I’ve never watched an episode of Dragon Ball in my life. Through my eyes, it’s a sensory overload with a whole lot of colours, screaming and questionable hairstyles. If I wanted any of those, I would have created a time machine and transported myself to the psychedelic ’60s. For me, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot appeared to be a gateway into what seems like an impenetrable franchise at this point. The promise of reliving various sagas of the Dragon Ball Z anime without having to invest in hundreds of episodes is utterly enticing. Bundled with the promise of an open-world RPG experience, it appeared to be a no-brainer. While Kakarot offers an accessible gateway to newcomers, it’s world and combat systems are sufficiently lacking that the anime isn’t looking so daunting now.
As previously mentioned, Kakarot is a retread of the anime, following the adventures of Goku, Gohan and a vibrant cast of larger than life characters. What is immediately interesting about Kakarot is how restrained it all is. Past Dragon Ball games have all followed an emphasis on the explosive, chaotic action as a cathartic release — Kakarot does the opposite. Instead of starting with a bang, the story leisurely strolls out of the gate without a care in the world. An opening mission tasks you with a simple father-son bonding exercise by scouring the environment for food and complete a fishing mini-game. It would be easy for Kakarot to focus on the louder moments that Dragon Ball is known for, instead, it allows time for its characters to breathe, easing newcomers into its rich, colourful world, and invoke the feeling of slipping into an old pair of slippers for veterans.
When it’s open-world design is used to effectively tell a story, this is Kakarot at its finest. Outside of this, you’re left with a generic, desolate and bland set of environments that’s enough to give Anthem a run for its money. Despite its promise of an open-world RPG, Kakarot spends far too much time guiding you on a linear path. More often than not, story beats will prevent you from fully exploring the world and offer very little in terms of diversion. There is a small host of activities that range from mining minerals, fishing and completing side-quests, but all present such minuscule rewards that the time and energy to partake in them hardly seem necessary.
Due to the restriction of following the same beats as the anime, Kakarot also locks you into certain characters and load-outs. During the main story, you will be locked into playing as specific characters that are vital to that story moment. Support characters can be added to your party, but again, only when the game dictates it so, delaying any sense of freedom with its systems. Due to the constant character swapping that happens through the campaign, it’s hard to get fully invested in a character and their combat style. As soon as you’ve grown accustomed to one, you’ll quickly be swapped to another, and so on and so forth. It’s messy and feels like a rollercoaster that doesn’t know when to end.
With Kakarot’s consistent need to hold your hand through its world, it begs the question as to why this was even open-world in the first place. Everything plays out more along the lines of a best hits collection than the true RPG experience that was promised. In between sagas, you are given intermissions that let you loose throughout the world and give you a taste of the sense of freedom, but the tasks at hand still fall into a repetitive string of events. Go here, fetch this item, fight this enemy and return. It’s like a 9-5 job, but without the perks.
Combat, for the most part, is exhilarating and flashy. Battles take place in an open 3D arena, allowing a full sense of movement and visceral action sequences. While the combat is pleasing on the eye, it never develops beyond its initial premise. Attacks are mapped to a single button which is used to create a simple combo. Breaking these up are super moves that are usable via a series of shortcuts to release devastating attacks which are as satisfying as they are visually pleasing. It’s all enough to make innocent bystanders looking in want to flee in terror as environments are ripped apart as you throw your opponent around like a rag doll.
What the action presents to you in the opening hours are the same as what you’ll finish Kakarot with. Character skill trees allow you the ability to increase attack power, but nothing that will change the fundamentals of the gameplay. Since Kakarot is so adamant to push you on a linear path, characters will always be the right level for the story path, meaning that the upgrade system is rendered pointless when there’s no necessary need to build up each character.
One element that is absolutely lovely however is the community board, which is a variety of different boards to help build up your stats and earn rewards. Different community boards serve various purposes. For example, adventuring – which serves to build your HP and SP, or there’s the warrior community – this increases your attack damage and power. As you meet characters, you earn their soul emblems which are placed into each board on a grid system. Which board you place them in is up to you, but different characters are better catered to certain boards, such as placing Gohan and Goku next to each other increases the board’s power as they’re father and son. Learning what combinations works have been some of the most fun I’ve had learning about the world of Dragon Ball and its characters.
Despite this though, there is still an uneven amount of pacing when it comes to the fights, as they vary in stark contrasts on the difficulty scale. An early fight in the second saga was controller smashingly difficult, yet following on from that the following battles were a breeze. There are no customisable difficulty options either, meaning any certain spikes need to be pushed through.