Review – Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot

Back when I tested Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot at E3 2019, I stated that this game had the potential to become the best Dragon Ball game ever made. A bold statement, considering games like Xenoverse 2, FighterZ , and the Budokai Tenkaichi series exist. I had the chance to test a small, compact, and no-nonsense demo that showed me how good the game looked and how it was mixing the core combat from Xenoverse with some RPG elements. However, it didn’t showcase how its pacing and character progression would end up. The game is finally out, I played the full version, and no, it’s nowhere near as good as those games stated above. Does that mean it is a bad game or a disappointment? No and no.

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Piccolo, the real best dad.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is what happens when you turn Xenoverse (a more multiplayer-focused game with a “what if” storyline meant for fans to create their own hero and pretend they were part of the anime) into an actual single player action RPG that follows the anime’s tried and true plot to a near religious degree. Forget creating your own Saiyan with a vegetable-inspired name. In Kakarot, not only will you play as Goku, but also a handful of other DBZ staples, such as Gohan, Piccolo, and Vegeta. You’ll level them up, increase their stats, acquire new abilities from their respective skill trees, and do pretty much everything else you would expect from a AAA action RPG released in 2020.

The game is presented in a weird kind of an open world environment. The progression itself is fairly linear and the game doesn’t encourage you to leave the area where you’re currently located if you’re in the middle of a story segment. However, each area is vast in size, with side missions to complete, villagers to talk to, fishing spots to visit, character profiles to add to your ginormous encyclopedia, and treasure to collect. Every single map is absolutely littered with colorful spheres that are used as currency for you to “purchase” new abilities on your skill tree. Furthermore, there are intermissions between sagas. This is the moment when the game basically tells you to enjoy freedom as much as you want before venturing to another saga set in another area or planet, like Namek.

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So… unnecessary…

The overall gameplay can be divided into a few subsections. First of all, there’s the combat, which is basically the same thing as Xenoverse, to the point you also hold a shoulder button in order to access special abilities and the like. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Second of all, there’s the exploration, when the game lets you fly around the map looking for loot and side quests. Flying around with your character is a lot of fun, but the control mapping is a bit obtuse. RB and RT to go up and down, respectively? Why that?

Finally, you will spend a lot of time in menus improving your characters’ stats. Not only there are skill trees, but also “community boards”, which act like small boards in which you place character pictures in order to receive stat buffs. If you put a specific character next to another, you might even get a bigger bonus. It sounds a bit confusing, and it actually is, as Kakarot doesn’t do a good job at properly teaching you how to use these mechanics to the fullest.

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No matter the game, no matter the foe, blasting a kamehameha onto someone’s face will always be cathartic.

When it comes to its presentation, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot does some things pretty well, but feels lackluster in other aspects. It looks great, just like Xenoverse did back when it first came out. It might not feature the jaw-dropping cel-shaded visuals from FighterZ, but damn if it doesn’t look pretty, especially with the help of the game’s great lighting effects. With that being said, the framerate, at least on the Xbox One version, is terrible. Although (supposedly) locked at 30fps, the game’s framerate goes down pretty often, especially in battles featuring lots of fighters and particle effects. If you know anything about Dragon Ball, you already know that this is almost the norm. There were one or two instances in which the framerate even dropped to single digits.

The sound design is another aspect in which Kakarot also succeeds in some points and fails in some others. The soundtrack is the kind of nostalgia bomb that is just bloody brilliant to me. Hironobu Kageyama’s timeless masterpiece, “Cha-La Head Cha-La“, is featured throughout the entire game, be it in an in-engine intro that is meant to emulate the original intro for Dragon Ball Z, or in rearranged versions played during levels. With that being said, the rest of the soundtrack is comprised of the most generic background noise you can think of. You’re surely going to miss Xenoverse‘s amazing rock soundtrack in here.

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Yamcha’s in the house! We’re saved!

Honestly, Kakarot‘s biggest issues are its pacing and, sadly, the source material. This is a very long game in which every scene takes forever to end, as does every saga. It takes a long time for you to be allowed to freely explore an area and look for side quests. In the meantime, you’re being greeted to the same damn story you’ve seen and experienced a thousand times before, ever since 1989. Saiyan saga. Frieza saga. Androids. Boo. No “what if” scenarios to spice things up like Xenoverse did. No Dragon Ball, GT (which I still appreciate, somewhat), or Super events, even though the game does feature encyclopedia segments from characters from all eras, especially classic Dragon Ball ones. It gets tiresome to even the most hardcore fan out there.

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….or not.

I did expect a tiny bit more from Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, but that doesn’t mean the game fully disappointed me. In fact, as a fan of the anime ever since I can remember, playing a game so chock-full of fanservice, good graphics, and a control scheme reminiscent of Xenoverse is always a delight. The problem is that the game suffers not only from a handful of annoying technical and pacing issues, but also because the franchise as a whole has suffered from over exposure these past years, or better yet, decades. Don’t blame yourself, Kakarot, you’re a fine game on your own. Blame your superiors.

 

Graphics: 8.0

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot does not look nowhere near as impressive as FighterZ, but it still manages to stand out as a beautiful cel-shaded title with great lighting effects. Sadly, the same suffers from a lot of framerate issues, at least on Xbox One.

Gameplay: 7.5

 

The combat mechanics are very similar to the Xenoverse games, so if you’re used to those games, you’re good to go. The overworld mechanics are a bit problematic at first due to the framerate issues and weird button mapping decisions, but you can get used to them eventually.

Sound: 7.5

Listening to the classic Dragon Ball Z soundtrack is always a good thing, but the game also features too many underwhelming background tunes that make these nostalgic moments few and far between. The voice acting is also pretty good, but not all dialogue segments feature them, sadly.

Fun Factor: 7.0

It’s a very good action RPG with a lot of side quests and a ton of fanservice, but it falters in some areas. Namely its pacing, repetitiveness, and technical issues.

Final Verdict: 7.5

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC.

Reviewed on Xbox One.

A copy of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot was provided by the publisher.