How do you take almost 300 episodes of a cult classic anime series, boil it down to the bare essentials and present it in a manner that makes it feel as fresh today as it was the last several dozen times that this dish was served to fans over the last two decades who have been dining on the same meal since Dragon Ball Z: Budokai reignited the series across the world?
I…I honestly don’t know, but here we are. A new year, a new Dragon Ball Z game and a familiar story that revolves around massively muscular warriors screaming at each other as they put on light shows that threaten all of existence. Cycle in galactic tyrants, unstoppable androids and a homicidal piece of bubble gum that wants to turn you into candy, and Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is definitly dragon ballin’ as hard as a dragon ball can.
And yet Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot may be the freshest take on the series yet, thanks to an effort to put more effort behind every destructive punch thrown and to make your progress matter. It may not actually succeed entirely at what it sets out to do but hey the sincerity can be felt!
At its core, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is essentially Pokémon if pocket monsters could rip entire mountain ranges in half with a sneeze. Every Z Warrior has a specific bag of tricks, utilising high offense super attacks with an arsenal of tried and trusted Dragon Ball Z moves: Heavy-hitting flurries of fist to face techniques, blocks and weaving through attacks like a third-world internet ping as you briefly vanish out of existence.
That entire core structure can be further amplified by investing various Z Orbs (of which you’ll earn an abundance of as the story goes on) into branches of signature attacks, growing over the various sagas from low-ranking Saiyan trash to the saviour of the universe. Ah-ha. In practice, all of this fuses into classic Dragon Ball Z manga and anime action: Strategy allows you to dance through attacks while sending your opponent hurtling through a nearby wall of granite.
The overall approach is one that may lean towards a healthy mix of speedy thumbs action and reactions, but still favours throwing you into scenarios where even the most overpowered foe can be taken down with solid tactics and teamwork. Fortune favours the bold but there’s something to be said for the overall strategy of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot which happens to function like the deadliest game of rock-paper-Galick Gun. It’s chess with fists and planet-levelling energy wave attacks when you think about it and by Beerus I do not tire of how beautifully this system sings when you get the hang of it.
If you were the kind of pedantic fan who demanded to know just how powerful Goku was on a numerical scale, then buddy I have some good news for you. With a heavier bend towards the role-playing side of things, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is filled to the brim with numbers that actually do matter. Battle power determines if you’re about to become the next God of Destruction candidate or if you’re about to be Yamcha’ed, all characters have a spreadsheet of multiple stats that can be ground up into chartered accountant Viagra and the grind is indeed real…although also pointless outside of the main story beat.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot splits itself into two games when it comes to combat: There’s the entire story which basically deals with you taking on overpowered punch-sponges and intermissions where you get to wield your power against mobs of foes that pose little threat to a man who possesses so much power that he can break spines just by flexing his biceps.
Can you grind for a quick boost in stats? Absolutely, but the buffs are minimal at best once you hit the golden path and find yourself facing off against the likes of Frieza, Cell or Majin Buu. At the same time, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot throws a generous amount of experience points at you after the completion of these challenging fights, character-boosting Senzu beans designed to keep you powered up just enough for the story ahead.
There’s definitely a certain thrill to seeing Goku and friends unlock new tiers of power along the way, but it all feels somewhat artificial and not entirely earned in the grand scheme of things even if you’ve overcome a challenging fight or two. Sub-stories help with grinding out more substantial amounts of experience and all-important D Medals for acquiring new skills though, which come in handy in a game where even the most narrow difference in levels can make a difference on the battlefield.
Character development may straddle an uneven line overall, but the world in which you’re able to ply your trade of Super Saiyan Saviour is still an absolute treat to explore. From the sky-piercing mountain ranges of Goku’s home to West City and its capsule compartments, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is always filled with something to do…and a ton of loading screens that make me wish for the SSD future of gaming to arrive a little sooner.
To be fair, a lot of the extra missions and glacially slow filler is merely busybody work, fetch quests and adventures in pummelling designed to keep you occupied between the bigger chapters of the overall narrative. At the same time, they’re the kind of junk food that Dragon Ball Z players can’t help but gorge on, exercises in action that allow you to flex your power and channelling that might into the nearest renegade Red Ribbon Army droid running amok.
Power-boosting orbs dot the landscape, hunting for rare ingredients to fill your endless belly becomes part of your daily commute and collectibles can be found lurking around corners if you’re not too busy training your chosen fighter at the time. There’s a depth to Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, its world and its action, and while you won’t be submerged in its many many systems, it’s just deep enough to consume dozens of hours along the way.
In addition to that, the Emblem System is an intriguing new hook that allows you to further increase your power across several various categories, whether it be pure fisticuffs, training buffs or resource management. It’s a game in and of itself, as you line up characters on a grid and make the most of these buffs by utilising your knowledge of Dragon Ball to see who should support who on the page. Is it absolutely necessary to make use of to complete the game? Not entirely, but do it right and you’ll definitely feel the effort shine through in the end.
It helps that Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot looks like an absolute slobberknocker as well! CyberConnect2 has built a reputation for being the anime adaptation video game studio, and they’re once again powering up with this game as they reimagine classic scenes from the anime series and give it a fantastic slap of paint that recreates those moments with absolutely gorgeous new colours, camera angles and effects.
You’ve got moments such as Piccolo’s heroic sacrifice ripping the TV screen apart, you can watch Krillin transformed into a Roman candle by Frieza for the hundredth time or happily sear your retinas when Goku and Vegeta’s first tussle erupts into a glorious game of tug of war between a Kaioken-powered Kame-Hame-Ha and Galick Gun attack. There are moments such as Gohan’s transformation into Super Saiyan 2 that are just begging for a Linkin Park In The End AMV, Vegeta’s heroic sacrifice against Majin Buu or Perfect Cell’s ultimate demise at the hand of a Father-Son combo that are just glorious to watch unfold.
The overall package is one that looks and sounds magnificent, thanks to the veteran voice acting team (Thank the gods you can flick from the Japanese cast to the superior Western dub masters of the craft), all combining to form a handsome package that retells the entire Dragon Ball Z saga. It’s all a pitch perfect retelling yet again, and even with filler content that slows the saga down, it’s a tale that still feels as fresh as can be even if you’re experiencing it for the hundredth time so far in video game form.
There’s no denying that Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot has some issues at its core, whether it be over 9000 loading screens, the aforementioned filler content robbing it of momentum, a steep learning curve or boss fights that rely on cheap tactics to disrupt the flow of battle. Even with those negatives, the positives are powered up with a Kaioken of passion, dedication and pure fun when the game’s gears are in motion.
Last Updated: January 29, 2020