'Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot' Review: Great Action & A Mediocre RPG






Often dubbed the best action anime of all-time, Dragon Ball has impacted various mediums and pop culture for more than 30 years, including video games.

Dragon Ball video games are some of the most popular in recent memory. The Budokai series in the early 2000s and 2018's Dragon Ball FighterZ are some of the most well-received fighting games. So when Bandai Namco announced Kakarot, its latest video game set in the Dragon Ball Z universe, I was understandably excited.

Kakarot was touted to feature a mix of action and RPG mechanics, which piqued my interest. But the end result is a mixed bag of fluid action and middling RPG mechanics that leave the Kakarot experience somewhere in the middle between good and bad.
dragon ball z kakarot gohan cell
Bandai Namco

STORY

Those who watched the Dragon Ball Z anime know the story of Kakarot. The game starts just before Raditz arrives on Earth and concludes at the end of the Buu saga.

Although I've seen the sagas of Dragon Ball Z numerous times in various forms including video games, Kakarot represents the series very well. It gives players who may have little to no familiarity with the series enough of the story to get invested, but the narrative definitely pulls together better for existing fans of the franchise.
Kakarot's story seemingly takes some narrative shortcuts to offer a quicker experience. That's OK for someone like me who has seen and played through the story before, but that lost time also gives way to omissions and obvious changes. It doesn't detract from the story, but it's a bit jarring nonetheless.
What Kakarot does well for fans is provide more insight into minor characters or those who don't appear in the original story. In between its massive battles, side quests often reveal what certain characters were doing at the time.
One example is Puar masquerading as Yamcha after his death to make sure everything remained the same once he returned. While the events aren't canon per se, it's a cool way to give both characters more weight, since they are largely absent from the original plot. The game also revisits some of the more quirky adventures of the anime, like when Goku and Piccolo get their driver's license. While not a perfect adaptation of the series, Kakarot offers longtime and new fans some entertaining anime hijinks.
dragon ball z kakarot fighting goku
Bandai Namco

GAMEPLAY

Overworld
When playing Kakarot for the first time I didn't know what to expect. Its first few hours took some getting used to. I had to learn the ins and outs of flying around, using ki to boost my speed and leveraging the energy detector to find people and items.
There is a lot to explore and do while in the overworld in between fights. You can find NPCs who will talk to you, sell items, or offer access to special side missions.
The mini map is quite useful to find where the next main story missions, side missions, or training missions are located. However, you'll run into various enemies - mostly robots - that happen to patrol the overworld. Players can take them head-on or, if they're not careful, be forced into a fight if they spot you first. The first few hours of this concept are not so tedious, as it became a great way to learn how to fight before story missions. It's also a decent way to earn experience for your character. But after a while you'll want to avoid them at any cost, as they steal time away from progressing through the story.
Another aspect of the overworld are the Z Orbs. These multi-colored orbs are scattered throughout the overworld and are used to learn new attacks and abilities. Having them around is not as grindy as one might think. They are well placed in the overworld, so you'll be picking them up as you fly around to various destinations. I also found myself wanting to collect them, going a little off my route to grab some before my next stop.
Side Missions
Before getting into the main battle system, the side missions have to be addressed first. They are your standard fare fluff most gamers are used to. Most of the time you'll find NPCs who are being bothered or attacked by someone. This leads to you taking on multiple robotic enemies at once. Even random NPCs have these robots at their disposal, for whatever reason. You take them out, and that completes your mission.
Others will task you with finding a particular person, which often times leads to another robot battle. The rare cases where you are tasked with finding items are in classic fetch quests. The side missions in Kakarot are a tedious but necessary evil. This is the best way to gain experience and level up, which you'll need to take on the main story missions.
Fighting
Kakarot's battle system is similar to the Xenoverse series. It's a 3D arena fighter that lets players string combos, shoot projectiles and avoid opponent attacks. However, I quickly learned that there is a different strategy not seen in the Xenoverse games that needs to be employed in this title.
Before, I could easily string a combo of melee and ki attacks to overwhelm my enemies. In Kakarot, your enemy swaps between attacking and charging their ki. This doesn't seem like a problem until you realize that, while they charge, they are not stunned. They will take damage, but won't stop charging their attacks, which can lead to you taking a lot of punishment if you're not careful. Battling in Kakarot requires a hit-and-run approach. You'll deal some damage with a ki or melee attack and then back out of the way while the enemy charges or goes for a counterattack. Distance is key, and, when you have it timed just right, you'll succeed in battle more often than not, especially with the way the game power creeps. You also have assists who can help you defeat enemies, especially in multi battles.
Another aspect of Kakarot I wasn't expecting was how over-leveled some of the story fights felt. Oftentimes my progress was stalled because the boss was much stronger than my character. Interesting enough, the bosses were higher level, but, once I got the hang of battling, I would be just one move or dodge away from overcoming my enemy. It made me try multiple times, but I realized I had to get my level higher before I continued, which forced me to grind robot battles. It also made me realize that some of the game's RPG elements were important to facilitating progress.
dragon ball z kakarot food
Bandai Namco
RPG Elements
A Dragon Ball RPG is an interesting concept for one of the most action-packed anime of all time, and, while I'd love to say Kakarot does it well, it mostly falls short.
There's a lot going on in terms of RPG elements, and while they do foster some gameplay diversity they don't mesh together very well. Z-Emblems help tailor how you want to play. You can go all out offensive, or focus more on the cooking or exploration aspects of Kakarot.
Z-Emblems are earned through the story and in certain side missions, with certain Emblems excelling at one aspect of the game more than others.
Skill Trees exist to give characters new attacks and buffs to already-learned moves. Players need a certain number of Z Orbs and to be at a certain level threshold to gain access to certain skills. Players also need to complete training sessions in the overworld to learn each skill. These are often very difficult, requiring you to defeat multiple opponents alone at a higher level than usual. I was disappointed by how the game forces you to stay at a certain skill level or learn certain attacks alongside the story. While in-story it makes sense, oftentimes I would forget to upgrade my attacks and learn new ones in favor of using the ones I had already gotten used to. There's no incentive to go out of your way to learn new abilities, and that's where Kakarot's game design ultimately fails.

VERDICT

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is a solid attempt at bringing RPG elements to an action game that falls short in many ways.
The fighting feels fluid and bombastic, and there's a deliberateness to it that differentiates it from the Xenoverse games. However, its RPG elements feel dense while not truly customizing the experience.
If Bandai Namco does another Dragon Ball RPG, Kakarot is a great foundation to build off of. Dragon Ball Z fans will likely enjoy it, but gamers looking for a fun RPG experience may want to pass.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is available now for PS4 and Xbox One.


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