Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot could have been amazing. Its heart is in the right place and it has plenty of neat ideas, but the finished product feels disappointingly rushed. While it's not a bad game, and there are certainly elements that Dragon Ball fans will love, there are just so many issues holding back its potential. For every cool cutscene or expanded story beat, there's an incredibly sloppy boss fight or another tedious fetch quest. It's an adventure of constant ups and downs.
We're not done with Kakarot yet -- that's why this isn't a full review -- but having played for close to 30 hours, it's clear that the game's flaws aren't going away. But hey, let's start with the good stuff. What's impressed us most is probably the story itself. This is a retelling of Dragon Ball Z in its entirety -- and the title even throws some additional character scenes into the mix to give a little more context to various events. For example, right at the start of the game you get to go on a fishing trip with Gohan as Goku, and there's a part later on where Gohan helps out Chi Chi, his mother, with her cooking.
It's not like these scenarios suddenly add a huge amount of depth to the story of Dragon Ball Z, but they give certain characters a chance to breathe. And to be clear, the main story itself rarely skips a beat -- this has got to be the most accurate and detailed retelling of Dragon Ball Z ever committed to a video game, and that's pretty impressive.
But as mentioned, for every up there appears to be a down. Cutscenes that accompany the most important story moments look fantastic -- they're pre-rendered and beautifully animated, capturing the spirit of the source material. In stark contrast, though, most other cutscenes are incredibly static -- just characters standing there yammering at one another with next to no animation. There's a jarring difference in quality here, and it's such a shame that we're still stuck with such boring PS2-era dialogue scenes in 2020.
This is where it starts to feel like Kakarot was rushed to release. As mentioned, the game doesn't skimp on story, which is great, but there are cut corners everywhere else. Outside of cities -- which have moving traffic and plenty of pedestrians -- the game's open areas feel quite lifeless, like they've been ripped straight out of an early PS3 project. They're also absolutely covered in orbs -- big collectable spheres that dot the skies and pathways of each location. After sucking them up, you can spend orbs to unlock new super attacks, but it's such a bizarre mechanic in 2020. We suppose that it does give you more incentive to get out into the world and explore a bit, but it feels uncomfortably old school.
And then there's the combat. At its core, it's like a simplified version of Dragon Ball XenoVerse. Each character has one basic physical combo that you can hammer out with a single button, as well as four special moves that can be switched out to suit your style. On the defensive side of things, you can block to drastically reduce incoming damage, or you can perform an evasive dash. Both techniques are effective -- the latter can be spammed almost indefinitely -- and that's a good thing, because boy are you gonna need them.
One-on-one fights tend to be fine. Some boss battles can become intense games of cat and mouse as you try to find openings in your opponent's onslaught. But the combat system completely falls apart when you're tasked with fighting multiple foes at once. Grunt enemies aren't so bad once you're used to their abilities, but bosses can be an exercise in sheer frustration.
To put things in perspective, we had far, far more trouble fighting the Ginyu Force than we did Frieza -- and that's purely because Ginyu and his lackeys tend to fight as a team. Going up against Jeice and Burter was an absolute nightmare -- they simply never stop attacking. You can only target one enemy at a time, and all you've got to go on when an opponent is off-screen is a threat indicator that turns red when they're about to strike. You spend most of these fights trying to establish some degree of distance between you and your enemies, meaning that some brawls can really start to drag.
Or you could just stock up on healing items and tank the entire game. There are no difficulty options in Kakarot so you'd expect it to be somewhat balanced -- but that just isn't the case. Between having to grind for experience points so that you can actually deal damage to optional bosses and spending all of your in-game cash on healing wares that immediately restore full health, Kakarot's difficulty curve is all over the place.
And that's just about all we have to say right now. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot can be good fun, especially if you're a big Dragon Ball nerd like this particular author, but it's hamstrung by a lot of problems -- problems that, at least on a surface level, could have been corrected had the game been given more time in the oven. As it stands, Kakarot is a relatively unique and in-depth Dragon Ball adaptation, but it's not quite a great video game.
Are you planning on trying Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot? Keep an eye out for our full review in the near future, but until then, feel free to gather the dragon balls in the comments section below.