Not quite further beyond – Dragon Ball Z Kakarot review
Platforms: PlayStation 4 [reviewed], Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Release Date: January 16, 2020
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Developer: CyberConnect 2
The Dragon Ball series has had a long history in video games. Despite the number of DBZ games since the series first took the West by storm, the number of quality titles has remained far and few between. Dragon Ball FighterZ broke that mold by delivering one of the best fighting games ever made, by staying true to its source material while delivering an exceptional example of the genre it occupies. Dragon Ball Z Kakarot had the potential to do the same for the RPG genre. But sadly it fails to deliver on said potential, delivering a game of half measures and missed opportunities, showing but a glimpse of what could have been a truly great RPG.
Dragon Ball Z Kakarot tells the story of Dragon Ball Z through the eyes of Goku and several other characters from the Saiyan saga all the way through to the end of the Buu saga. The game is separated into two sections, combat and open-world exploration. Combat in Dragon Ball Z Kakarot is fun at first but becomes quickly lopsided in strategy and execution. Basic combos can be stringed together with ki attacks, special moves, assists, and super moves. You can also perform various transformations such as Kaio Ken and Super Saiyan. But it doesn’t take long for combat to become a drag, and outside of boss battles, fighting the same generic robots and Saibamen in the overworld can become very tedious very quickly. The boss battles, however, are where the combat truly shines through. Going through multiple phases, the camera can be changed and even the perspective flipped when the boss activates their super move which creates fun minigames in the middle of battle.
Second, are the “open -world” sections, and I put that in quotations because “open-world” is being extremely generous. In between major story events you can travel the overworld tackling various side missions and fly around gaining levels and badges that can be used on the “Z Board” to increase your character’s skills and abilities. Which functions like a much more simplified version of Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid. The problem is that these side missions don’t vary much outside of fetch quests and simple “go here, beat up these guys” type missions. But the flying is quite fun, and as a fan of the series, it is enjoyable soaring through the sky and visiting locales normally only seen in the background of the series. The problem is, like most things in Dragon Ball Z Kakarot, is that it is all very shallow.
Where the game truly shines is in its depictions of iconic moments from Dragon Ball Z. CyberConnect 2 made a name for themselves by delivering on the epic scope and grandeur of the series it adapts, like Naruto. This is still where their greatest strength lies and it shines through in Kakarot’s reverence and respect for the source material. Seeing Goku turn Super Saiyan for the first time, Teen Gohan landing the final blow on Perfect Cell, all of these individual moments bring back the excitement of seeing them for the first time when you were younger. Unfortunately for Kakarot, the game is much longer than these moments. Much, MUCH, longer in fact as the game overstays its welcome by dipping into the 30+ hour range for the main campaign, not counting the previously mentioned monotonous side quests.
With an extra year in the oven, Dragon Ball Z Kakarot could have been something truly special. But Bandai Namco has to bring out a DBZ game yearly to fulfill its contractual obligations with Toei. But outside of FighterZ, which was developed by Arc System Works, I fear for the future of the DBZ series in gaming. Bandai Namco’s last few offerings have been middling at best and disappointing at worst. When the Assassin’s Creed series began to stagnate, Ubisoft took the bold stance of breaking its tradition of yearly releases and took that extra time to focus on quality. This gave us Origins and Odyssey, two of the best entries in the series. The DBZ games need to adopt this strategy and take the time to come up with something truly special. Because another middling entry retelling the same story isn’t going to cut it. Kakarot has enough moments of promise to show that this is possible, and maybe a Kakarot 2 will be enough to make it happen, but as it is right now the DBZ games need to go Super Saiyan to defeat their ultimate enemy. Mediocrity.
This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.