- Release Date (NA): January 17, 2020
- Release Date (EU): January 17, 2020
- Release Date (JP): January 16, 2020
- Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
- Developer: CyberConnect2
- Genres: RPG
- Also For: Computer, Xbox One
Nostalgia and what could have been
Many of us who grew up with Dragon Ball Z—whether watching it on Toonami or stumbling upon several episodes at a time or even a movie or three on VHS—have the experience of always wanting more! There was always more Dragon Ball to get ahold of and it would never, EVER become oversaturated. Right? Well, whether that is true today is up for debate, but many of us who grew up with it also were familiar with the Legacy of Goku franchise for the Gameboy Advance. Legacy of Goku, Legacy of Goku II, and Buu’s Fury were three games that each told an arc of the Dragon Ball Z story line, starting with Raditz and ending with Buu. I couldn’t get enough of these games (okay, maybe I could get enough of the first game) and I eagerly wanted to be able to play a DBZ RPG on the big screen.
And let me tell you, I played every DBZ game I could possibly get my hands on including the Budokai series, Budokai Tenkaichi series, Burst Limit series, Xenoverse series, and FighterZ. While each series has its own charm to it, they were almost always fighting games at the heart with RPGs being limited to handheld devices. (And before you ask, Sagas didn’t really exist. You made that up in a fever dream. Don’t look it up, trust me. Your mind is playing tricks on you.) But by the time Kakarot was announced, I was… actually pretty disappointed. The early trailers made it seem like it would start at Raditz and finish at Frieza which irritated me knowing that a game with the name “Kakarot” in it probably shouldn’t take place during a time period where Kakarot spent most of his time dead or in the infirmary. Later trailers clarified that the game will include the entire DBZ storyline but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I really wanted an RPG of the original Dragon Ball which was more of a grand adventure. The game could start from the start of the series and end at the Piccolo Jr. arc, leaving room for a sequel in DBZ: Kakarot. Oh well, we got what we got, and boy is what we got good!
DBZ Kakarot, minus the Kakarot
As a disclaimer, I am a fan of Dragon Ball and I’m not pretending that I am reviewing this with the mindset of someone who hasn’t seen the series before. This is because the game itself seems to take for granted that those playing it are at least familiar enough to appreciate the story unfolding around them. I imagine that someone who has never even heard of Dragon Ball before would be able to play this game and understand its story for the most part, but I can’t imagine it feeling particularly impactful as most of the very intense scenes were dulled down. Due to the game's structure, players often find themselves either smashing through the story at breakneck speeds or going at a much slower pace completing sidequests that simply wouldn’t be possible to happen in the series’ established timeframes, breaking the immersion.
Right after booting the game, much of my fear was alleviated. You start playing as Goku and you are walking with Gohan, at this point still a very young and whiny child, to collect fruit and fish to bring home to cook. You can’t fly at this point, or use the Nimbus, or walk too fast so as to not leave Gohan behind. But it is during this very start of the game that you see an actual bond between Goku and Gohan that is often lost in different mediums. I found myself smiling at their conversations and honestly, this beginning part of the game is the one part of the story that I don’t want to accidentally spoil except to say, it really set the stage for Goku being a caring father as opposed to a deadbeat dad that TeamFourStar and others (lovingly, jokingly, and tactfully mind you) made him out to be.
Soon after Raditz makes his appearance, the first big map opens up for you to play as Piccolo. It is at this point that you can see that this isn’t the teeny tiny world we are used to in Dragon Ball games so far. While not all of this is available from the start, this is the point that you see this won’t simply be a “go from point A to point B” kind of RPG. There are hidden caves scattered throughout the world that you can only access after leveling up a certain point, there are robotic remnants of the Red Ribbon Army running around to be destroyed (and later Saibamen, the Frieza force, etc.), fish to catch, cars to drive, mementos of the original series to collect, Dragon Balls to find, side stories to unlock, wacky refights to see, abilities to unlock and upgrade, food to cook, community board stats to max out, and much more. That’s right, this is a real, genuine RPG.
Cooking, for example, is something that is not exactly necessary, but it can give you a leg up in this game. You collect ingredients from around the world to cook dishes or full course meals that give you temporary and permanent stat boosts to smash your way through the game. I love making and eating meals that increase my EXP percentage for a few minutes before smashing through big events in the story.
Another thing that I like is the Community Board system. As you go through the story and complete sidequests you unlock Soul Emblems of the characters that you encountered. There are several Community Boards that you can access from the pause screen where you place these Soul Emblems to strengthen various aspects of your gameplay. About to go on a shopping spree? Make sure you increase your “Adult” Community Board to lower the cost of materials. Want to get experience? Then you should increase the “Training” Community Board. Placing certain Soul Emblems together triggers voiced dialogue and increases your stats. This sounds like a complicated system to describe, but it’s actually rather easy to figure out after the first time you do it. I personally love putting as much as I can into the Training Community Board so that my EXP is increased so I can level up astronomically.
