Let’s face it: To really get Dragon Ball, you’ve gotta really get it.
This long-winded saga of godlike, heavily muscled and spiky-haired battlers started back in 1984 as a Japanese manga series. Since then, it’s spread its smashing, bashing, world-demolishing ways through anime television shows, films, card games and, of course, a gazillion video games. Oh, and the series has played out over a number of different story arcs, too, beginning as Dragon Ball and twisting and turning its way to the latest entry, Super Dragon Ball Heroes.
Why do you need to know all that? Because altogether, the Dragon Ball franchise has become one of the most successful manga and anime series of all time, with products selling and shows broadcasting all over the world.
And if you’re really into all that, then the new Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot will give you some fanboy joy, since it translates pretty much all of the expansive Dragon Ball Z story arc—a narrative somewhere in the middle of the overall tale—into a single fanservice game.
However, if you haven’t a clue about characters such as Goku, Piccolo, Vegeta and Trunks, then you’ll likely be left with a wrinkled brow and a great big “Huh?” on your lips.
So, what’s this game about? Essentially, it focuses on seven mystical orbs that grant powers as well as a character named Goku, a member of a near-extinct extraterrestrial warrior race called the Saiyans. These guys have the power to crush mountains and destroy worlds with the flex of a mighty arm.
The Saiyans had sent Goku, whose name was originally Kakarot, to Earth as an infant to conquer the planet. But he suffered a traumatic brain injury and lost his memory. When Goku’s older brother shows up years later to see what happened, Goku strives to protect Earth from him and every other menacing, souped-up enemy that might swoop in.
Of course, that’s reducing this complex tale to the simplest of terms. Trying to grasp its twisting and turning story—one that involves scores of good guys and power-beam-blasting baddies; dynamic death and powered-up rebirth; kidnapped children, battling family members and explosive combat—is like trying to grab a mile-long python by the tail.
Gameplay wise, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is classified as an open-world RPG. So that means there are plenty of button-mashing battles where one button performs a physical combo, another sends out blasts of energy, one dodges and one charges up that Ki blast energy. Then you have to learn how to power up different attacks as you take on angry villains and super-powered big bosses. There’s no blood in the mix, but there are bloodlessly severed limbs and characters blasted clean through. (Characters do die, too, and in some cases head off to a nebulous afterlife to be powered back up for life again.)
This isn’t just a fighting game, though. Kakarot’s actually more concerned with telling the story of its bizarre overpowered Z Warriors. So you play as a variety of fighters and head off on main and side story quests: collecting special objects, solving puzzles, racing, swimming, flying and even fishing if you so desire. Ultimately, though, despite all that gameplay variety, the activities and beat-’em-ups you’re investing upwards of 40 to 50 hours to play through feel rather uninvolving and almost secondary to the game’s unspooling anime tale.
Kakarot is also rather disappointing on another level. For a game that appears so colorful and potentially aimed at a young demographic, the coarse language it spits is an unwelcome addition.
The contest’s superpowered battlers are always raging at each other. Their angry fury, in fact, spurs their power to greater heights. And so screeches of “dam–t,” “b–tard,” “you p-ss me off” and “go to h—!”—as well as fevered declarations of a fighter’s deadly intent—are very common. There are acts of self-sacrifice here, yes. But even in that, rage often rules for these characters.
Visually speaking, things are relatively tame. A heavily zapped character might stagger around with his clothes ripped and his backside slightly exposed. There are even some situations where you spot a character looking at a girlie magazine (though the models are at least somewhat covered, no nudity).
For fans of this Dragon Ball world, none of this is any big surprise. It’s all part of the series’ fabric and has been for a long time. But for kids drawn by the bright, flashy colors and cartoony action, or for parents spotting a game cover that “looks kinda cute,” Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot may not be the game you’re expecting.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.