Have you ever had a game that was exactly what you wanted in every way, shape, and form? That one game you just knew the developers handled and crafted perfectly to fit their fan base.
Well, this year at PAX West, Bandai Namco nailed that feeling for me with Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot. I played their demo, and I just have to say it was everything I had hoped it would be.
Stating The Obvious
Let’s just start by saying, “Yes, this is the Dragon Ball Z story once again in video game form.” No one will deny that. You will play as Goku through the Sayian Saga, the Frieza Saga, and the Cell saga. It hasn’t been announced whether the Buu Saga will be included yet.
We all know this story backward and forwards. The characters are iconic. So much so that this past year Goku was in the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. At the same time, it's important to remember that just because many of us do, there will be many people playing that don’t know the story as well or even at all. This may be the first experience they have getting to know Goku and the Z Fighters.
So, while you sit there from your ivory tower of fandom, please remember that many of the younger generations will be told these stories for the first time. Just as you once experienced it.
So, let’s not be so quick to jump on the “Oh my God we have to play the story again?!” train.
Having Said All That
From the involvement of series creator, Akira Toriyama, to the whole team at Bandai Namco, they clearly made sure this game was a labor of love aimed at capturing the core of the Dragon Ball feel. Right down to the inclusion of several niche characters from the whole Dragon Ball series. So expect to see characters such as Lunch and Yajirobe.
The demo that was available at PAX West was part of the Raditz arc just after he kidnaps Gohan. Goku and Piccolo make their way to confront the Saiyan at his ship. If you didn’t want to do that, the demo let you fly around the countryside beating up dinosaurs and helping familiar faces to many of us.
I think one of the most exciting things about the Goku/Raditz fight comes down to what the heart of the show’s combat lies in: entirely uneven fights. Goku has to push past his limits to defeat a threat.
A fighting game like Dragon Ball FighterZ, no matter how great a game, obviously has to round every combatant down to the same level to give C-tier (and D-tier — looking at you, Yamcha) characters a chance against the show’s top champs. Kakarot doesn’t do this in the slightest.
The RPG format helps here. Both the Z fighters and their opponents have different power levels, meaning it’s entirely possible to run up against an opponent that out-levels you.
In the PAX West demo, Raditz was a significantly higher level than Goku or Piccolo. However, like in the show, having them pair up was just barely enough to take him out.
I was reliving the episodes that got me hooked on this series forever. The game doesn’t hold your hand in terms of difficulty. It helps the fight feel closer to how it should!
The moment when Piccolo steps out of the fight to power up his Special Beam Cannon, I was left struggling to defend myself against Raditz’s attacks. It came down to the wire for me trying to stay in the fight. At least long enough to scratch his health down enough to trigger the next story clip — but it was a close run.
Also, despite being a hard fight, it was the most fun I’ve had in DBZ story game in a while. That combat can take place both on the ground and in mid-air, with the usual mix of light attacks, ranged Ki blasts, special attacks, and both block and dodge options. Ki blasts and specials burn through the Ki meter, and you’ll need to periodically get a bit of distance to charge up.
The controls felt smooth. I didn’t feel confused at parts once learning the controls. While I do wish there were more combo moves to the controls, there's still a lot of fun in the simple. It becomes the action RPG hack-and-punch I’ve always wanted.
Try Not To Nitpick
There isn’t much to complain about in Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot. From playing the demo, there are a few things that might have been less than ideal. Here are a few things that I feel could be tightened before the full game releases.
The camera sort of struggled occasionally to keep up. It would get stuck right behind Goku, especially closer to the ground, or when the focused on baddie was right underneath me.
Other than that, though, DBZ: Kakarot handles the 3D fighting well. Triggering melee attacks will automatically lunge you at your current target, closing the distance quickly, and saving you from worrying about navigating too precisely.
Although, if you're too far away, you will swing and miss like a drunk guy in a bar fight.
This isn’t quite the tight, polished combat of Dragon Ball FighterZ, but it isn’t trying to be. Moving into a fully 3D space introduces a certain looseness, but it also allows Kakarot to embrace the scale and fluidity of the anime’s biggest battles as you knock opponents across the map. And I promise, that at least is exactly as satisfying as you hope it’ll be.
Also, combat isn’t solely limited to big boss fights. This is an RPG after all. The PAX West demo, as I mentioned before, set in this semi-open world, was dotted with combat drones and other things to fight along the way. I must admit, this is one of the touches that the game feels slightly less authentic.
However, putting in adds for you to fight makes sense so you can gain experience. This is absolutely me nitpicking because I know this will make more sense in some sections of the story. For example, it's way easier to imagine Namek occupied by Frieza’s forces to fight.
Flying around the planet was a blast, both on Nimbus and on my own. Regular enemy encounters are quite easy, but boss battles promise something else. The fight against Raditz was incredibly fun and plenty difficult. While he was unleashing a variety of special attacks that require good timing to dodge, including an unblockable attack, the game felt amazingly authentic.
The battle is made even more special by the fact that the Japanese opening of the anime, “Cha-La-Head-Cha-La,” started playing shortly after the battle began. As challenging as the fight was, things can get a bit button-mashy. I’m still hoping the final game’s difficulty level is a bit higher than what I have seen in the demo. That would put me at the edge of my seat.
I was hoping that Dragon Ball Z Kakarot was something special. The PAX West 2019 demo definitely left me in happy tears. While, yes, things could always use some tweaking, like exploration mechanics, camera angles, and difficulty levels, there’s no denying that any Dragon Ball Z fan will enjoy Dragon Ball Z Kakarot.
The presentation is top-notch and the gameplay is fun. It feels as though my childhood was made into the game that I was hoping for.
Dragon Ball Z Kakarot launches in early 2020 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Are you excited to play? Tell us in the comments below!
Top photo via Xbox
This article was written by John D. (AKA SomeBeardy2Love). John has been gaming for 30 years, has a bowtie tattoo, and watches nothing but Bob’s Burgers. He co-hosts a mostly weekly podcast and has a sponsored beard.