I love Dragon Ball as a series. I really, really love it. It was one of my, along with many peoples first anime series, watching it on morning TV with a bowl of cereal before school. Ever since I’ve had a fascination with this goofy shounen series but I haven’t so much had a fascination with the games. Almost every Dragon Ball game was a fighter of some description. Which is fine, if you’re into that, but I’m not because I’m very bad at them.
Then came the Legacy of Goku games for GameBoy Advance. They were RPG retellings of the series and I was delighted by them as an RPG fan. But, unfortunately, there was never another good RPG entry like this. Until now.
CHA-LA HEAD CHA-LA!
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is basically a complete retelling of Dragon Ball Z, starting at the Saiyan saga and going right through to the Buu saga. You hit all the major story moments like meeting Vegeta, Super Saiyan Goku, watching Gohan beat the ever-loving shit out of Cell and the delightful fusion that is Gotenks. Though in addition to this, being an open-world RPG, it’s also full of side quests and references to the original Dragon Ball anime.
Initially, I was sceptical with this being yet another retelling of the Z series, but my fears were put at ease almost as soon as I open the game. The very first thing you do is have a mind-fight with Piccolo, which is, you know, okay, but the second thing you do is a fun father/son day with Goku and Gohan. The player, as Goku, takes Gohan fishing for the first time. It manages to be a great way of showing their bond and the greater world and interactions outside of the main series, as well as an introduction to the fishing mechanic in which Goku plugs a fake tail made by Bulma into his butt and uses it to catch massive fish. It rules.
But it’s also the perfect instance of just how this game differs from the traditional 1v1 fighter. Once the main game itself begins and players are allowed to roam free, there are several smaller areas selectable from a world map to explore. Cities, towns, iconic locations, this game makes sure to cram every single piece of Dragon Ball into its smaller explorable areas, whether it’s Kame House and the surrounding ocean and islands, Goku’s home, or Capsule Corp in the city.
Navigation is also relatively simple, what with being able to fly and move at ridiculously fast speeds, and it also makes exploring what are otherwise large and honestly somewhat empty areas all the more enjoyable. Especially given the number of collectables, Z Orbs used to level up and various collectables in reference to older Dragon Ball media, among other things. What’s more, this is done with a wide variety of characters including, but not limited to, Goku, Vegeta, Gohan and Piccolo, as well as having characters like Krillin or the previously mentioned player characters offering backups in a ‘party’ system.
There’s also plenty of sidequests to keep players busy, featuring a wide range of characters and even nameless NPC’s, really making the world feel fleshed out. Though the quests themselves generally either fall into the categories of ‘find some things’ or ‘kill some things’, while main quests follow the plot of the anime relatively closely, though the pacing can feel a bit off at times with regular time skips as well as skipping over large parts of the anime that were important, but the game had no way of portraying outside of its gameplay. For example, Goku’s training on King Kai’s planet or on the way to Namek is almost entirely glossed over, only for Goku to return stronger and with new abilities with little to no explanation.
While we have seen the series retold countless times, I still feel like there was a missed opportunity to include some training minigames or pad out the pacing, especially in a game dedicated to showing the wider Dragon Ball world.
The combat is, of course, always going to be the biggest draw card to any Dragon Ball game and Kakarot doesn’t disappoint. Combat is entirely three dimensional and feels a lot like the anime. It’s quick, it’s fluid, and it makes you feel incredibly powerful.
Basic moves are ki blasts and melee attacks, though abilities can be gained through levelling up a skill tree and unlocking new moves via training. Up to four special moves can be set at once, accessed via the L1 trigger, while the R1 trigger offers access to your partners’ abilities (if you have party members). So, for example, you might begin a basic melee combo, have Krillin use a solar flare to stun your enemy, and then follow it up with a special attack like Vegeta’s Galick Gun.
There’s also plenty of overworld encounters with enemies appropriate to whichever section of the plot you’re playing through at the time, like encountering Frieza’s henchmen on Namek. These encounters are also easily avoided by just flying past really, really fast if you’re not interested in them.
The battles are also full of plenty of challenge and ensure that players learn the ins and outs of how to fight, and does so gradually, with initial enemies not blocking a lot or cancelling your attacks, allowing players to figure out the best way to fight before encountering tougher enemies that absolutely will wreck your entire deal if you don’t learn how the combat works.
Though this can be made easier through the various RPG mechanics, skill trees levelling up the power of attacks and the community board offering bonuses to a wide variety of stats. The community board uses ties to characters and their specialities to provide all kinds of bonuses. Chi-Chi, for example, is part of the cooking community and will offer bonuses to meals made, which, in turn, offer bonuses both temporary and permanent to your characters. It allows players a variety of ways to bulk themselves up for difficult fights.
That line isn’t used in the game by the way. It sucks.
By and large, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is a promising if slightly unsure first step into the RPG realm for 3D Dragon Ball games. It wants so badly to show you the wider Dragon Ball world but kind of shrugs when you take it up on that offer and tells you to go catch some deer or something. The combat is polished as ever, which just makes the lacklustre RPG segments stand out that little bit more. Which isn’t to say they’re bad, it’s a fun game and I adore flying around, looking at dinosaurs, exploring, that sort of things.
It’s the kind of game that seems like it would be better once the second entry hits, which I sincerely hope it does, whether that’s in the form of Super or Dragon Ball because I’m absolutely on board for more RPG’s that show off the wider world and let me dive in headfirst to a series I know and love.