Review – Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot

Wait, I still do gaming content? And reviews? What’s the world coming to?

Yeah, it turns out I still like video games. It’s just hard to find time to thoroughly review them, what with having a life and all that. I actually finished this game off weeks ago and haven’t done much with it outside of messing around, but it’s certainly… a video game! Of all the Dragon Ball Z games I’ve played, this is definitely one of them.

Is it good? Is it bad?! I’m… not actually sure. I’m writing this in hopes that it will somehow organize my thoughts into whether or not I would recommend the game to anyone. On the one hand, I definitely feel like I enjoyed my time with it. On the other hand, did I really? Really? There’s that pang of guilt that I was only enjoying it because it was taking me back to a classic story that I’ve heard 800 times before, but not in a decent few years.

So let’s review a video game, yeah? That’s something I’m vaguely sure I can still do.

As stated, this is an awkward one to get started on. I guess we just delve into something and see where it takes us! So let’s start with the voice acting. It’s… present! It’s all (or most, at least) of the voices you’ve come to know and love, just 20 years older and with the occasional iconic line cut out for some strange reason. Given the level of effort they went through to get so many voice actors back, re-writing dialogue and not just lifting things from the anime two decades later, I imagine they had a vision for the story they wanted to tell. Or at least, like, the version they wanted to tell?

Which is to say, I’m not exactly sure what happened with the story. It’s all still present, technically. But there are so many things that you expect to see, but are severely glossed over. It feels like they designed the various open world areas, and then ran out of either time, budget, or interest and stopped. For Snake Way, there’s one vague scene. For Future Trunks in the cell arc of the game, he… exists. Which is to say he hardly does anything, and while I was never the biggest fan of him as a character, it sucks considering how important he was. If you only get your DBZ digestion from Kakarot, you’d think Future Trunks was a minor character in a single season, rather than incredibly important at anything. There’s almost nothing about the future he’s from, outside of a couple of lines. You never get to see (or play) his catharsis of returning to a future where he’s more powerful, and he defeats the androids there and is a complete badass. Instead, he just kind of exists. They also ignored the entire epilogue of the series, with the game pretty much just ending after the final battles with Kid Buu. Honestly, if the gameplay was anything near satisfying when the plot is at its strongest, it would be more enjoyable… I think?

I think that might be the crux of the issue, right there. The gameplay is simple but works, and while it doesn’t feel incredible to do insane things, it feels good enough to feel like a Z Warrior badass. Unfortunately, it’s only once you have more attacks and abilities unlocked, and more enemy variety, that the game really expands. Which is when the story feels most scattered. The first arc of the story, focusing on Goku defeating Raditz and then Gohan training for the arrival of Vegeta and Nappa, is almost re-contextualized in the game to be treated more like a story in the same vein as the original Dragon Ball. Which is a really cool way to see the story. There’s more interaction between Goku and Gohan, you get to enjoy more small moments, but at the cost of… anything interesting, gameplay-wise.

Speaking of the original series, Kakarot does occasionally pay lip service to its predecessor story through items and locations that reference Dragon Ball. When you interact with them, it shows you a screenshot and gives you a bit of context for the item and generally how Goku interacted with it during his time as a kid. It’s… fine? It’s nice to have something Dragon Ball-related that actually remembers its roots and doesn’t just constantly remind everyone of how cool Goku was when he turned super saiyan for the first time, but it’s not exactly impressive, either. Like everything else, it certainly exists.

