Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot Review — Not Too Super, Just Saiyan
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is a nostalgia-fueled retelling of the Z Fighters' adventures that is brimming with content... it's just really boring.
About 20 years ago, I used to come home from school to watch Cartoon Network’s programming block Toonami. This is where I was introduced to anime. More importantly, this is where I first watched Dragon Ball Z. Although it took numerous episodes for one person to conjure up enough energy for an attack, I always found it to be so interesting. Even with its not-so-great animation and long-winded storytelling, I was enthralled. It may not be the best, but it is definitely one of the most popular animes and mangas of all time.
As such, it makes sense for a game based on Goku’s iconic adventure to be translated into a video game with modern sensibilities. Sure, we’ve had games like Dragon Ball FighterZ (which is amazing), the Xenoverse series, and Budokai series, but none of them have been nearly one-to-one representations of the anime. That is where Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot comes in. The new “open-world” action RPG by CyberConnect2 and Bandai Namco is a nostalgia-fueled adventure, letting you play through the many sagas the Dragon Ball Z series has told.
It may be good for those wanting to relive the Z Fighters’ many grueling battles, but there is something about Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot that doesn’t sit right for me. Much of it has to do with its action-focused gameplay and RPG systems.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot’s gameplay can be broken down into two different pillars: open-world and action. Earlier, I put open-world in quotations because it isn’t open like Skyrim or Red Dead Redemption 2. It’s more on par with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain or Borderlands 3. Earth is somewhat of a hub world, which is where the game first begins. But this world is broken up into different areas, which you will have to endure a load screen for a brief moment. So, you aren’t traveling through one large landmass, rather a few smaller areas that are open to exploring.
These open areas may house a number of things that may help you progress your characters further than if you just played through the main narrative. This includes side quests, items, shops, training, and collecting Dragon Balls and Z-Orbs. All of this work together to make your characters stronger.
However, all the open-world activities are downright boring. Yes, training will allow me to learn new moves for each playable character. Yes, garnering Z-Orbs will make those moves stronger. Yes, cooking food with Chi-Chi will increase my stats. Yes, performing side quests may give you a break from the story you already know. But all of it just doesn’t seem worth touching.
In my first 5 hours, I tried doing everything. I played through as many side quests as I could, explored the open landscapes, and tried to get the most out of my characters. However, after those beginning moments, I began to realize none of that really mattered. Since you play as multiple Z Fighters — which include Goku, Piccolo, Gohan, Trunks, and Vegeta — your experience and skils are all split. It never really feels like you are progressing your characters through these supplemental means because you can’t really choose who you bring into the main battles since it is following a specific storyline. Rather, they are just there to make very incremental changes to your characters and extend the amount of game that is there.
There is also another system introduced early in the game called Community Boards. These are used to focus on certain aspects of gameplay. To do this, you will use Soul Emblems — which are essentially just stat representations of Dragon Ball Z characters — and connect them together on a Community Board. Certain Soul Emblems have bonuses for connecting them with specific Soul Emblems. For example, if you want to increase stats that will affect your fighting ability, you’ll want to dedicate more Soul Emblems to the Z Fighters Community. Connecting Goku and Gohan together, with Goku being proficient in the Z Fighter stat, will give a +2 bonus to the Z Fighters Community Board.
I only mention the Community Board system because the game puts an odd amount of importance on it. However, I feel like you could just put the Soul Emblems you earn on any of the Community Boards available and get very minimal increases. I never felt it actually made a difference. It is just another piece of padding to give it that RPG flair you are probably expecting.
As mentioned, the other pillar is the fighting portions, which actually progress you through the story. The moment you boot up the campaign, you are given a tutorial and it’s overwhelming. It shows you the control scheme, gives you a long written explanation of how combat works, and throws you into a battle against Goku’s rival Piccolo. It’s a lot to take in at once, but I did get a handle of it pretty quickly.
Soon after, I just started getting bored with the combat as it became somewhat mindless. I would just mash the dodge button, then mash the melee button, then maybe use a special ability if the moment seemed right. If I had other characters assisting me, I’d use them whenever they were available to use. But that method is essentially used for every single battle. It doesn’t get any better than that, even against the big villains like Frieza. It’s the same process every time.
If anything, I would get more frustrated with some of the battles since it would pin me against 3 or 4 characters without any assists. Since it is a bit hard to track when another enemy is going to strike, it added a layer of tedium to what was already a boring process. Sure, combat was kind of fun at first, but without any diversification in the gameplay, it just ended up being dull.
If there is anything going for Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, it is how it is presented. I love hearing “Cha-la Head Cha-la” right when the main menu pops. Introducing each new mission like a new episode from the anime is also a really nice touch that certainly had me reminiscing. Everything, from the music to the sound just feels right.
Graphically, I really love Kakaraot. There is a bit of a disconnect between the character models and environments, though. The characters look like the hand-drawn models you’ve seen in the anime while the environments are more akin to something you would expect from a video game. But it does work, especially in more industrialized environments. There is a flatness to the buildings that really give it a cartoonish and bland look. This sounds bad, but it works with the very stylized character models. It feels like you are in those worlds.
The actual animated cutscenes (the ones that don’t use the in-game models) are spectacular. They are super vibrant, colorful, and have an animation style that puts the original anime to shame. It is really great being able to relive these iconic moments in a brand new way.
There were some fairly small technical problems in my time with Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, but they were issues nonetheless. Load times feel a tad long, especially when you first load a save. I also had some odd skipping issues with the cutscenes. Sometimes, the video would just stutter. It didn’t really affect my experience, but it was certainly noticeable.
While it may remind you of your fond memories of the anime, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is a drag that fails to entertain for its duration. Its repetitious gameplay, odd systems, and abridged storytelling lack the heart the anime had. If you’re a big fan of Dragon Ball Z, you might have some fun with Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot. But if you’ve never experienced the Z Fighters’ epic adventures, there are better action RPGs out there to play.