Gotta Find ’em All! Seriously, you do.
HIGH The final spirit bomb is beautiful.
LOW Skipping over the journey inside Buu with a voice-over.
WTF Mr. Satan is so much more of a hero than I remembered!
Speaking as a huge fan of the source material, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot has one of the most misleading titles I’ve ever seen. By calling the game ‘Kakarot‘ it suggests that the story will follow Son Goku’s journey starting from the time he discovers that he’s an alien superbeing, rather than the magical monkey boy everyone had always assumed that he was.
This is an exciting prospect, since following Goku’s journey exclusively would offer interesting story opportunities that haven’t been touched on by the series so far — what was Goku’s training on King Kai’s planet like? What kind of adventures did he have on other planets after defeating Frieza? Who were the legendary martial artists he met and battled in heaven after being killed by Cell? There are huge gaps in Goku’s story, and based on the title I had assumed this was finally going to address them.
Instead, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is yet another retelling of the DBZ saga from beginning to end. The twist is that now it offers an open-world structure so that players can explore the world of Dragon Ball like never before. Yes, as always, mid-air superhero combat is the focus of the game, but now players can fish, race cars, do side missions to expand the stories of minor characters — or even just fly lazily around the map — and appreciate the incredible fidelity the developers have put into recreating the manga’s locations.
Kakarot‘s representation of DBZ combat is some of the best because it’s simplified with a focus on accessibility above all other goals. Players handle one warrior at a time with up to two partners, depending on which fight they’re in — other than the intermission sequences, where any combination of heroes is available, textual fidelity is the main consideration. The mechanics couldn’t be simpler. Players have a melee attack, a ranged attack, and the ability to block and dodge.
While combat is basic, there’s plenty of depth and ample opportunities to learn new skills as the story progresses.
The biggest help are clear onscreen indicators of what enemies are planning to do. If they’re going to fire a massive ranged attack, a predicted path appears onscreen. If they’re about to unleash an unblockable combo, they’ll charge up and glow in the seconds before the first strike. It’s the kind of mechanic that could only work in a single-player experience, but that’s not a problem, since Kakarot is more interested in telling an awesome story than testing its players’ reaction times.
That’s not to say there aren’t tough fights, though — fighting a horde of Cell Jrs. is just as much of an ordeal as ever — but players without much action game experience are free to over-level their characters and buy huge numbers of healing items, allowing them to muscle through even the most daunting battles. Those looking for a more hardcore experience can avoid using items and challenge the massively overpowered enemies that pop up from time to time, but Kakarot was clearly not built with them in mind.
Outside of the main story missions, players can complete side missions and fight random enemies around the maps, and those who want it will find that the training system is notably well-handled.
Characters get exponentially more powerful with each level-up, but they can only learn new moves by collecting Z orbs and Z medals that are scattered around the world. These can be spent them to unlock fantasy battles that teach special techniques. It fits the world perfectly by making player work for each new move, rather than simply having them appear as the campaign progresses.
As far as the rest, it’s hard to overstate how right the developers get it. Every cutscene is a near-perfect recreation of a scene from the manga, transforming Kakarot into a more faithful adaptation of the source material than the anime. All of the side content fits perfectly as well — Gohan’s misadventures as a superhero are as funny as ever, a running gag about space tourists fits the tone exactly, and I can’t say enough good things about Bonyu, the original character who quit the Ginyu Force because she’d rather spend time training than practicing dramatic poses.
As a special treat, there are reminiscence points scattered all around the world, each one offering a few screenshots from the original Dragon Ball anime. These give players only familiar with DBZ a chance to glimpse Goku’s Journey to the West-inspired childhood adventures.
There are dozens of Dragon Ball Z games and Kakarot represents only the latest attempt to fully retell the manga’s story in videogame form. However, the quality of the experience makes a strong argument for this entry being the last one since the cartoon graphics perfectly recreate Toriyama’s visuals and the story hits every beat far better than the anime managed to. By presenting a great story with such perfect fealty, it’s safe to say that (for now, at least) Kakarot is the definitive Dragon Ball Z videogame.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Cyberconnect 2 and published by Bandai Namco. It is currently available on PC, PS4 and XBO. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 55 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Mild Language, Suggestive Themes and Violence. This is, and has always been, a teen-focused product. It’s a violent fighting game to be sure, and the prospect of planets being blown up is always a little terrifying. However, it’s set in a world where wishes can always undo anything too traumatic that goes down. The swearing never gets more intense than a few damns, and the suggestive themes are built around dirty old men who like nudie magazines. Oh, and there are a couple of references to stealing women’s underwear. It’s borderline, sure, but even the youngest teens should have no trouble with the game.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: You will have no trouble. I played the majority of the game with the sound off and encountered no difficulties at all. All dialogue in the game is subtitled and subtitles cannot be resized. It’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.