Thursday, February 6, 2020

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot (PS4, XB1, PC) Review

It's time to rock the dragon with a new review here on SuperPhillip Central. It's for a greatly anticipated game released in the middle of last month: Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot. The greatest thrill of all isn't finding that seventh ball for DBZ fans; it's playing this game. See why with the SPC review.

"Z" for yourself the best retelling of the DBZ saga in video game form

The Dragon Ball Z series has seen itself reinterpreted and retold more times than jokes about priests and rabbis walking into a bar. Okay, perhaps that's a touch hyperbolic, but the point is that it's been overly done, to put it mildly. However, Bandai Namco's latest retelling of the Dragon Ball Z series with Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is something special--the best telling of Goku's story yet with regards to how complete and in depth it goes, how much it sticks to the high points of the show, and also how simply fantastic of a love letter it is to DBZ fans. While that's all well and good, does Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot have the gameplay to match, or will disappointed fans have to summon Shenron to make a wish for a better game?

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot retells the entire story of Dragon Ball Z from the initial Saiyan Saga all the way to the Buu Saga. Fortunately, it also takes the Dragon Ball Kai route by taking out lots of filler in the story, so there's no Fake Namek during the Frieza Saga or anything like that to plod through. Don't get me wrong, though, as there is plenty of non-saga related activities to partake in that could be defined as filler, and that generally happens between sagas in what the game calls "intermissions". And yes, you can bet that the developers kept a certain beloved "drivers' license" scenario in the game as part of that filler.

Relive the greatest moments of Dragon Ball Z... y'know, again.
Unlike what the subtitle of the game would have you expect, you're not entirely playing as Goku (Kakarot is his Saiyan birth name) for its entirety. In fact, a lot of the game you're playing as Gohan, and it's as much a story of Gohan's rise as a hero (and then push into mediocrity) as it is just Goku's tale being told. Kakarot is indeed a love letter to Dragon Ball Z fans, complete with the full voice cast from English dub reprising their roles with a copious amount of voice acting, high production values, saga previews that are concocted just like the episode previews of the show, and lots of extra content in the form of sub quests and seemingly "forgotten" characters making full appearances.

All of the story is just the window-dressing, however, as the general meat of DBZ as a show are the epic showdowns that showcase fast-paced, superpower-ed fighting, complete with intense energy blast exchanges and fists a-flying. After all, that's what keeps fans of the show coming back for more time and time again and getting them full of hype and excitement for the most part. That is exhibited in Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot quite well.

Gohan with the kick... and it's GOOD!
Encounters in Kakarot feature all of the flashy fighting and grand scale battles that one would expect from a Dragon Ball Z game. They have you fighting as Goku, Gohan, Piccolo, Vegeta, Gohan, Trunks, and his future self, in high octane confrontations where you and your opponents trade blows in the form of punches, kicks, Ki energy blasts, and special attacks. Melee attacks are assigned to the right face button while Ki attacks are assigned to the left face button. Ki is necessary to unleash regular blasts, special attacks, and fast movement, including a vanish attack that allows you, with proper timing, to teleport behind your opponent when your guard is up to essentially perform a counterattack on them. Thus, it's important to keep your Ki levels high by occasionally charging it by holding down the top face button.

When you're not fighting memorable foes like Frieza or Cell, you're contending
with lesser baddies like these Dragon Ball remnants.
Special attacks like Goku's Kamehameha, Gohan's Masenko, and Vegeta's Galick Gun, for instance, are performed by pressing a face button while holding down a specific shoulder button. You can only have four special attacks equipped to a character at once, but so many of the moves in the game for a character are just enhanced versions, such as a Super Kamehameha or a Guided Kamehameha, for example. Special attacks and character abilities can be upgraded via a skill tree for each character by spending Z orbs, found in abundance in the overworld and dropped by defeated foes after a battle's end. Of course, most of the skills in these trees are locked via progression in the story and by character level.

Vegeta sends a relentless flurry of concussive Ki blasts to his opponent Cui.
Combat itself is hectic, especially when you're taking on more than one foe at a time, but fortunately, switching between targets is as simple as flicking the right stick left or right. Additionally, red sight lines show where attacks are being aimed at, and special attack names appear on the screen when they're being prepared by an opponent (though in stupidly tiny font). This way you can do some preparing yourself to either bring up your guard or do your best to evade the attack the best you can.

Now, this doesn't seem like a fair fight... for Cell, that is.
I found myself struggling at first with battles in Kakarot, as like with other parts of the game there's certainly a learning curve on display here. That said, eventually I grasped the basics of battle, was able to purchase plenty of healing items for mid-battle health restoration, and proceeded to pulverize opponents more easily. It helps that at the start of the game you don't nearly have enough options for battle and ways to level up as you do later.

