I’ve been waiting for a good Dragon Ball action RPG for most of my life. I’ve been playing the fighting games like Budokai and Xenoverse since I was a teenager, but nothing has quite scratched the itch I was looking for, until now. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot has launched, and while it’s far from perfect, it does a damn good job of taking the plot from the Dragon Ball Z franchise and putting it into an action RPG shell.
Kakarot does an admirable job of retelling all the key plot points, but manages to bog itself down with terrible side quests and monotonous orb collecting. Granted, there’s nothing quite like soaring around the world as the Z-Fighters, even if my tasks are boring. There are a number of open world areas to explore in Kakarot, corresponding to various arcs of the franchise, and each of them is a joy to fly around. Being able to control Goku and friends and dig into each world and discover inhabitants is what I’ve been waiting for, and I didn’t want to stop.
It’s a good thing that Kakarot clocks in around 45 hours if you’re trying to get through most of the content here. Much like the source material it’s based on, there is a good amount of filler. The main story beats are really great (which I’m not really going to go into, because if you haven’t watched the anime by now, you probably aren’t going to), but the side quests mostly feel like busy work meant to fill the void between key plot points.
More than anything a lot of these side quests seem to serve as fan-service for either under-developed characters that made a brief appearance in the show, or highlight main character tropes, like Master Roshi’s pervy-ness. Unless you like going from point a to point b to collect an item and then return, then you won’t find much enjoyment out of these inconsequential missions.
That being said, there is a good reason to fly around collecting orbs and exploring as much as possible. As you level up you can use the collected orbs to unlock new skills. It was a bit frustrating that skills are locked behind level caps until you hit certain points in the story, but I get it, if you spent time collecting every orb you could get extremely overpowered very quickly.
In terms of the non-classic fighter Dragon Ball games, Kakarot stands among the top of class. Combat is fast and frenetic, and much like the show makes players not feel too powerful for their foes. For the most part though, as long as you’re doing some side stuff, you won’t ever really feel like you’re in danger. Kakarot isn’t a difficult game, but you’ll never feel like you’re smashing through enemies. Training and open-world encounters will be a bit more chaotic, while boss battles seem more precise and tactical. Other than the movement controls, combat is mapped to just a few buttons, but you’ll often find yourself waiting for openings against more powerful moments instead of dashing in and pummeling them as much as you can.
Kakarot covers a lot of territory. Going from the Saiyan Saga with Raditz all the way through the Buu Saga. It’s nice that things remain pretty consistent throughout, and I got used to the high’s and low’s presented here. The plot points were great, while the in-between portions just served as filler to shuttle me to the next major beat. Players should also get used to jumping between a number of characters at any point in the game. No, you won’t get to choose who you play as, but it will give you a pretty good sense of each character. To be honest though, they all play pretty much the same, save for some ultimate attacks and different transformations. Sure, the flashy attacks are really cool to watch, but some sort of variations in fighting styles would have been nice. I’ve watched Dragon Ball Z every other year since I was a teenager, and each character fights very differently.
If you just want to explore and level up or find better gear, you can go and collect the Dragon Balls. All 7 are scattered across each open world, and grant two wishes. You can wish for money or orbs, or even bring bosses back to life if you want to battle them again. It’s an easy way for the developers to bring more replayability to a single player, relatively linear experience, and rewards players in smart ways.
I actually really appreciate the fact that there are no hand drawn animations here. Nothing has been reused, and I love that about Kakarot. All of the Z-Fighters and major foes look great with their 3D animation and more cartoony style. I was hoping that it wouldn’t end up looking more on the realistic side (I’m lookin’ at you, Jump Force), but Kakarot looks beautiful. I was playing on Xbox One X and did encounter some significant frame drops during a few of the major battles. It was nothing game-breaking, but occasionally occurred. Another thing that was reported to me was that quest markers suddenly disappeared. I didn’t encounter this, but a friend did, so he had to look up where he was supposed to be going.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is a repetitive experience, especially between plot points, but it’s also the best retelling of the series I’ve played. It still comes in as my second favorite Dragon Ball title, Burst Limit holds that honor for me, but as far as rebuilding some of the most iconic battles in anime history, Kakarot is a fun, fast, frenetic action RPG.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher. Purchases are available here.