Let’s get the big reveal out of the way first: I’m not very familiar with the Dragon Ball Z universe. I have some knowledge of the original Dragon Ball series from the 80s, but beyond that, I’m fairly clueless. I know some of the major beats, and I’m well aware of that dreadful live-action movie from Final Destination director James Wong, but beyond that, I’m a total Dragon Ball Z noob. And while I may not be the right person to review Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot from a fan’s perspective, I think my thorough enjoyment of the story, as well as the game’s hit-and-miss mechanics, proves that the game can appeal to those who want to experience Dragon Ball Z but don’t have the time and/or the fortitude to sit through dozens upon dozens of half-hour episodes.
Much to Kakarot’s credit, I never encountered a moment where I thought that a particular story reveal, plot twist, or battle would unfold more spectacularly in a linear television series. Watching Goku and his pals square off against Vegeta, for instance, felt meaty, emotional, and impactful in video game form. Truthfully, I feel I’ve experienced much of what Dragon Ball Z has to offer right here in Kakarot, for better and for worse. If some of the game’s slower moments are stretched across several pointless episodes, I don’t know if I could have made it through the entire series in any reasonable amount of time. My attention span constantly works against me, which means that the condensed sagas in Kakarot — which I completed in just over 50 hours — delivered all the necessary drama in only a fraction of the time. I’m sorry, hardcore fans. I really do apologize.
Instead of delving into a short synopsis of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot — which is my usual modus operandi after blithering on for a bit about the game’s overall achievements — I’m going to skip over this section. Chances are, you’re a fan of Dragon Ball and already know what, precisely, will occur during your time with the game. If you’re a Dragon Ball virgin like this guy, then going in cold won’t hurt you a bit. In fact, I’d recommend avoiding as many spoilers as humanly possible before your own play-through. I enjoyed quite a few shocks and surprises since I knew next to nothing about what happens during the game’s many power-soaked confrontations. And if you get confused about a particular character or simply need to have things explained in detail as you go along, Kakarot features an in-game encyclopedia that will help fill in some gaps.
Believe it or not, you’ll spend a lot of time reading and/or listening to characters talk about things like Dragon Ball wishes, aliens, ancient legends, and a lot of other inherently silly things over the course of Kakarot, some of which seems a little long in the tooth. And when you’re not watching one character make fun of another’s power level, you’ll traverse a semi-open world — the game’s regions exist behind separate load screens — as one of several main characters. During these moments of free exploration, you can go fishing, hunt wild animals for meat, search for ingredients to make a big lunch, collect countless power orbs to grow your fighter’s skills, murder dinosaurs, and level up your current characters by fighting small batches of bad guys in what boils down to the game’s version of random encounters. It’s pretty basic open-world RPG stuff, right down to the fetch quests that serve as side missions. Yes, fetch quests. More on that subject in a bit.
The over-the-top battles, which essentially serve as Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot’s bread and butter, don’t require you to memorize complex button combos or perform sweeping maneuvers with your controller’s thumbstick. Instead, you get one button for attack, one for your Ki blast, one to charge up your Ki, and another to help you dodge incoming attacks. You can access your character’s special moves by pressing one of the shoulder buttons and pressing the corresponding button, after which you’ll see an attack that’s both dazzling and borderline seizure-inducing. Although the combat may seem impossibly simple, Kakarot’s battles feel rhythm-based in a way; you’ll need to watch out for your opponent’s special attacks and learn how to dodge and/or block your way to victory. Winning a battle never feels super difficult, thanks in part to your ability to stock up on an endless amount of healing drinks, but when you really want to pound an obnoxious bad guy’s face into the Earth’s crust, the sense of urgency helps wash away that feeling of invincibility. Kakarot really wants you to win these battles, and it gives you plenty of tools to make that happen. Fun fact: I never died once.
Besides the aforementioned healing drinks, leveling up your character and learning new special moves can also help you turn the tides of battle in your favor. Additionally, you’ll be able to assign character symbols to specific communities, where you can unlock additional bonuses that will make your life in Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot a little easier. You can move the symbols between these communities as you please, which can help you boost your attack and defense, increase your maximum health, and improve the potency of the meals you eat, among other RPG-esque stats. In fact, you could, in theory, spend a lot of time moving characters around to suit your playstyle; if you want to focus more on power, defense, and cooking ability, you can steal characters away from the section devoted to adventuring, development, and “adult” matters. Want another wrinkle? Delve even deeper by leveling up the characters within these communities through the use of special gifts (martial arts scrolls, adult magazines, etc.) that boost individual stats. It’s a lot to take in at first, but it all gels pretty well without getting in the way of other, more important things.
Want to know the biggest problem I had with Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot? The repetition. You’ll essentially do one of three things over the course of your adventure: read text and fight, read text and do fetch quests, and collect stuff. Although I rarely get bored doing the same stuff over and over again in video games, I often felt Kakarot wanted me to perform busywork whenever the story needed to take a breather. Again, I love collecting orbs, memories, and ingredients, but it frequently came at the cost of derailing the momentum the game had created. I desperately needed to know what happened to Goku after he smacked Frieza around during one of the game’s visually stunning battle sequences, but I felt weirdly compelled to complete a handful of fetch side quests first. Maybe that’s on me, but since you can’t go back and play the sub-stories you missed (at least, not as of this writing), knocking them out before moving on seemed imperative.
Fortunately, the game’s presentation helped me overlook those moments when I felt as though I’d never get to control Goku again (he’s frequently missing from the story’s major beats). Just when I’d almost had my fill of finding energetic fish or paying some old mystic to point me in the direction of another memory, the vibrant colors, engaging voice acting (I played the game in Japanese), and incredible score brought me back home. I’m possibly dipping my toes into the hideous void of hyperbole by saying as much, but I often felt as though I’d stumbled into an interactive animated feature. Sure, the hitchy frame rate and occasional graphical stutter kind of derail the immersion somewhat, none of that really mattered when I started delivering combos to the face of one of the story’s many wacky villains. God help me, I even started to like Vegeta, though I’m not sure if that was intentional on the creators’ part. Regardless, Vegeta rocks. I’m not ashamed to admit it.
A close friend told me that I’m a “full-service idiot” for reviewing Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot without watching the series first, but I honestly beg to differ. I feel as though I’ve just experienced a well-crafted abridged version of a really brilliant television series, one that may work against my ability to sit down and pay attention, Todd. That being said, I do feel the pull to watch Dragon Ball Z to see what I’ve missed; the same friend says several key moments and characters were omitted, but I don’t feel cheated or anything. I’m sure Dragon Ball Z fans will absolutely adore Kakarot, technical hiccups and omissions be damned, assuming that they haven’t grown weary of watching this tale unfold once again. What’s more, I can safely say that Kakarot may appeal to those who’ve always been curious about DBZ but never had the time or attention span to unpack the series. I walked into the experience wondering what all the fuss was about; now I can safely say that I totally get it.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game. A code was provided by Bandai Namco.
Outside of some technical hiccups and some boring fetch quests, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot's colorful presentation and over-the-top battles should appeal to hardcore fans and baby-faced newcomers alike.