It seems that DBZ can't help but become more successful as the years go by, which is something that developers can't help but notice. Adaptations of this franchise are being put out quicker than ever before, and the quality of these releases seems to shift between the very good and the very bad.
The majority of DBZ titles have naturally been fighting games, as seen by the recent release of the fantastic Dragon Ball FighterZ. With Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, CyberConnect2 aim to bring a new dimension to the franchise, one focused on Goku's adventures and not purely combat-focused.
- Genre: Action-RPG
- Release Date: January 17th 2020
- Platform: PC, PS4, & Xbox One
- Developer: CyberConnect2
- Publisher: Bandai Namco
- Price: $50.00 on Amazon
- Played on: PS4 & PC
Let's make one thing clear straightaway: Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot covers the events of DBZ from the Saiyan Arc until the end of the Buu Arc. Nothing from Dragon Ball, GT, or Super will make its appearance in the game.
This is a good thing, as 291 episodes is plenty of material to adapt from, with plenty of iconic battles and moments from the series making their appearance in the game.
Unfortunately, the problems stemming from the game's direction are immediately apparent right from the moment you pick up your controller.
The first thing you'll notice when playing is that the environments look stunning. Let's just take a small moment to appreciate the art direction of Kakarot, as it successfully plunges us into the mind of Akira Toriyama by respectfully reproducing smaller details from the series.
The graphical quality of the game, unfortunately, is much lower than what fans were hoping for. Coming across such poor quality textures in 2020 is pretty hard to stomach; textures look so bad close up that you'll try to avoid approaching them unless you really have to.
When exploring and talking to NPCs, character models are only just passable, yet animations are extremely robotic and NPCs only have an extremely limited range of movement. On the other hand, during cinematics and key moments in combat, CyberConnect2 offers players unbelievably striking and dynamic scenes, showing off the best of the game's cel-shaded graphics during character close-ups that perfectly replicate their expressions from the manga.
On the PC, we remarked that the game won't launch in resolutions greater than 1920x1080 unless you edit the game's files. Even if you mess around with the keyboard bindings, the game plays much better with a controller.
Some scenes should have been cut down and reduced to just a few lines. It's a shame that the game doesn't include some moments of the original story, like Goku's travels on Snake Way. Obviously, it wouldn't have be feasible to include the entire sequence, but they could've included some key moments, like the Snake Princess encounter.
Some moments from the OVAs also could have been included in the form of flashbacks, or could have replaced some of the more periphery interludes between each major Arc, which merely serve to artificially increase the length of the game.
Most of the game's narration comes in the form of lengthy pieces of relatively uninteresting dialogue. Those who know the story by heart will be glad that there's an auto-skip button.
In all of this, let's take a moment to appreciate the sound design, whether it be the orchestral score, or the sound effects that are so faithful to the anime. The sound of ki blasts combine perfectly with the excellent Japanese dub to create a frequent sense of nostalgia throughout.
Dragon Ball RPG
CyberConnect2 wanted DBZ: Kakarot to focus on adventure and exploration, offering the player several different open zones to explore freely. Admittedly, flying over iconic landscapes from the series is satisfying — but unfortunately the enjoyment starts and ends there.
Although the zones are quite expansive, the main goal within them is to collect Z Orbs scattered across the map. There aren't a lot of sub quests, and even if you find the drive to actually do some of them, you'll find them mind-numbingly dull.
Most of the time you'll be forced to defend an NPC, find a specific object, play hide-and-seek, or do a fetch quest that is lazily hidden behind layers of uninspired dialogue. The only reason players will spend any time doing sub quests is to collect important soul emblems or D medals.
Hunting and Fishing are mainly a feature of main or sub quests, or to improve certain stats. Both of these activities sadly consist of hitting a single button, which quickly gets old.
When exploring, players can also destroy towers belonging to the Red Ribbon Army, or Frieza's spaceships, but even this isn't particularly very interesting. For the most part, the enemies you'll come across when exploring won't pose any problems, except for maybe Villainous enemies, who will reveal an interesting optional secret when they are all defeated. Exploring underwater areas could have also been interesting if it wasn't so empty and pointless.
Finally, players can collect Dragon Balls to summon Shenron and make a wish, but this side of the game is also very limited. Shenron can only bring back a stronger version of a vanquished foe or offer you Zeni, Z Orbs, or a rare item. Not a lot to get excited about.
Several essential RPG elements have been introduced, something you'll noticed when gearing up your characters for combat. The Community Board consists of 7 different boards that will allow you to gradually increase the stats of your characters, which comes in as you progress through the story.
The boards provide access to different passive combat abilities that can be increased by using Soul Emblems to increase their power. You'll spend a lot of time here tinkering your boards so that you get the most out of them, as new Emblems arrive by the dozens.
Collecting enough Z Orbs will allow you to unlock new abilities or rank up your current ones in a skill tree. Some abilities can be unlocked just by advancing through the story, while others can only be unlocked by training or using D Medals, which themselves can be found on the ground or during certain main or sub quests.
As for Z Orbs, you'll find them hard to miss, as you can barely take a step without running into one. This makes it feel like it's barely worth taking the time out to collect them, as most fights will give you plenty of them as a reward, and battles in later Arcs give you even more Z orbs.
The leveling system is also a bit weak when compared to simply progressing through the main story. Whenever you play as a main character in the story, any previous characters you've played will continue to grow as you progress, which keeps all playable characters around the same level.
Unfortunately, whenever another character joins the roster it's quite common for them to gain 5-10 levels out of nowhere. This all makes sense from a gameplay point of view, but for an Action-RPG it does feel a bit like hand-holding at times.
Combat is by far the most interesting aspect of DBZ: Kakarot, with battles showing off how dynamic and well directed the game can be. It's clear that CyberConnect2 have put a lot of effort into making the special attacks and light effects look as good as possible, making then a real treat to use.
With a bit of practise and after mastering the dodge system, the game offers up lengthy battles that show off the excellent fight choreography that Kakarot has to offer. Once you've stunned the enemy and your character enters their surge state, your special attacks gain a whole new side to them, accompanied by fantastic mini cutscenes that make any battle feel very cinematic.
The Saiyan Arc is surely the least interesting of the all the Arcs in the game, as your low power level on Namek combined with a smaller arsenal of special attacks and tough boss fights forces the player to learn difficult enemy patterns. Unlocking and mastering combat transformations to prevent your character from running out of Ki is also a very satisfying mechanic.
The concept of a Dragon Ball Z game that puts equal importance on combat and adventuring is great in theory. Being able to play as other Z-Fighters besides Goku and having the option to customise their attacks, in addition to being able to explore Akira Toriyama's rich universe, is satisfying.
Unfortunately, the end product and the lacking main content dampens any enjoyment drawn from the game. The weak sub quests fail to draw the player in, causing them to only bother with the main story.
Thankfully, the sound design, cinematics, and some boss fights are worthwhile, and the faithfulness to the source material is also very good. Unfortunately, it's not possible to call Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot the successful adaptation that we were all hoping for.