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Dragon Ball Z Kakarot Is A Middling JRPG, But Fans Will Still Love It
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Genre: RPG version of the Dragon Ball Z saga for 2020
For a lot of people who only vaguely familiar with Dragon Ball, the franchise is synonymous with overly-muscular characters screaming and fighting. On the other hand, fans would understand that at the heart of Dragon Ball lies a sense of adventure, which is how it actually started with the original Dragon Ball.
Most Dragon Ball games tend to focus on fighting, and thus are usually fighting games like 2018’s Dragon Ball FighterZ, the older Tenkaichi Budokai games or the countless minor titles over the years. It has only dabbled in other genres once or twice.
You would think that Dragon Ball would make for great action-adventure or RPG titles, but the most memorable series to date remains Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy Of Goku for the Game Boy Advance (I know there were others like Dragon Ball Sagas for the PS2, but they aren’t even worth mentioning).
Now, Dragon Ball Z Kakarot comes along, boasting to be the first AAA non-fighting Dragon Ball video game ever. Does it succeed?
Dragon Ball Z Kakarot is essentially a recreation of the entire iconic Dragon Ball Z anime, starting from the Raditz Saga until the end of the Buu Saga. In fact, it’s probably the most ambitious and painstakingly-detailed retelling of the anime in video game form. While most Dragon Ball games would take players perhaps a few hours at best to reach the Frieza Saga, Dragon Ball Z Kakarot took me around 10 hours to reach the same point.
However, the game does brush over some of the filler from the anime while adding some of its own. That was the appeal of the game when it was announced; that Dragon Ball Z Kakarot would fill in the blanks of the anime and add more insight into your beloved characters through its many, many side quests.
While some of these side quests do indeed develop the characters we all know and love, the majority of them simply involve tedious fetch quests and the occasional fight or two. They’re merely there for the fans to appreciate, as they are neither rewarding nor fulfilling.
Sure, one side quest revealed that Puar impersonated Yamcha while he was dead to preserve his multiple relationships with women while in another one, I discovered that Chiaotzu was already planning to sacrifice himself to defeat the invading Saiyans (Vegeta and Nappa) way ahead of time. Another one played on the popular Yamcha death pose meme, which (if nothing else) was definitely amusing as heck.
Still, fans of the franchise would have already seen most of everything before, as it offers nothing new except bits and pieces of easter eggs and fanservice. Despite boasting a whole JRPG open world for players to explore, it feels more like I was roaming around a Dragon Ball theme park instead of an actual world. There’s not much incentive for you to explore every nook and cranny of the world.
The problem with all this is that it would all be wasted on non-fans. Dragon Ball Z Kakarot will likely not be making any new fans from those who play the game, as it obviously wasn’t made with them in mind. The target demographic is clearly geared exclusively towards fans who are already familiar with the source material.
As someone who is familiar with both the original Japanese and Funimation English dub, it’s quite jarring to have different voice actors for even iconic characters like Frieza, amongst others. These new voice actors do a decent job, but it’s still hard not to notice that Frieza suddenly has the voice of an old British lady.
Dragon Ball Z Kakarot is still a Dragon Ball game, so the meat of the title is still solely the fighting. If you’ve seen the trailers, you’d maybe realise that the gameplay looks suspiciously like Dragon Ball Xenoverse, and you’d be correct. The combat utilizes simple controls and flashy attacks to make it just satisfying enough to be fun, but it still won’t be enough for the fighting enthusiasts out there.
Personally, I feel like the combat does pack enough punch, but it could have used more depth, especially considering that this is a JRPG we’re talking about. Unlike most JRPGs, there’s no point to grinding much in Dragon Ball Z Kakarot, even though you’ll be encountering a lot of enemies in the open world while flying from place to place.
Why is that? Because the amount of EXP that you gain from random battles is ridiculously-insignificant compared to the massive amount you’ll receive for doing side quests or advancing the story. That’s not to say that the game is particularly unbalanced, but you should expect several difficulty curves throughout the game.
It’s like the game wants to be a JRPG but still wants to stick mostly to its fighting game roots without alienating fans of both. The RPG elements in the game include fishing, cooking, collecting Z Orbs/D Medals to learn new skills/obtain new abilities and using the Community board. Like in any other JRPG, you can largely ignore both cooking and fishing, unless they’re relevant for quests.
However, collecting Z Orbs/D Medals and using the Community Board are both important as they are the means of which you make your characters stronger (other than levelling them up). This is a JRPG, of course. Z Orbs are used to upgrade existing skills while D Medals are used to obtain new abilities.
Meanwhile, the Community Board provide stat bonuses and works like a board game. Players obtain Soul Emblems, pieces representing different characters, and stack them up on the multiple boards.
For instance, the Goku board represents the Z Fighters aspect, which provides stat bonuses during combat like additional attack, while the King Kai board represents the Training aspect, providing stat bonuses relating to additional EXP and the like.
The way you specifically stack your Soul Emblem pieces on the boards will yield even more bonuses. This would benefit fans of the franchise the most, as you need to have a working knowledge of the characters to take advantage of this. For example, stacking Goku, Krilin and Yamcha together would unlock the Turtle School bonus, but this would only be immediately clear to fans who’ve watched or read the original Dragon Ball (don’t worry though as there is a list of specific combinations for everyone to refer to as well).
Dragon Ball Z Kakarot doesn’t exactly explain all of this very well in its rushed tutorial at the beginning of the game, so you’ll have to play for a few hours before getting the hang of all the different mechanics.
Surprisingly, I only found out about the existence of the game’s equivalent of skill trees by delving deep into the menu, which is a terrible oversight on the developer’s part.
The most enjoyable bits of the game’s combat is during the one-on-one boss battles, like Goku versus Vegeta or Goku versus Frieza. Dragon Ball Z Kakarot does feature battles involving allies and multiple enemies in real-time, but these suffer from issues like the choppy camera not being quick intuitive enough to follow the frantic action. I especially hate the enemies ganging up on me while my own party members do nothing to actively help me due to the horrible friendly AI.
One aspect that I do need to praise Dragon Ball Z Kakarot is how beautiful the game looks. During pivotal scenes adapted from the anime, the game’s pre-rendered cutscenes look even better than the anime, with particle and lighting effects only possible on current-gen hardware.
Having said that, there’s another less pretty side to the graphics. The cutscenes rendered using the games engine look lifeless and uninspired in comparison, especially at times when all the character do are stand around and shrug while talking to each other.
I understand we can’t always have intricately-animated pre-rendered cutscenes, but I would have appreciated more effort being put into the game’s visuals outside of combat and pre-rendered cutscenes. They definitely need more polishing up.
In the end, Dragon Ball Z Kakarot feels like it doesnâ€™t know what it really wants to be. It’s great as a love letter to all things Dragon Ball but fails to impress in any way as an action-adventure JRPG. The game might just be enough to satisfy fans, but it certainly won’t be enough to entice or attract JRPG fans or gamers (who aren’t Dragon Ball fans) in general.
Having said that, as a massive Dragon Ball fan who has watched every episode of every Dragon Ball anime (and read the manga, if you’re a stickler for that), I still enjoyed Dragon Ball Z Kakarot for what it is: A loving but flawed ode to Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball.