This 1980s Japanese manga-series shows no signs of losing steam anytime soon. With new movies, TV shows and even a role in the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Goku's adventures continue to have a large cultural impact to this day. Even in video games, the past decade has been highly successful for the franchise. With the wacky Xenoverse titles and the fighting-game darling Dragon Ball FighterZ there has never been a better time to be a Dragon Ball fan. With Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, Bandai Namco looks to continue the trend with a retelling of the classic anime series, this time through the lens of an action-RPG.
Kakarot promises adventure and exploration through gameplay wholly new to the franchise. We've gotten retellings of the main story of the anime too many times to count, but never have we had one that allowed the player to explore areas as detailed or as dense as this. Even the manga lacked detailed descriptions of the world, so being able to fry freely in a semi-open world is a breath of fresh air. This is a game for proper DB-heads with the number of references littered about the place.
To be clear: this game is a hard sell for anyone with less than a casual interest in Dragon Ball. The story retells the four main sagas of the anime with little in the way of filler, and there are some confusing shortcuts here and there. While the main plot kind of suffers from being the exact story we know and love, the side content makes up for this to some extent. Wonderful little references to classic but forgotten Dragon Ball characters make up for the simplicity of the content offered - most of it consists of battles with weak enemies or quick fetch quests.
There are some diamonds in the rough, such as Goku and Piccolo competing over who can get their drivers license the quickest. Charmingly explored characters give value to simple activities and are sure to warm hearts. While long, the game affords the player the chance to experience the story at exactly their pace. Side-quests are available at any time, allowing for hours of content for people who want that, or they have the option to simply play the main story if that is what they wish to do. It also never falls into the trap of gating content behind level as many RPGs tend to do. In fact, you level up at a satisfying pace, which gives you a proper sense of the growing strength of the main cast of characters.
Combat is the largest portion of the game. All of the iconic battles from the anime are represented here through a simplistic but eventually satisfying combat system. You have a punch button, an energy blast button, and a dodge button. The triggers open up a palette of iconic super moves such as the Kamehameha, depending on which character you play as. The controls are satisfying and responsive, although there was little confusion regarding which button did what. Having said all that, there is little difference between the characters you play other than their differing super moves.
Considering FighterZ was the last game we got in the franchise, it is kind of disappointing to see that there has been little to no effort put into varying the gameplay, especially as you swap characters at many points throughout the story. Vegeta is described in the story as a very different character to Gohan or Goku or Piccolo, but playing as him feels exactly the same as the others. Thankfully the enemy AI starts to challenge you after the first five hours of play, forcing the player to think in battles instead of mashing buttons. Sadly, access to healing items is not nearly as limited as it needs to be to give consistently interesting gameplay scenarios, and by the end of the game, too many encounters are a breeze.
Cutscenes are incredibly varied in quality. Some pivotal scenes are told as simple slideshows while others are beautifully animated. It is jarring to some degree, but the material is good enough to motivate throughout the whole playthrough. The classic Japanese score complements each scene just as you remember it and reading is still fun! Sadly, the game does not fare as well technically. Framerate dips happen after every loading screen and sometimes during long sessions of travel. Lip-syncing is nonexistent, in accordance with the source material. The camera fights you whenever you try to angle it any other way than straight behind the character during exploration. Finally, the script clearly needed more time in the oven as there is an unacceptable amount of spelling and punctuation errors.
This is a game for Dragon Ball fans made with a lot of love but a lack of polish. Kakarot is perfectly playable and enjoyable; few things beat the novelty of exploring a world you love. While one could easily ask for more (and with good reason), CyberConnect2 has yet again delivered a satisfyingly fleshed out and well-realised anime-based video game without reinventing the wheel. If you truly cannot get enough of Dragon Ball, pick this one up. You will not be disappointed.
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