Video games and anime are no strangers to each other. Since the early days of the NES, developers have tried to adapt popular series and turn them into compelling adventures. The keyword is “tried” because not many have successfully captured the essence of the multiyear sagas.
One of the problems is that the anime was still going during the time of production, as in the “Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm” franchise. This leaves the game with a story that feels truncated or unsatisfying. The other issue is that the genre and gameplay never really fit the show’s style. For example, “One Piece: Pirate Warriors” series is an entertaining beat-’em up but can’t relay the complex stories of the source material
One of the few exceptions to this is “Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot.” The action role-playing game from CyberConnect2 and Bandai Namco has several factors working in its favor.
The first is that the anime has concluded with the last episode airing in 1996 and time has made fans nostalgic for the adventure of Goku and company. The second is that the developers picked the right format for retelling this saga. An open-world action RPG lets players explore the rich world that creator Akira Toriyama crafted and it’s flexible enough to tell a story that spans 291 episodes, 13 movies and 2 television specials.
The teams could unfurl the narrative in the right way, doing it justice across the major arcs, involving Vegeta, Frieza, Cell and Majin Buu. Augmenting this epic is the powerful technology that makes the video game almost indistinguishable from the anime. It’s a daunting artistic challenge that the developers somehow pull off.
Everything in “Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot” works — up to a point. On the surface, the small skirmishes with grunts and big boss battles feel like playing the TV show. They emulate the back and forth of the show’s battles and the quick-twitch speed of the fights, but the longer players explore the fighting system, the more they discover that it’s repetitive.
Enemies have similar patterns and battling relies on a few choice moves. Amid the chaos, players can button mash their way to victory with the help of Vitadrink potions and similar recovery items. Players have to remember to keep them in stock otherwise it can be painful going back a few saves to stock and replay several sections. The save system is not too forgiving. As long as players have potions, the game is beatable for all skill types, but it’s a shame that there isn’t much creativity in the scenario building or in how characters fight and move differently.
Players do encounter some strategy in choosing two support characters. Each fighter has a different role — they can focus on offense, defense or support — and finding the right combination will be key to success in battles.
The other factors in fights is how players boost stats using food and the Community Board. The latter is a brilliant way of incorporating “Dragon Ball Z’s” huge cast into the gameplay. By completing side quests or main missions, players earn soul emblems representing an ally or villain that each has its own characteristics. Fans can connect them on the board to boost stats and earn other perks. This is how fans can capitalize on their knowledge of the show by linking characters who have a shared history.
Although “Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot” does good work building the world, the team does a disappointing job of filling it with interesting tasks. The side missions introduce the deep lore of the anime stretching back to the “Dragon Ball” series, but the tasks are mundane fetch quests or a simple defeat-a-foe request. A game this big has a few humorous and well done missions but that’s overshadowed by the mind-numbingly boring ones.
All of this reflects some of the flaws of the source material. Despite the jaw-dropping fights and the compelling narrative, “Dragon Ball Z” had its dull moments. For all the excitement the story arcs generated, there were times when the plot lingered too long at scenes or it stretched out battles too long over multiple episodes.
For better or worse, “Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot” captures this part of the anime as well. Thankfully, CyberConnect2 does the important parts well and fleshes out the world Akira Toriyama introduced. Too bad, the team doesn’t do more with it to give players more of a reason to enjoy the depths of the anime.
‘Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot’
2½ stars out of 4
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC