Every generation gets a new telling of the Dragon Ball Z timeline. It is inevitable. I know there are people saying, “That’s enough already! We’ve seen this story a million times!” However, I think, and I would assume Bandai Namco also thinks, that every generation deserves to be told the story of Goku and his friends saving Earth and the universe of utter destruction.
It’s a story I know backwards and forwards, from Dragon Ball to Dragon Ball Super. I’ve watched it multiple times. I’ve watched Dragon Ball Z Kai, I own multiple Dragon Ball Z paraphernalia, and even have a Vegeta tattoo. I’m a huge fan of the entire series. The reason I’m stating this up front because, as a fan, I’m trying not to be biased.
Dragon Ball Z is important to me and many fans, and so it is important that Bandai Namco make something great. So, did they?
Here’s my I’m-a-diehard-Dragon-Ball-Z-fan-but-I’m-trying-to-be-as-unbiased-as-possible Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot review:
The Story of Heroes
I won’t waste much time here because many of us know the story. However, for those of you that don’t, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot the game starts where the show does. Goku is hanging out with his son Gohan until they return home. Gokus’ wife, Chi-Chi, reminds him that he was going to take Gohan to Master Roshi’s place to introduce him to all his friends.
With short introductions done, an alien lands on the planet looking for a man named Kakarot, which we find out is Goku. This mysterious man steals Goku’s son, and so he and Piccolo go off to rescue him from the alien named Raditz. We find out that Goku and Raditz are brothers. They are from the Planet Vegeta, which blew up, making them two of four Saiyans left in the whole universe.
The saga continues with Goku fighting stronger and stronger baddies from Freiza, Androids, Cell, and Buu. Each has an amazing story arc, but this review would be 5,000 words longer if we went into all of them now.
From a story standpoint, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot pretty much nails it. Obviously, for the sake of time, they had to cut things here and there. And on more than one occasion, they ret-conned some information, such as when Piccolo destroys the moon in the show to stop Gohan from rampaging in his Ape form. While the action still happened, there is a menu option to “read up on actions that happened” where they explained this was all an illusion to stop Gohan.
They did this, in part, so that the age-old question of “Well then what happened to Earth’s oceans and tides and stuff?” Unfortunately, questions like that take the fun out of things. It’s the equivalent of asking “Who fills the Batmobile’s tires with air?” DC Comics actually had to answer that! And because people ask these questions so much, writers feel the need to have an answer for them. Well, now they gave us an answer to that. Happy now?
In all honesty, the story holds up. Even though we may have all read and watched the series a million times, there are still parts that make you feel like you are playing it for the first time.
Dealing with filler was pretty interesting. Instead of watching scenes of random adventures, they all mostly become skippable in the form of side quests. Just before the gang flies off to Planet Namek, there is a sweet side quest that involves Oolong and Yamcha’s ghost. Spoiler alert: it isn’t Yamcha. It’s Puar keeping face with the “pretty ladies,” so when Yamcha comes back, he doesn’t have to start all over. Turns out Yamcha knew Puar would try to do this and told him that he wanted him to enjoy his life for a change. It was a very touching side quest.
The handful of amazing moments from Goku going Super Saiyan for the first time, to Gohan Freaking out at Cell, to Vegeta struggling with the mind control spell of Babidi still hit my heart.
Flying, Exploration, and Fighting
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is an open-world action role-playing game. To be honest, visually speaking, Kakarot is a dream come true.
One of my favorite things to do is to just fly around, either on Nimbus or just on your own. While you are collecting orbs to help level you up, you will see that there is so much more to do and see. It’s not all about the orbs.
Flying around is peaceful. But seeing the open-world like this is what makes me feel alive inside the anime. In the cutscenes, I’m just a spectator watching my childhood heroes. But flying around the dynamic colors of the landscape and faithful transformation of both the world and characters make for a visual treat that your eyeballs can feast upon.
As much as I enjoyed the visually immersive maps,; when it came down to it, there isn't all that much to do. Exploration consists largely of the following:
- Flying around and collecting orbs, which can get rather boring
- Gathering random items for cooking like fruits and deer/wolf meat
- Fishing, which every JRPG needs for some reason
- Or a quick first-person mode to shoot ki blasts at mineral deposits or dinosaurs
Obviously, there are also side quests to find, and it accounts for some of the filler. However, the exploration part probably sounded better on paper than in practice. For those of you that watch DBZ filler, we all know the iconic “Gohan running away from giant dinosaurs” scene. So, it needed to be in the game. Unfortunately, they already gave us that scene. But to show how much stronger you are, shooting up dinosaurs, Red Ribbon radio towers, or destroying several other random buildings/spaceships become the very small side quests in the open-worldness.
