As one of the biggest and most enduring anime series out there, it’s really no surprise that there’s more video game adaptations of Dragon Ball than you can shake a stick at. After last year’s excellent Dragon Ball FighterZ, the bar has been set higher than ever. Can Dragon Btall Z: Kakarot live up to those lofty expectations?
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is a straight up video game retelling of Dragon Ball Z, picking up the story with Goku and his son Gohan going to visit old friends from adventures and battles past. Then aliens happen, kidnappings occur, secret origin stories are revealed. It’s all rather dramatic!
If the “take the anime and video game it” approach doesn’t sound familiar, it should do. Developer CyberConnect2 are perhaps best known for their Naruto games – Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4: Road to Boruto the last of these – that largely adapted the anime’s story and battles into video game form, step by step. Kakarot follows in those footsteps, with large open world areas to explore and titanic battles that follow the story of the show.
Kakarot looks the absolute business, I have to say. The open world areas that you run and fly around are a little basic feeling, but give an impressive sense of scale as you get to check out cars trundling around on the ground then blast off up into the sky until they’re a tiny speck. It really comes into its own in battle though.
Fights have you locked onto your enemy one at a time, largely on a horizontal plane, but every once in a while, one of you can be kicked up higher, shifting your angle dramatically vertical. It’s most spectacular when fighting close to the ground, your flight cutting into the grass, your attacks denting the floor, potentially even shattering the huge rocky buttes if you fly through them or smash an opponent.
Battles against the regular enemies, Robo Skulls, won’t keep you occupied for more than a few moments, but it’s really all about the narrative showstoppers. Whether you’re battling Piccolo, Raditz, or any of the other big bads that crop up through Dragon Ball Z’s story arcs, they’re designed to evoke the feel of the anime. Fights will have you whittling away multiple health bars, often triggering your adversary to pull out some special attack, and occasionally breaking into close up cinematic moments that absolutely capture the look and feel of the anime – you’d swear that some of these are ripped straight from the show!
Not only that, but fights are broken up into several stages. As you finally win one of the gruelling fights, you might find that Raditz is basically just a bit scuffed up and now even angrier. Oh, now you’re fighting his giant monkey form, or you cut to another character while Goku and Raditz continue to battle up ahead, or you no longer have a support character as you try to keep Raditz occupied while they charge up a super attack. It doesn’t just have the look of the anime, it’s got a lot of the pacing as well because of this.
The fighting has some depth to it, but it’s really easy to pick up and button mash your way through. You have two main attacks, a Ki blast that you can spam and send projectiles at your enemy, and straight melee attacks for when you close the gap and feel like punching things. Obviously, you then have a block and dodge for when attacks are coming in the opposite direction.
So far so button mashing, but there’s also special attacks like Goku’s signature Kamehameha. That’s where player skill really comes in, because these aren’t basic press button and win attacks. Kamehameha needs you to aim at your opponent, but time it wrong and they’ll likely have shifted and your energy blast just fires off into the middle of nowhere.
At various points, you’ll be joined by other characters, fighting by your side and controlled by AI. They’re great for when you’re battling multiple enemies, helping to draw focus and let you attack unopposed, but you can also direct and call upon them to use their own special attacks.
Where the fighting is solid and enjoyable, letting you pick up and play through the spectacular anime battles, other parts of the game seems more confusing. The open world is nicely styled and big, but the main thing you seem to be doing is heading to mission markers and collection the hundreds upon hundreds of Z-Orbs along the way. Coming in various different colours, you feed these into your character skill trees, unlocking different abilities and attacks for battle.
More baffling is the Community Board. As you progress through the story and meet new characters and allies, they join your community as counters that you can combine in different areas. You’ve got the main Warrior tree with Goku at its heart, then there’s Master Roshi in charge of training, Chi-Chi in the kitchen (ugh), and so on. It’s kind of baffling, and without a neat little snap to your cursor actively frustrating until you can figure out how to place each character’s icon on a Community node, but boils down to shuffling people around to get buffs for all the characters you play as. I’m sure there’s plenty of depth to this, but alongside the Z-Orb skill upgrades, it’s not terribly well explained during the game’s opening couple of hours.
Most importantly, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is just pretty fun. The combat and the sensational battles are where it’s really at, and there’s enough variety through this as it faithfully retells the Dragon Ball Z story. For fans of the anime, this is one to keep an eye on when it releases in January.