I need a break from action figure reviews so why not turn to the world of video games? I don’t get to play many these days, but I did splurge on a PlayStation 5 not that long ago and was looking for something to play. And ideally, that something would be budget friendly. The good thing about not playing a lot of games is that I never got around to playing a lot of the latest and greatest for the PlayStation 4 or Nintendo Switch, and since it’s cheap to port and upscale an older game, there’s a ton of that sort of thing available on PS5 which lead me to Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot.
The first time I ever watched a fight unfold on Dragon Ball Z I knew I wanted to experience that in video game form. It’s fast, frenetic, and spectacular. Street Fighter 2 has fireballs and “ki” type attacks, but they weren’t anything like they were in DBZ. Unfortunately, 99% of the DBZ games at the time were region-locked to Japan and if you went through the trouble of either importing them or downloading them you got to find out that they were also terrible. The best games were mediocre, at best, and none of them were truly worth the price. And trust me on that because I did import some and they sucked. The only games released outside of Japan were Dragon Power for the NES, a sidescroller that was altered to the point of being unrecognizable as a Dragon Ball game, and Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout, a truly godawful 3D fighter based on the mediocre sequel anime series to DBZ.
Once Dragon Ball Z picked up in popularity in the west the better games started to follow. I was a day one buyer of Dragon Ball Z: Budokai when it was released on the PlayStation 2 in 2002. It was not a great game, but compared to the crap that came before it it felt like a masterpiece. The good thing was that the games only seemed to get better from there. The only problem for me is I found myself getting tired of the fighting genre. I played so many fighting games in the 90s that come the 2000’s I had mostly moved on. Wrestling games and DBZ were really the only fighters I was still dabbling in and they had their own flavor, for sure, but eventually I got burnt out. I was, and still am, mostly into role-playing games so naturally I wanted to see DBZ expand to that genre. And it had in the past in the form of a few card battlers for the Famicom. I even played a ROM hack of the first one and managed to complete it and found it to be a satisfactory experience. There was a similar title released for the Game Boy Color that flew under the radar a bit and that was due to Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku sucking up all of the attention on the Game Boy Advance. That game wasn’t a true RPG and more like a Zelda clone, but it was different so it had that going for it. It also wasn’t very good. The sequel was much better received, but I never played it. Years later I would order a cart on eBay, but it was misdelivered to the wrong address so I never got it and I was out a meager sum of money (this was before the collector market explosion in prices) and I never tried to get another copy.
Other RPG or RPG-style games have followed for Dragon Ball, but I never gave any a shot. I never heard great things about any of them, not that I heard truly negative things either, so I never sought it out. When I heard about Kakarot it did get my attention. It is basically a hybrid fighter/RPG that takes the player through the entire DBZ story, something that has been retold countless times in video game form, but it definitely looks to have a great deal more polish than past games. Some of the fighting games have basically granted you control of the hero characters and dropped you in a sandbox to seek out the bad guys to advance the story so Kakarot isn’t completely unfamiliar. With this game though it seems there’s more emphasis on the progression and freedom to do as you please without making it into a true open-world game on par with The Witcher III or Red Dead Redemption. When the game first dropped in 2020 it received generally positive reviews, though they weren’t over-the-top with praise. It was a game of diminishing returns from what I gathered so I didn’t feel particularly drawn to it. I figured I would get around to it, but I did lose it in the shuffle a bit, but after getting the PS5 I suddenly had reason to give it a shot.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is like a cross between The Legacy of Goku and the Budokai Tenkaichi series. You start off as Goku and you’re free to fly around the area containing Goku’s house. It’s a fairly large area connected to other regions of Earth via an old school world map feature. As you progress through the game, more areas open up and even off-world areas. While exploring, you will encounter random bad guys that can be either dealt with or ignored to some degree. You will also run into NPCs that range from random earthlings to notable characters. Your next story destination is always marked with a red indicator while side missions are designated blue when available. Side missions range from battles to fetch quests, for the most part, and some will involve characters from the show and others won’t. It’s pretty straight-forward and progressing through the game will unlock the ability to play as additional heroes from the show. Even though the game is called Kakarot, Goku’s Saiyan name at birth, you don’t exclusively play as Goku. If you’re familiar with DBZ’s story, then you know that Goku will be dead for portions of it and in the game he won’t even be available to you during those times. The game just sticks with the canon story, which is basically all of the stuff from the manga so no Garlic Jr, no Other World tournaments, and definitely no villains from the movies. Not everything you do and see is strictly canon though as there are ways to bring back villains to battle again and there’s a game-only bonus boss fight as well, but for the most part, the game just gives you the main story.
