A festival for the fans, but also a perfect entry point for everyone who always wanted to watch the series. And a good game.
Wow. After more than 20 years, I am interested in Dragon Ball Z for the first time. Sure, I played my part of games with the frizzy freaks, starting in Super Nintendo times, and there were some really good – and really bad – brawlers, but I never had a clue why they were fighting or I should only be interested in the distant star. It looks like it is sometimes worth starting from the beginning.
Pretty much every other DBZ game just assumed that you knew everything. It saw itself as an addition to fans of the show, they were all fan service. This is kakarot – what a somewhat melodious name it is … – to a certain extent, but in a different way. It goes back to the days of the first episodes, gradually introduces the characters, explains in short, clear sentences relevant background knowledge and takes everyone who is even marginally willing to get involved. And yes, it works. I still don’t care about an anime series that I couldn’t be more level with and I will definitely never watch an episode. But I now know who these characters are, what they do in their crazy world all day long and it has interested me for the 30 or 35 hours that I wanted to know
Not that it was particularly complex. Basically, there is always a guy who is stronger than everyone else, gives them one on the nut, then they train and give one back on the nut. This is often enough in this universe to become a permanent guest star and to be part of this growing sitcom family again and again. But that’s okay, it’s charming and at least I suspect the appeal that the series has, especially if you are or were younger. And those who grew up with the show should celebrate an “Oh, then!” Moment every two minutes in the visually beautiful scenes.
As for the game, you can think of it as an open area RPG with action brawls as fights. There is everything that is mandatory in a JRPG. Level and experience anyway, you can go fishing, cooking, crafting things, there are even random fights. Instead of a big open world, you have a big map that is gradually filling up with more places. The areas are sorted with the creativity of a modern Mario – water, meadow, desert, city level and so on. DBZ is as unambitious as crazy at the same time. It just takes everything and throws it into the blender. The result is aliens, dragons flying around, streets with traffic rules, karate and business suits side by side, colorful wish balls and lots of small fetch side missions on the side for the inhabitants of this crazy world,
I haven’t done anything here in one or a hundred games, but it all fits together. The world of One Piece: World Seeker was dead and empty recently, this one doesn’t have much meaningful content in the sense of The Witcher to offer, if you take a closer look, but it feels alive. Sure, the mini-game to kill a dinosaur isn’t particularly complex, but it’s entertaining. Not only because it just plays nice, but also the brightly colored colors ensure a good mood and the animations for these activities were often captured with love. I could see a far too big fish thundering on a pier after the hero gave him a chin hook. And before I forget: Yes, of course there are dinosaurs, in addition to cars and mopeds.
In the end it’s all about leveling, not just at the meta level, the characters hardly talk about anything other than power level. No wonder they are crazy about the colorful balls that help, and it is no wonder that I found an aspect here that was a little too retro for me. You also get skills for kills – or at least knockouts here – and so Kakarot distributes endlessly floating balls in the world. The flying heroes move fast enough, you’ll be through an area in a minute if you want, but collecting these balls endlessly like a sophisticated vacuum cleaner feels just like the tedious hard work that hasn’t lost anything in a game like this.
It’s a good thing that the levels aren’t as important in the end as the boosts. If you get stuck in a fight, it is usually better not to grind, but to cook, then to put the woman on the stove and carry the boost of this meal into the next battle. It just goes faster and often brings more, especially since the game changes frequently enough with the frequent changes of the hero and anti-hero to be played. As I said, I’m still fascinated that this mix of almost reactionary game elements from 30 years of J-RPG in a modern costume works as well as it does here. It’s one of those games that should have lost me at this point long ago, but somehow achieve the opposite. Then I just cook a Sukiyaki before going into battle.
Or take care of one of the other complex systems at first glance, which are good for a few percent more power. Don’t be fooled that you are building a “community” of fighters. The community system is not a multiplayer, just a trading card game without a random factor – more pogs in this case – with which you can unlock bonuses. Which is not that bad given the frequent changes in the characters played. Only, like everything, it initially seems a little more complicated than it is meant in the end. Kakarot is not alone in this with Japan.
This also applies to the fights. These are not as complex as many tournament fighters over the years. Like this, it takes some getting used to, for example, that the third dimension is there, but above all height does not often make the big difference. Specials are on keys, but spamming them is the best way to lose a fight. The game wants you to learn an opponent’s moves and react accordingly. If you know that an opponent starts his shockwave in rapid succession when you go into hand-to-hand combat, but at the same time he has a short charging phase before, then it is up to you to quickly get away and use his moment of preparation for a special to him to interrupt. You don’t counter other moves, you evade, you block others, take a few hits with you and then counterattack. These patterns, which are quite simple within a fight, are reminiscent of bosses from old shoot-’em-ups, which also deal with patterns. An individual does not carry a whole game, but the multitude of all the opponents here, their differences, all this keeps the game fresh until the end and, above all, the anticipation for the next big fight is constantly high.
As good as it feels after an hour or two, it can sometimes get a little cheap when the AI spammes attacks that don’t seem to be intended for it. It never degenerates too much, but there are always a few tips. On the other hand, you can largely forget the random battles against any flying robots and monsters. One likes to take a few XP with you, but don’t expect anything more than a fight like this would give you in any JRPG. But then not everything can be a boss fight and as cannon fodder they are what they are. They also enrich the landscape.
That is also the point at which everything comes together. The world and its chaotic champions for peace, world domination and super powers. It is colorful. No, not just colorful, it’s gaudy, it’s often louder than it should be and it feels one hundred and two percent what it needs to be: a big, epic, silly cartoon series. Sunday morning TV of the kind my generation didn’t have – we still have to wait for the Captain Future Game. And if that is even so close to the feeling of what Kakarot achieves for DBZ here, then hopefully one day it will be lucky.
It still fascinates me that it worked for me of all places. No episode of DBZ seen, no commitment to it, too old when it was on. The fan service, digging through all the old battles again and digging through them relatively quickly should only bring something to the initiated and sure, they definitely enjoy their nostalgia here. This is completely missing from me and still everything fits. Sure, a complete aversion to anime of the simpler kind shouldn’t lie dormant in you. But if that’s not the case, then you also have a good chance to see why so many people love this colorful, bright world.
There are power fantasies of the simple kind. Crazy guys are flying crazy specials flying around the ears. In addition, likeable ideas with a functional game design that cuts its way through the many hours cleverly enough so that it never becomes too stale. Something that always lures you a little out of reserve with one or the other fight. Sure, none of this is more complex than it has to be – even if it likes to do so – and above all the ball collecting in the sky is certainly not a highlight of the level design. But in the end it never pulls you out, you follow the characters through a few decades of animation and then you are richer by Dragon Ball Z. No matter if you ever have contact with DBZ again afterwards, this experience was worth it.