Don’t get me wrong. I had fun doing this, and flying around never got old, but what I really loved more than anything was the fighting.
Once you get used to the odd controller handling, fighting was a blast. This game is not a hack and slash. You need to pay attention to how the other characters fight to win. Not all of them are easy either. Especially if you don’t grind beforehand. Going from story fight to story fight becomes a lot harder if you don’t train. Just as if you were Goku, Gohan, or Vegeta themselves. Leveling up is very important to the later fights, so grind as much as possible.
In a fight scene, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot doesn't feel terribly different from past Dragon Ball games. Players can charge up ki, shoot ki blasts, throw a series of massive punches or kicks, execute super attacks, or go on the defensive with dodging, timed counters, and straight-up vanishing.
Listen, if you buy this game and expect epic battles on par with Dragon Ball FighterZ, you are going to be disappointed. These battles are closer to what you'll find in Dragon Ball Xenoverse.
This means you will have the over-the-shoulder action, simple controls, and a combat system that is fun, but not terribly complex. As I stated above, however, some baddies can give you a run for your money. If you want to breeze right through a fight scene, always make sure to grind some level-ups, make sure to eat before a storyline mission, or stock up on healing items, just in case.
You are in partial control with the characters that team up with you as well. Adding their power moves in is a blast. Early on, for example, making Krillin use his Solar Flare stuns the enemy and then permits you to pull off some massive combos.
Also, it wouldn't be Dragon Ball Z without transformations rolled into the combat. There are a few different ones. Right from the start, as players fight, they build up a surge state. Once that is full, you can power up and unleash your potential to deal additional damage and reduce damage taken.
This is a separate and more consistent mechanic than full-on transformations, like Kaioken and Super Saiyan. Those ones you will learn and unlock with gameplay. The surge quickly becomes the deciding dynamic in fights and an equalizer of sorts against tough odds when deployed properly.
Noises and Voices
I just want to harp on this a little because while Kakarot nails all the noises from the anime, some of the voice acting can, and will, distract players. While much of it really is a huge part of the presentation's triumph here, unfortunately, not every character sounds perfect.
Although some of the pacing can be brutal, remember: it’s only a video game and nothing will be as smooth as an anime. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is still a well-acted, faithful presentation of the source material.
During the story mode, yes, the lip-synching is a mess at times. But in all honesty, it is a small complaint when otherwise taking in the superb visuals and sounds of the game as a whole.
Where I have the most issue with the voices is in a battle scene. There are a ton of repeated lines. Gohan’s “I think I can take them on,” or Vegeta's "I can't believe it!" or even Goku’s “Wow, you’ve gotten stronger.” However, they may all have some great meme potential.
Players might also get annoyed with any side dialogue. Talk to any character and they will just make noises, like “Umm” or “Hi,” not matching the script at all, the entire time you are in those dialogue boxes.
I’ll flat out say that there will be people who don’t like this game purely for the JRPG elements that fill in the rest of the game. I play them all the time so it was like second nature to me. The cooking, the fishing, the endless talking; I get it.
However, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot still lands a solid punch as a great way to recite the core of the Dragon Ball Z universe's story. This game is solid, gorgeous, and faithful. CyberConnect2 and Bandai Namco could not show more love to a series if they tried. It is clear from playing that everyone on this project was a fan of the anime.
There’s an undeniable and marvelous sense of love for the source material. The kind that you’d have to actively fight to resist the smile wanting to creep onto your face. I found myself crying at points that I have always cried at and getting excited in all the right places. The game is incredibly infectious.
Revisiting all of these characters and stories is a joy in itself, and despite my minor issues with it, it’s probably the most efficient way to enjoy the story of Dragon Ball Z. It’s colorful, fun, and immersive. The music and sounds of the game bring you back to your childhood. If this is your first time with the DBZ story, then it is a wonderful rendition with a lot of filler cut out to get you ready for Dragon Ball Super (or GT if you want to watch that).
Kakarot is a fun escapade for all types of gamers. There is something for everyone, be you a long time fan or a new one. While visually stunning, it won’t break any new boundaries as far as RPGs or action games go, but it's super fun in its own right. I’ll never get the Japanese opening of the anime, “Cha-La-Head-Cha-La,” out of my head now, and that’s ok with me. I will absolutely be playing through again. Plus there is some DLC on the way so I couldn’t be more excited.
Writer's Score: 4 scoops out of 5
Disclaimer: The graphic above is a ranking system used to rate video games and video games only. Do not use this as a guide for consumption.
Top image via Bandai Namco
This article was written by John D. AKA SomeBeardy2Love. John has been gaming for over 30 years, has a podcast, and watches nothing but anime and Bob’s Burgers. He has a sponsored beard and a modest book collection.