Battle is obviously an important component to this game and it plays out like an arena fighter, but simplified. The camera is positioned behind the player character and you will be tasked with dispatching one or more other fighters. I think the max amount of enemies on-screen at any one time is six, but I could be wrong and it may be more. The face buttons on the controller map to the following commands: melee attack, ki attack, dash, charge ki. The dash is more like a movement button that also allows you to perform vanish attacks when blocking. Blocking is mapped to a shoulder button along with the special attack commands. Pressing L1 on the PS5 controller in tandem with a face button unleashes a special move. This can be a melee attack or one of the signature ki attacks from the series like the Kamehameha or Special Beam Cannon. R1 does the same, but for your allies. In most fights, you can have up to two supporting fighters and they will have two special moves each mapped to a face button. You have to manage your health, ki, and the support move meter of your allies throughout. Ki will go down as you fire off special moves or use the vanish command and can be replenished with the charge button. The support character meter will regenerate over time. There’s also a third meter called the surge gauge which fills up as you dish out punishment. Once that fills up you can enter a super-charged surge mode which strengthens attacks and makes your character move faster. It’s not of much use early in the game, but later on it adds the ability to restore health while it’s active which is invaluable in the hardest boss fights. There’s another meter, the Z combo meter, that is basically unseen, but fills as you call upon your allies for support attacks. Once it’s full, you’ll be able to unleash a Z combo which is basically a cinematic, team, attack initiated by pressing two shoulder buttons. It’s neat and can really pull you out of a jam as it’s unblockable and basically cancels whatever your opponent was doing in the moment. Lastly, there’s also an items menus accessible via the D-pad which contains a list of a equipped items that mostly just restore health.
Tackling opponents in DBZ: Kakarot is pretty straight-forward once you get the hang of it. Most of the fodder enemies aren’t very hard and can be overwhelmed pretty easily with melee attacks. The more powerful enemies are much better at blocking and many will enter into states where they can’t be staggered via attacking. All of them can also enter into this flaming, red, state which indicates they’re charging up an attack. If that attack lands it will leave your character stunned and open for a free hit. It’s a bit odd because the game doesn’t tell you about that ability and you may be wondering how you perform the same, but you simply can’t. It’s a special move that only the CPU can make use of. As your characters get stronger, the enemies on the world map will become even easier. If you’re dashing around the map and happen to contact them you may even get an automatic win without even having to enter into the battle mode. Harder enemies will exhibit more of a pattern as well where they’ll go into various different, scripted, attacks you will have to either avoid or figure out the proper way to counter. They also get to benefit from generous amounts of health relative to what the player has and the hardest encounters won’t allow you to use items. This is when the ability to heal via the surge mode really comes into play.
Character progression in the game is very much like any other RPG. Participating in battles and completing quests will award the player with experience which will in turn allow the player to level-up. The initial level cap is 100, but you can blow past that in the post game content. Each character has access to a character progression grid where they learn moves and abilities. Each character can equip four attack moves at a time and they also have access to passive buffs and abilities and the amount of those abilities that can be equipped increases with every ten levels. Characters learn these new moves and abilities by spending Z orbs, which are all over the place when buzzing around the world. The most plentiful way to acquire them though is via battling and completing quests. In the main game, I almost never had to go farming for orbs, but in the post game I did often. Some moves are also learned by training and early on a ton of moves and abilities will be locked. They become unlocked as you progress further into the story so no learning how to go Super Saiyan with Goku before you even fight Raditz. Speaking of which, transformations are in the game and they’re separately equipped. Almost all of them are added via the story mode. For Goku, he can also just go to any transformation he has available so you don’t have to power-up to Super Saiyan, then go Super Saiyan 2, before you can go Super Saiyan 3 in a fight. If you have access to the Super Saiyan 3 transformation then you can just go straight to that. Late in the game, you can also learn auto-transformations which will start you off in battle in that form. More importantly, it removes the ki-drain penalty the forms possess which is pretty huge as exhausting your ki in battle will revert the character to their base form. With Auto Super Saiyan 3 equipped, that basically makes Super Saiyan 3 Goku’s base form. Fusion is also available for the characters it applies to, but both characters need to be in the battle party and it’s triggered like any other transformation. Even though Fusion has a time limit in the show, for the game it just lasts for the duration of the fight.