When you're not battling baddies and fighting other foes in Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, you're given a multitude of other tasks to partake in. The main one is moving about the expansive open world areas of the game, albeit disconnected from one another. Instead, they're connected by a world map, and you simply select the area you wish to move towards. Familiar areas abound in Kakarot, including Goku's house in the mountains, West City, Capsule Corp, Planet Namek, the Gizard Wastelands where Goku and Vegeta first fought, Kame House and the surrounding seaside islands, Kami's Lookout, and many, many more. Basically, if you saw the setting for more than a few token episodes in Dragon Ball Z, you can explore it in this game.

The open world areas can be explored by land and by air. You can even eventually earn the ability to pilot vehicles like a hovercar and robo-walker courtesy of Capsule Corp. Controlling characters on foot is decidedly much easier than taking to the air, which has quite a bit of a learning curve. The right shoulder buttons are designated to your altitude. Hold one of them down to move up and hold down the other to fly downward. Pressing in the left stick causes your character to gain a heavy boost of speed, which can be a little unwieldy at first. It took me about ten hours into my playthrough of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot to come completely to grips with the flight controls, but your mileage may vary. They just came across as quite cumbersome at first and not very intuitive to me.

West City is but one of the plentiful places to be found in Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot.
Exploring the areas of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot has its own rewards. You'll find a plethora of resources and materials to use to make health-restoring and stat-increasing cuisine, to sell at shops to make money, to fulfill specific quests, and for other means as well. Eventually you gain access to Dragon Ball hunts, which allow you to summon Shenron for wishes like more money, rare items, and returning already beaten villains to participate in character-specific, non-story-related sub quests.

There are myriad sub quests that further expand upon and flesh out the lore and characters of the series and the game, as well as present some hilarious and sometimes heartwarming interactions between said characters. One such has Emperor Pilaf's gang plotting once again to take down their nemesis Goku by having him acquire a killer robot for them. However, not only is Goku in Super Saiyan form during this quest (which Pilaf merely thinks Goku dyed his hair because he was feeling depressed, rebellious, and misunderstood in life), but Goku is eager and easily able to take down the robotic opponent, much to the Pilaf Gang's annoyance.

You can team with up to two AI characters in certain scenarios.
Now, if you're not a big fan of Dragon Ball or its various incarnations, you may not find these side quests too interesting. That's fair, as many of these amount to fetch quests and plenty of times feature a combination of multiple cutscenes sandwiched between multiple load times. But, for fans of the show and source material, the unlikely interactions between some characters and the humor on display are more than worth checking them out. Plus, you get some pretty cool rewards in the form of rare items and experience for doing so.

Some side quests earn you soul emblems, which are essentially tokens with characters on them. These emblems can be placed on one of six character boards, which serve as ways to provide beneficial boosts to players in the game. These range from melee and/or Ki attack and defense increases to bonus experience earned after each battle. It's just a shame that these boards and their implementation in-game are so poorly explained. While things like boosts are revealed as well as placing certain soul emblems next to one another for special bonuses, things like leveling up soul emblems through giving the right gifts to them are either explained in a confusing way, buried deep in tutorial menus, or not touched upon at all.

Speaking of sub quests, current issue with Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is that many of the sub quests have time limits to them. You can only complete them during sometimes incredibly tight windows, and if you fail to do so, you miss your chance of completing them entirely. There is no way yet of going back to complete missed sub quests, but a future patch intends on correcting this. As is, you can miss out on a lot of rewards and a lot of fun character side stories via missed sub quests.

Sure, he doesn't need a car, but would it make sense for Goku to listen to
"Lean Mean Driving" while flying? I rest my case.
Continuing with the problems of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is that the game is rather unpolished. On many occasions characters wouldn't spawn where they were supposed to, the camera would get caught on scenery during battles and just become like it was caught in a hurricane at times, and I've even had it where I would talk to characters, but only their faces would materialize. Quite creepy in context of the game, but otherwise hilarious in reality.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is a lengthy game. It took me just over 40 hours to get the Platinum trophy and complete most of the sub quests that I could. Between all of the story missions, the sub missions, the massive amount of leveling up that one can do, time attack races, material finding, Dragon Ball hunting, optional enemy fighting, and so much more, you will have quite a good deal of content to get through. Nevertheless, while I think Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is a great Dragon Ball Z game, it's only just a good game in general. Some gameplay systems are too basic or work against one another, and battles can really test one's patience early on, especially with the sometimes wonky camera. Most outside players less familiar with the source material will probably not find as much to love about the game as a fan would. That notwithstanding, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is a game built for the fans first and foremost, and here, it certainly serves them well.

[SPC Says: B]

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