What doesn’t exist in Kakarot is a break from the constant menus and resources. There’s the weird community board, which gives effects based on little game pieces you unlock by helping NPCs and completing story and side missions. There’s the 17 or 30 or 459 different orbs you collect, all of which are used to unlock more abilities– but also you need to get a certain length of the way into the story to do so, and at that point you’ll almost definitely have more than enough orbs to unlock what you need. There’s the racing, complete with car and mech upgrades. The driving never feels good. Ever. Need a break? Fishing, hunting, and cooking, all with varying levels of minor interaction. The fishing has a cute little minigame and is stylized very Dragon Ball-like, but the quick-time button presses get old fairly quickly, and it doesn’t have nearly as much charm or justification to exist as the fishing in something like Stardew Valley. There’s a training room that you upgrade by getting more resources, which you get by exploring various parts of different open world areas, which you unlock by completing certain story beats. And the places you explore that get you these resources are sometimes gated off by level, but most of the time you’ll already be at least that level when you find it, so it feels pointless and hollow. And when that’s done, you can go see Chi-Chi and she’ll cook you higher quality meals which give other permanent bonuses, but not the same meals with minimal requirements that you can cook yourself at a campfire. But the meals she cooks require rarer ingredients, which you normally need to either buy or hunt for, and if you’re hunting for it that means playing the weird hunting pseudo-minigame which is actually just pressing the interaction button on animals that are on the ground. Except dinosaurs, you ki blast those, and they take a few hits to take down, but you get dinosaur meat from them, unless it’s flying dinosaurs then they die in one hit. The best minigame by far is the baseball one, but throughout my time playing the game, I couldn’t find a way to play it outside of once during the story, and once during a side quest.

Now that paragraph might have felt hectic, and very much running on and jittery, but that’s the exact same feelings I felt whenever I had to manage the inventory in this game, or figure out what I wanted to actually do. It’s insane that they packed so much to do in here, with so much of it feeling like arbitrary busywork. The last thing I’ll say on the matter is that the one time you need orbs, the very early game when you’re first playing as Gohan and Piccolo, you don’t get much from fighting random enemies, so you want to acquire the ones littered around the map. And… well, if you enjoyed Superman 64, this is vaguely like that, but smoother. In the worst way. It’s fun for all of about five minutes before you check out in your head and realize just how mind-numbing the grind is.

Thankfully, that helps me segue to the combat decently well. As I said, the combat isn’t bad, it’s just… serviceable. Which is fine, and all I’ve ever wanted from a game about martial arts aliens. I want to punch things, and have it feel good to punch things, and then make a big magic explosion. The problem is, outside of the story beats and occasionally side missions, the combat is so much worse because of a lack of enemy variety. In the Legacy of Goku trilogy, you had all sorts of enemies, from alligators to dinosaurs to bandits to weird flamethrower robots. Unfortunately, the addition of flight meant that enemies that couldn’t logically keep up with the Z fighters couldn’t be real enemies. So I hope you like the red ribbon army, because the floating red ribbon army robots consist of about 50% of the enemy variety in the first half of the game. There’s some vague justification about why they exist, but it just feels hollow and comes off like an excuse to not need more enemy variety.

Actually, maybe enemy variety would be a bad thing. The closest thing to consistent enemy variety in the game is villainous enemies, which are regular enemies, but now with more health and the ability to ignore knockback. And if you beat enough of them, you can fight a couple of random people from the story, but normally in a 2-on-1 or 3-on-1 scenario. And they can ignore knockback, too. And if that’s not enough action for you? Well now you can destroy towers that show up, which gives you some loot (see: paragraph on collectibles and loot and crafting), and eventually Frieza invades and now weird spaceships are all over the world, and you can destroy those, too! It’s absolutely hectic. There is just so much garbage within any given zone or area, and none of it feels like it matters. It all just comes off as busywork to pad out the play time of the game, not unlike an awful direct-to-video film from the 90s that shot a bunch of B-roll to pad out the runtime of a film.

But when you cut all of that away– trim all the fat, remove all the excess, try and ignore as much of the incredibly lazy busywork as you can, is the game any good? Well, the story a summarized, mostly in-tact version of one that we all know and loved. The gameplay serves well enough. The bits that add something are mostly small moments that don’t feel especially necessary or earned. So, as you noticed with all the ellipses throughout the review, this entire game feels… lackluster. Everything comes off like a slog to get through, like the game is constantly getting in the way of what you want: To continue the damn story. It’s been a while since they’ve done a straight re-telling of DBZ, so I’m sure some people might need their fix, but honestly? The Xenoverse games do the re-telling about as well, but are willing to try something different with it. And they’re more in-depth.

I’d say you’re better off just playing through the Legacy of Goku trilogy from the Gameboy Advance. The first one aged really badly, so if you absolutely couldn’t deal with it, play through the first two arcs of Kakarot. But either way, after that, do yourself a favor and play through Legacy of Goku II and Legacy of Buu, because those both succeed at being RPGs and complete experiences that re-tell the Dragonball Z story better than this game ever could.

2/5

Posted by Robert Wall

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