The character roster for the game is pretty large, but deceptively so. Basically, everyone you would expect to be in the game is, and most of them are voiced by the actors from the anime as well. There are a few who are different, but it’s not terribly distracting (except for adult Mai who has a voice befitting her child form from Dragon Ball Super). For player characters, you’re actually pretty limited. They are: Goku, Gohan, Piccolo, Vegeta, and Future Trunks. You can also fight as Gotenks and Vegito via the Fusion technique. Characters like Krillin, Yamcha, Tien, Goten, 18, and so on are support fighters only. They can level-up, learn moves, and join you in battle, but you can’t directly control them. Who you can utilize is dictated by where you are in the main story, but generally speaking, you’re free to swap characters in and out as you please. You can’t change who you’re controlling during battle though, only when outside of it. To further boost your abilities there’s what’s called the Community Board. These are a bunch of grids where character coins can be placed. Each character is assigned a rating in various subcategories which can be improved upon by giving them gifts, which are just items found all throughout the game. It’s a bit messy and convoluted, but as you acquire the character tokens and get a feel for it the feature starts to make more sense. Take the Z Fighter board as an example. Leveling it up basically improves battle performance by adding permanent buffs like melee damage bonuses and ki attack increases and so on. Goku is the centerpiece of that board. He naturally will work better with certain allies and placing Gohan, for example, next to Goku will add 2 points to the Z Fighter score plus whatever Gohan’s Z Fighter value is. A character can get to a maximum of 30 in any one category, though they’re natural max could be miniscule. You can permanently boost it with special items, but generally speaking, you want to place tokens according to their strength. Gohan is a great fighter, but a terrible cook, so you probably won’t want to put him on the cooking board. It sounds confusing in writing, but it’s not so bad in practice and it even becomes fun trying to best place characters so that you can max out as many boards as possible and as early as possible.
And speaking of cooking, that is yet another way you can boost your power in the game. Throughout the world there is various flora and fauna to collect. There’s even a fishing mini game which the game will introduce you to almost right off the bat. Campfires dot the landscape of every area and the player can fry up a fish or a deer to get a quick boost, but the best bonus items come via meals. You can have cooks, or even Chi Chi, prepare gigantic feasts if you have the proper ingredients and hunt down the recipe. These meals will often add significant attribute boosts which last for a limited time and can make taking down certain enemies a lot more manageable. I found that cooking wasn’t something I had to rely on, but it helped the few times I was underleveled when faced with a task. Usually, said task was an optional one or a training exercise as getting through the game was pretty painless, but it was nice to have that trump card in my back pocket. There’s also a side activity that lets you build cars or bipedal walker-type devices which honestly can be ignored. The cars can be used for races to get money, which you basically will never need, and the walkers can help hunt minerals which is another thing you will rarely have to hunt hard for.