Even though this is an RPG, it is also a Dragon Ball Z game and therefore the fighting is a core feature. The fighting is very reminiscent of Xenoverse in many ways, but it has been adjusted in a way that works for an open world setting. You can encounter foes outside of the main story by flying into mobs that trigger fights as your team focuses on them. You have a health bar, a ki bar (energy bar), and a burst bar (let’s call it an “anger bar”). The fights aren’t very complicated at all as I find myself being able to smash through most battles by spamming beam attacks or rapid fire attacks and then fleeing for a minute to recharge my ki and chug a few potions or pop a senzu, and then fly back in to finish the fight. I rarely have to resort to any other moves, unless someone is watching, in which case I try to show off.
The earlier battles can actually be a bit challenging as I did die a few times using this strategy, but if you do all of the side stories you should be able to plow through most of the game in this manner. But that’s how RPGs are sometimes. They start off difficult but if you manage your resources correctly you’ll be able to stomp the end game. This strategy doesn’t always work as there are villainous mobs in the overworld which are distinguishable by their red aura and they are much more powerful than you. In these cases more strategy is involved, but a lot of your fear of losing can be mitigated just by chomping on some senzu.
I really love the character interations in this game, which is what I have been wanting from my DBZ games for years. Xenoverse did an okay job of having characters talk to each other and FighterZ did even better with its unique and original story that I think takes place between the Return of Frieza and Zamasu arcs in Dragon Ball Super. A lot happens in Kakarot in the intermissions where you see exactly what the characters were up to during these gaps in time and how events actually unfold. Without spoiling too much, there are characters in this game that are from Toriyama’s extended universe but didn’t necessarily appear on screen in the DBZ anime or in the Dragon Ball manga. There are also canon details that were established by Toriyama in the past that made its way into this game such as who Android 16 was modeled after.
Like Gohan and Krillin, I wish this game had its potential unlocked
I will say that the game could get repetitive after a while. For me it took until the Buu arc before I started to feel it. Friends of mine claim that it got repetitive to them even earlier than that. I don’t mind the repetition all too much but what does bug me is the load times. I played the majority of this game experiencing significant load times. I’m playing on a PS4 Pro with an internal solid state drive and I was still having to wait like 30 seconds or more between loading screens. This is a big detriment to the game because I like to hop between maps often to collect Dragon Balls. I was ready to dock this game significantly for the load times, but an update hit a few days ago that drastically decreased the loading times. It still takes up to 10 seconds between world maps for me but compared to before it feels like the speed of light. I’m still listing the load times as a con, but it’s no longer a deal breaker.
I will say the other complaint that I had with this game is the English dub. Normally these voice actors kill it. Weebs love to say “All dubs are bad. Always watch subs. Except for Dragon Ball Z” and… I understand what they mean. But in this game, it was obvious how much the English voice actors phoned it in. The dialogue didn’t always match the text, the mouth flaps were way off, and there seemed to be a general lack of heart that went into it. It didn’t take long for me to switch to the Japanese dub which, in this case, was a significant improvement over the English one. I know much of the English-speaking Dragon Ball community still have a problem with Masako Nozawa’s Goku, but I say that this game may be the best opportunity to give her a shot as this is one of the few times that I think she definitively outperforms Sean Schemmel.
This is the DBZ RPG that we have been waiting for since the Legacy of Goku series on the Gameboy Advance. While I still wish that we had an open-world RPG of the original Dragon Ball, as it lends itself to this type of game more than Dragon Ball Z does, this was a very enjoyable game and I was surprised with how much the developers were able to throw in. The game gets repetitive after a while and the battles can be too easy and mindless, but there’s a lot of heart and attention to detail in this game. Lots of games go through the DBZ story, but this game does it the best of all of them. If you want an original story with a lot of heart, then I recommend Dragon Ball FighterZ instead. Or do what I did and get both!
- Vast open world with many areas and secrets to discover
- Lots of RPG elements that can be played with meticulously or completely ignored
- Excellent sound selection to really bring in the immersion
- The best game to get the story between Raditz and Buu
- Awesome animated scenes and boss fights
- Lots of Easter Eggs for fans of the series
- The game starts to get repetitive after a certain point
- Some models lack a lot of detail when compared to the main character models
- Excessively long load times—slightly improved after the 1.04 update
- The English dub really phoned it in this time around