Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot (PS4) Review

While I finally do have a plan in place to cover the many Dragon Ball games in my collection on this blog including this game would mean reviewing it a good few years from now so I’d rather review it now after I’ve just played it, especially since there is still more than enough DB games to cover for that eventual plan as it is. So yeah, I finally played DBZ Kakarot at the start of the year after the complete collection was on sale for roughly £10 digitally. The combat didn’t look inspiring and the story was just the same-old so I didn’t get it at launch, despite free-roaming the Dragon Ball world sounding very fun. Were my instincts correct? Let’s find out!

Background:

Piccolo squares off with one of the pirate guardian robots from Dragon Ball… get ready for a lot of that…

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot was released worldwide for the PS4, XBOX One and PC on January 17th 2020, with a Switch release coming September 24th 2021.

It’s made by CyberConnect2 of near-countless Naruto games fame, so not a major departure from their usual affair, though this game’s use of flying characters is at least a little different… Maybe?

Gameplay:

At least slaying dinosaurs as Gohan, complete with sword he never used again, was a new experience in a game!

The core of Kakarot is labelled as an “open world RPG”, but beyond increasing skills in a very limited skill tree via levelling up there isn’t a lot of RPG elements. There are a LOT of open world elements though, but I’ll get to those in second because the other key part of the game is the combat; which is not a turn-based thing, it’s not a basic 3D fighter like so many of CyberConnect2’s anime games, instead it’s pretty much just the Xenoverse series again, which in turn was very similar to the Raging Blast, which is turn was very similar to the Budokai Tenkaichi series. So a fresh company getting their hands on the license did not lead to a fresh take on Dragon Ball combat, but hey-ho. So you can move freely in a large 3D space, unlike most games however they never programmed for fighting on the ground so every fight begins with a cutscene talking on the floor and then cuts to everyone oddly hovering above where they were talking… very weird, especially since walking and running on the ground is present in the open world side of things!

Otherwise you have the standard health bar and Ki bar, punch combos, blocking, the old “vanishing attacks” where you can dodge and counter at the last second, dashing forward and up, the ability to fire small ki blasts, a couple of swappable super attacks and the ability to do greater damage once you fill up a special meter that charges between fights, plus a team attack if you’re lucky. You can also add very Xenoverse-like items to your characters to buff them up or heal them, the latter becoming so common that the idea of dying in a fight becomes all but impossible. What is really annoying is how badly they clearly realised they’d made the combat as they put in a system where A.I. opponents have an ability they frequently activate that just blocks all attacks and responds with an long-reaching strike that stuns you. It’s not something you can do, just the CPU and therefore clearly the only way they could think to stop you from just wailing on them instead of just… programming them to fight and block like you do? Basically it just makes you not want to get in close so you end up long-range beam spamming opponents…

You can add all the RPG-like hit point numbers you want, still doesn’t take away from the fact that the combat is just the same as always…

So uninteresting combat aside, what about the open world? Well that at least is extremely fun and even after all those hours the joy of flying up into the air and soring around as Toriyama-style cities and dinosaurs come into view underneath you never got old and was frankly the only thing keeping me going (that and sense that I hate leaving things half finished once I’ve started them…) You have all the hallmarks of open world games present: side quests (which nine times out of ten involve fighting the f**king pirate guardian robot from Dragon Ball AGAIN), collectables (including far too many floating orbs all over the place), shops, cooking meals to get buffs, fishing, collecting machine parts to build vehicles you’ll never use because flying is far quicker, a driving mini-game based on that classic filler episode from the Cell Arc where Goku and Piccolo have to learn how to drive (yes, really!) and the aforementioned skill tree for your seven playable characters of Goku, Vegeta, Gohan, Piccolo and Future Trunks, plus Gotenks and Vegito who were thrown in post-launch when people complained about only being able to play as them briefly. You can also level up Krillin, Yamcha, Tenshinhan, Chiaotzu, Android 18, Goten and Trunks as they can be set as assist characters that can pop in, do a quick attack and then pop out again during combat.