In terms of extra stuff there’s a whole bunch that Kakarot has to offer. Most of the training available is stuff you will want to do, but there’s also bonus training available later in the game located at Capsule Corp. This training is a bit harder, but is also how you learn the very useful auto-transform abilities. There’s also the Dragon Balls which can be hunted down to make a wish. You will have some generic wishes like a wish for money or Z orbs, but the best ones allow you to resurrect defeated villains. They’ll come back stronger than before and are great for earning extra experience. This is also the only way to get their character token. Throughout the game there will also be “Villainous” enemies which are like super-powered clones of more famous enemies. As you take them out, they’ll be replaced with harder versions until you eventually defeat them all and unlock the game’s optional boss. Again, defeating these are mostly just a way to earn extra experience or Z orbs, you’ll likely need to be at max level to beat the final one anyway, but the challenge makes it fun. You’ll gain access to the time machine so you can go back and complete any side missions you may have missed or just to take on a past enemy once again. And then there’s the downloadable content. As of right now, four scenarios are available and they are: Beerus, Golden Frieza, Future Trunks and Bardock. The first two basically just let you play through the events of the final two Dragon Ball Z movies: Battle of Gods and Resurrection F. Those also happen to be the first two arcs of Dragon Ball Super. They give Goku and Vegeta access to more transformations while increasing the level cap to 300. Content wise, they’re a bit light as you basically just battle Beerus in the first one before gaining access to training with Whis on the home planet of Beerus. The Frieza arc grants you access to a new region on Earth and also unlocks horde battles which just pits the player against scores of enemies. They’re honestly a bit dull, but Frieza presents a solid challenge as does Beerus. The Trunks story is basically The History of Trunks and it’s almost like a whole new game as it takes place entirely in the alternate timeline where Goku and the others were murdered by the androids (or, in Goku’s case, a virus) and only Trunks and Gohan survived. It’s actually pretty cool because it continues past the defeat of Cell and lets you play as Trunks as he tries to prevent the awakening of Majin Buu in his timeline. And as you probably could guess, the Bardock one is an adaptation of the other DBZ OVA: Bardok – The Father of Goku. You get to play as the doomed Saiyan as he tries to prevent the annihilation of his race at the hands of Frieza. Upon finishing it, you will also gain access to a Prince Vegeta sidestory which is pretty cool.
Of the new stuff, the Trunks add-on was my favorite. Part of the charm this game possesses for a longtime fan is you do get to see more than what the anime shows. I suppose none of it is canon, but there’s a moment where Trunks relays a story to his mother about what it was like to spend a year with Vegeta in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber so you get little character moments the show didn’t have time for. We get to see a bit more of Vegeta taking Goku’s death pretty hard following the battle with Cell and there’s some other stuff sprinkled in there that I quite enjoyed. All of the technical bits of the game are also top-notch: good music, good voice acting, terrific visuals. It’s a fan’s sort of game and I hope they keep it going with more downloadable content. I’d love to get the Goku Black Saga and the Tournament of Power or either Dragon Ball Super movie would be welcomed as well. The next one slated for release presently doesn’t have a release date, but it’s supposed to detail Goku’s battle with Piccolo Jr. at the end of Dragon Ball. I’m curious to see how the game is able to pad that one out so it feels as substantial as the other add-ons, but it’s cool to get more from the original Dragon Ball series.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is not a game for the ages, but if you’re into Dragon Ball, this is about as good as it gets. I only wish it started earlier with the original Dragon Ball and let us get to Dragon Ball Z followed by Dragon Ball Super. It might have made for a fun juxtaposition going from the more grounded early days of the franchise to the frenetic days of DBZ. Even without that, there’s still a ton of content here and the fact that I’m over 90 hours into it and still willing to play more is testament to that. The gameplay is simple, but rewarding, and while it can get monotonous when you’re hunting items down and getting attacked relentlessly by weaker enemies, I never found myself truly bored or frustrated. I’ve played through and watched this story so many times at this point, but Kakarot helps make it entertaining once again by really delivering on the story beats that matter. It’s like getting a cliff notes version of the show and honestly very little gets left out. The only fight not in the game I was expecting to participate in was Future Trunks vs Perfect Cell, but I guess they didn’t want to create a character model for the bulked up version of Trunks and that’s fine. If you love Dragon Ball Z and are sick of traditional fighting games, then I definitely think Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is worth taking for a spin. The base game is probably enough for most people to get their fill and it’s not very expensive relative to a new game these days. And if you’re like me, when you finish it you’ll likely want more and you have four scenarios just waiting for you if so. That’s about the only criticism I can levy is that if you don’t care about experiencing Goku’s Super Saiyan God transformations then you could probably skip two of the downloadable scenarios (they’re also not free), but the Future Trunks one is definitely worth investing money and time in and I also enjoyed Bardok’s story. This game is simply a good time and you’re likely to walk away from it feeling like you too can unleash a mighty Kamehameha on command.
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