I’m pretty confident that everyone who reads this will be familiar with Dragon Ball Z. You may just be casually acquainted with the series or, like me, have spent your teenage years growing up watching it. Either way, the Dragon Ball Z franchise is massive and has spawned many, many games over the years. Yes, it’s a tale (almost) as old as time that has been told on numerous occasions. So, what makes Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot different?
Just to be clear, this is a game that is quite clearly, and unashamedly, aimed at fans of the series. It’s an incredibly faithful retelling of the anime saga that is lovingly recreated to have players beaming from ear to ear. If you haven’t a clue about the world of Dragon Ball Z, you may struggle to keep up. Still, that doesn’t mean you won’t have fun when playing.
That said, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is a slow burner. You’ll be learning about game mechanics hours into your playthrough and during most of the Saiyan Saga. There’s quite a bit to get to grips with, so this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s very much worth sticking with as the game world really opens up after the first saga comes to an end.
The game is solely a single player experience – a blend of action and RPG elements which work pretty well alongside each other. As well as getting to play through most of the epic battles from the series, (Super Saiyan Goku vs Freiza or Gohan vs Perfect Cell anyone?) you’ll also be able to get closer than ever before to the detail when wandering around the beautifully realised Dragon Ball Z universe. The sagas are fleshed out, and in between them you’ll get a bit of down time during the intermissions. Here you will be able to fish, cook, explore and train before progressing with the main story. You’ll also meet old characters from before the Dragon Ball Z era for new side quests and experiences, rather than just a straight-forward retelling of the series.
Before I get into the gameplay any further, I need to stress just how fantastic Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot looks. The game perfectly captures the style of the series and really feels like you are interacting with the anime itself. This even goes down to lovely little subtleties such as the episodic presentation of each chapter of the saga you are playing through. There has never been a game that has brought you closer to the action; this really is the ultimate tribute to the adventures of Goku and friends. Kakarot is Goku’s Saiyan human name, for those of you who don’t know. The only downside here is load screens. There are plenty of them, and they hang around for longer than you would like.
Most of the original voice actors have returned for the game, but there are some notable absences such as that of feared alien overlord Frieza. That said, the replacement puts in a decent shift. All the big, important cutscenes have full voice acted dialogue, however the side quests and generic interactions do not. Instead, you have to endure a small array of irritating, repetitive sounds and voice clips. This is also true when you are exploring the open world areas. Sometimes your character will say the same thing three times in quick succession, and you’ll desperately want to collect all the dragon balls so you could wish they would shut up.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot also has plenty of callbacks to the original Dragon Ball series, which follows a much younger Goku and friends. This is another way in how the game deepens the experience for the player whilst staying faithful to the source material. Through collectable stills from the Dragon Ball series, you learn more about the younger versions of the characters in the game. As well as this you learn more about well established characters and events through side missions, and sometimes even learn something new. This is pure fan service of the highest order.
It’s always worth talking to the locals too, as most are the generous type and will often gift you useful items with no catch. The names are often hilariously literal, and include, but are not limited to, “Contemplative Man” and “Enraptured Woman”. Be on your guard though, as a fair few are packing pocket pods which contain “robo bots” ready to try and take you down.
As you may have guessed by now, you have a certain level of control of what pace you can play through Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot at. The open world segments allow for exploration, but noticeably this is where you’ll pick up side quests. These are usually pretty simple tasks, that can sometimes be repetitive. However, they are worth sticking with as you’ll get decent rewards for relatively little effort.
You will notice a plentiful supply of “Z Orbs” floating around as you traverse the world of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot. These come in three types, and can be spent on your character’s skill tree. This allows you to upgrade your special moves and attributes, as well as powering up ones you learn at the training grounds. The training grounds are areas that allow your character to learn signature moves by fighting against silhouette versions of themselves. Across each area, “D Medals” are scattered about and these are also required to learn new moves at the training grounds. Once mastered, you can then change around your character’s special moves, of which four can be assigned at one time.
Fans of Dragon Ball Z games of the past will be pretty familiar with how the fighting works. Your battles will play out mostly whilst airbourne, with you kicking, punching and blasting ki at your opponents. You will fight on your own, or sometimes with supporting characters. As well as your own special moves, you can command your companions to use theirs whenever you like. Krillin’s “Solar Flare” technique is particularly handy, just as a tip. On the flip side of this, you will sometimes be going toe to toe with multiple enemies at once and the action can get pretty frantic. When it does, blocking and dodging become particularly important, especially when there’s a whole load of energy concentrated into a superpowered beam speeding towards you. The controls work well in Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot and the epic special moves make each encounter really fun to play, which is important as you’ll be duking it out again and again against the seemingly endless stream of evil creatures intent on world domination.
As you play, you’ll get familiar with many of the Z fighters, having the opportunity to battle with a fair few of them. Each will level up as you gain experience, becoming stronger and being able to learn more powerful attacks. You’ll be throwing Krillin’s Destructo Disc, firing Goku’s Kamehameha and blasting opponents with Vegeta’s Galick Gun.
What is a neat idea is the community board. When you meet certain residents of the Dragon Ball Z universe, you’ll acquire their soul emblems. These are tokens that you can arrange on the different community boards to award buffs to your party. Specific combinations yield their own unique awards, and the characters will have a short banter with each other when you make the match. There are different types of boards, including adventure, cooking and fighting. Different combinations award their own unique boosts for your party, and each board works as a sort of puzzle where you have to arrange the emblems in the most effective way to increase the benefits to your team. It’s a more original and satisfying mechanic than having a simple skills tree that upgrades as you progress.
I’m a huge fan of Dragon Ball Z, and this is a game aimed at the fans. It’s the best re-telling of the epic sagas to date, and the combination of an open world fighting RPG really works. Honestly, it doesn’t try too hard to win over new players and I’m ok with that. With prices starting at £49.99 and rising to £74.99, the *ahem* dragon ball is in your court in terms of how much you want to commit to it.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot on Xbox One is a thoroughly enjoyable game, but those familiar with the series will get more out of it. Despite some relatively minor flaws, regardless of who you are there’s lots of fun to be had here.