A lot of Dragon Ball Z games manage to capture the spirit of the series in different ways. Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 offers the idea of living in the series’ world, one that is constantly growing, while letting you make your own character and get in loads of fights. Dragon Ball FighterZ is gorgeous, accessible, and the strongest fighting game inspired by the series. With Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, I’m tempted to say we have something that really is close to being a Goku life simulator. There are so many elements that feel designed to get people all hyped up while playing.
Right from its first moments, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot understands that there is a balance to the series. We begin with Goku doing image training in the forest, fighting inside his own mind. Earth is (temporarily) at peace, and we see what his life is like when he isn’t forced to fight for his life. There’s a goofiness and childlike wonder to this. He doesn’t grasp how Gohan, his son, could want to be a scholar over a warrior. While there’s a sense of immaturity and purity here, we see his innate goodness here. They gather apples together. He picks Gohan up when he’s tired. He teaches him to fish. He shows an interest in his son’s life.
More importantly, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot deliberately slows Goku’s pace in this moment, setting the stage for the whole game. This is a chronicle of his life, and that means things won’t always be fast-paced or frantic. We’ll have times where the focus will be on interacting with other people Goku has known throughout his life. He might need to talk to people or participate in questlines that don’t even involve battles. Maybe he’ll have to explore different zones on the world map and travel. There’s a balance here.
There’s also a sense of choice. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot feels like it is aware of how many fans there are out there, and it attempts to accommodate them with some measure of freedom. If you want to go from battle to battle, savoring seeing an attack like Rock-Paper-Scissors cause temporary damage to the landscape while fighting some random foe, you can. It’s easy to search for Ki to see exactly where an enemy is and their power level. Or, you could use that same ability to search for things to collect or places to train.
Even the battle mechanics have that kind of consideration. An element of strategy is definitely here. You have to watch how your opponent is behaving. Knowing when to block, burst, or dodge to throw them off or counter can be critical. It’s about finding a pattern and making effective use of the supporters, like Piccolo or Vegeta, who automatically fight alongside you or someone like Krillin, who could use a support ability. At the same time, it isn’t overwhelming or unfriendly. Special abilities and items are in their own menu, letting you pull one off by holding a trigger and pressing a button. Goku’s bond with people, improved at the Community Board, can be built up to make him more powerful. If you’re still having trouble, have a good meal beforehand. The action and flurry of activity is there, but in a way where people who “get” it can become very good, very fast and those who don’t will still find their way through without too much trouble.
But one thing that might initially put some people off is that Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot’s nature isn’t as easy to define as one might think. There are RPG elements here. Goku levels up, you complete training to improve yourself, and you earn skills. It doesn’t always feel like an RPG, though. It has simulation segments, as you build up relationships and sometimes have to dedicate time to gather materials and cook. It isn’t even exactly open-world, since there are different zones and a world map that saves you from aimlessly riding Flying Nimbus or dashing around a too large world for one fetch quest or objective. Rather, it’s an action-adventure game that pulls ideas from other genres, including fighting games, to capture multiple concepts in the same way it samples both serious and silly elements from Dragon Ball Z’s actual story.
I guess what sells Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot most for me is that it is fun. It reminds me of a simpler time where Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z were two shows I really enjoyed because those and series like Sailor Moon and Magic Knight Rayearth were all I had. (Yes, I suppose I dated myself there.) I mean, there were moments where I even played this game with the dub before switching to Japanese voice acting. There are times when this game isn’t perfect. Like if you defeat a dinosaur and have Goku do a jumping victory dance on his corpse, it’ll be all floaty. Sometimes, the fighting might feel a little too much like button-mashing could be all you need to save the day. But then, you come across moments like Gohan thanking his pseudo-dad Piccolo for his help and Piccolo tries to act all tough and unemotional, and it pulls you back into these beloved story beats that could be endearing, silly, or thrilling.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is available for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.