any combo’s going without being interrupted by an attack from an off-screen enemy, and there’s sometimes so much going on it’s hard to actually see what you’re doing. The game certainly shines in 1v1 combat.
Even though I rarely engaged in fighting any enemies in the open world or tried out mini-games more than once, I have never felt under-leveled. In fact, most of the time I’ve felt over-leveled. You really do get a lot of exp just from completing the main story, across each character.
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A lot of love has been put into this game.
The game tries to be SO much, it’s almost over ambitious, and where it falters in some regards, it’s still a fantastic ode to Dragon Ball. There’s so much thought put into the game, and the soul emblem feature has no right to be as engaging as it is. Apart from that, you’ve also got the Z Encyclopedia, which contains things like the Bestiary, notes on items, collectible cards and the Relation Chart, which is awesome.
There’s a chart for each saga which displays the heroes and villains, and how everybody connects to each other. These charts fill in as you progress, and are just a neat touch, it’s something I would stick on my wall as a kid.
For the most part, the game looks fantastic and runs fine. I’ve noticed slow down a handful of times, and loading screens are long (apparently will be shortened in the day one patch) and I had one crash when I tried to open the Z Encyclopedia the first time. While the animations aren’t quite on par with Dragon Ball FighterZ, they’re still great, and capture the iconic moments.
Every special move looks fantastic, and the cutscenes especially are beautiful recreations of the anime. Everything is done in engine, there are no 2D cutscenes in this, so it offers a somewhat fresh art style to some of the classic moments.
Some of the animations when you aren’t battling are a little rough, and the transition between flying and landing feels clunky, but once you’re in a fight, everything feels and looks great. Voice acting is solid throughout, I’m playing in English, as it’s what I’m used to with Dragon Ball. The character’s mouths don’t match the words being said, but I can look past that. Character models themselves are all brilliant, and the game really does feel like a modern remake of the anime in parts.
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Dragon Ball Z Kakarot Review – The Verdict
I’m happy to report that this is the best Dragon Ball Z game aside from Dragon Ball FighterZ. I think this game stands on it’s own above any other Dragon Ball title, in that it tries to be more than just the fights.
It certainly doesn’t succeed in all aspects, as the pseudo open world does feel shallow at times, but the added RPG elements are a welcome addition that add a bit of meat to the bones of a traditional anime fighter. With a bit more put into the open world, and a slightly more in-depth combat system, this could’ve been glorious.
You’ll have a blast as a DBZ fan if you’re happy to relive the same story again, but exploring the more interesting parts of the world is fun fan service, with plenty of references and character appearances. Combat is fun, if not a tad repetitive the further you get, but it allows you to pull off some great combos. If you’re not a die-hard Dragon Ball fan, I’d still think about giving it a go if you have nothing else in your backlog at the moment.
Dragon Ball Z Kakarot powers up significantly, but doesn’t quite go Super Saiyan.
Platform: Base PS4 (Seemed a solid 30fps)
Dragon Ball Z Kakarot Review Verdict: 3.5/5
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