At this point I couldn’t help but wonder: “How is THIS a thing I’m playing?!”

The other weird addition is “Soul Emblems”, where a wide array of Dragon Ball characters good and bad can be put on one of several grids and levelled up with various orbs and such, with buffs when two or more characters that have a storyline connection are placed on a grid next to each other. All it does is give you more buffs as you level them up, so it’s a lot of faffing about for very little reason… not that unlocking them and placing them in a certain order wasn’t oddly satisfying, it was just an unnecessary addition.

That’s your lot, pretty much. Great fun free-roaming and some weird and funny side quests helped plump up a game that was otherwise a pretty dull fighter with badly programmed A.I…

Graphics and Sound:

There are an awful lot of Muscle Towers in this version of Dragon Ball Z…

The graphics are very bright and colourful, and in some cutscenes properly stunning, so it does at least tick the box of being a very nice looking Dragon Ball game, certainly leagues ahead of the weirdly dim Xenoverse games, but still fails to match the FighterZ engine’s look and animation.

Soundwise it’s fine, they have some music from the actual (original Japanese) score plus some decent new music to compliment it. Voice cast for both Japanese and English are all here, as you’d imagine by now, and the sound effects are suitably Dragon Ball-y, especially some running and jumping sounds that are often not present in games due to being focused on fighting, naturally.

Story:

Finally! Goku vs. Frieza depicted in a game! How have they not done this before?! (etc etc)

Now I’m not going to sit here and type out the entire story of Dragon Ball Z, but be assured this does cover the core four story arcs of the series: the Saiyan Arc, the Frieza Arc (called here “The Namek Arc”), the Androids Arc (sometimes called the Cell Arc, or both!) and the Buu Arc. Well, I should say they used the classic FUNimation term of Saga instead of Arc, but there you go.

The side quests often focus on original Dragon Ball characters like Android 8, Namu, Tao Pai Pai and the Crane Hermit, plus a lot of focus on Lunch (or Launch, for some reason…) and what she did during the various Z arcs after vanishing from the story. They can be quite fun, though being challenged by Tao Pai Pai only for him to click a capsule and unleash more f**king pirate robots to fight lessened the drama somewhat…

Downloadable Content:

This game is, I believe, the first one ever to feature Future Gohan without his left arm. Also, what kind of question is that, Trunks?! What do you think his response is going to be?!

The DLC is certainly a tale of two halves as the first two packs are loosely based on the Battle of Gods and Resurrection F stories (technically still Z given the original films were under the Z banner!) but beyond Beerus and Whis don’t actually introduce any new characters to fight, and in fact the first “story” is pretty barebones, just nothing but fighting Whis to level up or one or two fights with Beerus. As least ‘F’ does have a few story components and introduces a new fighting mode where you face off against roughly 100 henchmen at once, which sounds exhausting but a good majority of them are wiped out by combo moves. Still you end up fighting Zarbon, Dodoria and the Ginyu Force because they didn’t make models for the actual Resurrection F characters…

The third and final DLC though is based on the Future Trunks TV special and features two new characters to play as (Future Gohan and young Future Trunks), new enemies on the map to face (including an “avoid the sphere of sight so you don’t get caught” aspect to them… which isn’t very fun, but it was different!) and it later picks up the story after Trunks comes back and successfully frees his future, going on to train under the Supreme Kai and defeat Dabura, stopping Buu from being released in his time line, all of which was hinted at and briefly shown in the Dragon Ball Super anime, but it’s nice to see it fleshed out more here.

Thoughts Now:

Ah the old beam struggle mini-game, forgot to mention that. It’s a classic!

The appeal of playing through the story of Dragon Ball Z again wasn’t very high, it’s why I appreciated the Xenoverse games and FighterZ so much, but the free roaming Dragon Ball world meant I finally picked it up cheap and you know what? It was … fine. If it didn’t have the free flying aspect it wouldn’t have offered anything new at all, apart from an embarrassing A.I. system and more fights against generic robots than you can shake a stick at. I enjoyed my play through, but the novelty did run out quite quickly so I won’t be playing it again…

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