There’s probably no Dragon Ball fan who hates the action parts because he’s only interested in the wanderings of the kid with the tail turning into a monkey or vice versa, and who considers the humorous part to be too much to handle and would rather embark on a kamehamehas carousel with no brakes.
Whether you are devoted to one degree or another of Akira Toriyama’s universe, almost avery fan will accept that ‘Dragon Ball’ is a unique, unbalanced and feverish mix of both aspects: super-beings of divine caliber beating the crap out of each other, plus green jokes and extravagant sidelines.
But in videogames, although there has been everything (after all, there are more than a hundred games in the series), in recent times fighting games have predominated. The action, more and more spectacular, more and more similar to the original anime, has been appropriating the franchise in sagas as celebrated as ‘Budokai‘ or the recent and very brutal ‘Dragon Ball FighterZ‘. In them the core of the gameplay is the combats, and in the last years it has been left aside that other face of ‘Dragon Ball’ that also forms part of its original DNA: the humor, the companionship and the adventure.
That’s why there have always been ‘Dragon Ball’ RPGs, from the earliest times, and always with more or less accentuated action elements. One of the latest, ‘Dragon Ball Fusions‘ for 3DS was very notable for the way it poured a whole sophisticated mechanic of fusions, equipment and enhancements into a fight plot. But in general, games like the horrible ‘Dragon Ball Z Sagas‘ or the curious but somewhat forgotten ‘Dragon Ball Online‘, (which are some of the games that ‘Kakarot‘ drinks) with their mixture of adventure and action, are far behind in time.
There is also something in the development of this game that reminds of the two ‘Xenoverse’ (in which ‘Kakarot’ inspires its fighting system, with 3D battles and very simple combos), but in those the accent was still on the action, however much you had to create a character and improve it completely. In addition, in ‘Xenoverse’ the story was set in the world of ‘Dragon Ball’ with the anime heroes as uncontrollable characters, while here the original stories are revisited.
In other words, in ‘Kakarot’ we will go around places like the Sacred Land of Korin, West City, Kame House and its surrounding islands or the planet Namek. And we will revisit mythical sagas of ‘Dragon Ball Z’ as the saga of the Saiyans, Freezer, the Androids and the game of Cell or the saga of Majin Buu. Mythical settings and stories that will be enriched by small filler stories taken from the anime or created expressly for the game, outside the canon but with the supervision of Toriyama.
The point is that ‘Kakarot’, as we will see, uses the own development of an RPG and a mechanic based on the relationships between the characters, mythified since the times of the anime, to make one of the most faithful games to Toriyama’s work that are remembered. Find the balance between action and story to pay tribute to the original series, if not definitive, certainly one of the most memorable we have lived lately.
“Dragon Ball – Kakarot”: the essential friendship
The spirit of the game lies in the exploration of the aforementioned environments, which is not exactly an open world, but a series with large scenarios. Through mini-games, exploring and finding objects, we will manage to improve our heroes, but the important thing is the “Soul Emblems“, which represent the characters of the game. In the Community board we will be able to place those emblems in certain sub-boards that favor their characteristics and that grant advantages like cheaper prices or winning more orbs when winning the fights.
But also, if we put near two emblems of characters with a special relationship (for example, the most obvious, Goku and Son Gohan), we will get special bonuses. We can give gifts to those emblems to make the relationships better… that is, CyberConnect2 has gamified the relationships between the characters. It’s easy to make a game dynamic through fights, victories, defeats and confrontations, but it’s much more complicated to make the whole immense fauna of characters in a game and what unites them becomes the mechanics itself.
It is difficult to get all the immense fauna of characters in a game and what unites them to become the mechanics of the same game
Thus, although the action is still nuclear in the game (after all, you don’t have to improve the characters so that they win to win, but to fight better), everything that surrounds it is’ Dragon Ball ‘Two hundred percent, well beyond the abundant dialogues with NPCs. That includes the search for ingredients for meals and the act of eating itself to level up, the inexhaustible squad of secondary roles and the peculiar atmosphere of the worlds of Toriyama – between alien and costumbrist -, fishing with the tail (although Goku no longer has a tail, which is solved in an adorable wink to the early stages of the series), the search for Freezer spacecraft and the Red Ribbon towers and minigames based on the filling episodes, such as Goku and Piccolo learning to drive.
Of course, if the player is a fan to the death of the fights, little else will have to do his part: the game starts with a combat tutorial, and then we will incarnate Goku and follow Gohan in search of apples. We will fish and have dinner together, we will fly in the Kinto cloud looking for improvements for this means of transport (it will not be the only one we can use), we will return with Chi-Chi and accept a mission from Muten Roshi to retrieve a dirty magazine stolen by a turtle that is called “Turtle.” Then comes the action from Piccolo and the fight with Raditz, in the prologue of the Saiyans saga, and when you realize it, you will have spent an hour doing literally nothing. Of course, a “nothing” very similar to the ‘Dragon Ball’ style.
I doubt that any genuine Dragon Ball fan would be bothered by this rhythm, and if it does bother them, they should have it looked at to see why they have a problem with it (after Raditz’s death – and a few other things – Piccolo and Son Gohan embark on a very long filler episode within the game, with fishing, hunting, item finding and combat training) but they don’t mind the fighters spending entire episodes of the anime charging up. That is, compared to ‘Buddokai’: Raditz is also the first fight in that game, but completing the Saiyan saga in ‘Kakarot’ takes up to seven hours of non-stop play.
Nostalgia for the past
The question is: yes, okay, ‘Kakarot’ is faithful to the anime but… is it fun? There are some of the pitfalls. It’s amazing that missions like picking up orbs in flight phases that are sometimes chillingly reminiscent of ‘Superman 64‘ are fun, but they’re not always. The small fights with skull robots and Friezas soldiers are sometimes exaggerated and the small variety of enemies makes a dent in the game. Naturally, not all the filler in the game works, but the balance is always positive.
And it is simply because the fighting, the real heart of the game, is effective and consistent: of course, it’s far from the complexity of ‘Dragon Ball FighterZ’, but there’s enough variety in the strikes and techniques (dodge, ki, special moves) to make them non-repetitive. The upgrade system is effective, and as each character levels up with techniques and hits according to what we know from the series, there is always a reason to be stimulated by further power-ups.
And above all, of course, there’s the gorgeous visual finish that soaks up the game, less lucid in the cutscenes, tremendous in the combats that replicate but don’t clone the fights of the anime. The spectacular nature of the action, with its devastating particle effects, is beyond question. That is, we have talked about what fights are not, but as a fighting game with dinosaurs and driving schools in the background, ‘Kakarot’ meets all the expectations of the players.
The nostalgia factor, as seen in the game’s spots and marketing, plays an important role in the final result of ‘Kakarot’. Clearly, even more than other franchise releases, this CyberConnect2 and Bandai Namco game plays on evoking the serial narrative, the filler episodes, the sensations of discovering more and more powerful enemies. All with a rhythm that does not try to be always up, but to manipulate the ups and downs of the tension and action. The result may not be perfect (or equally perfect for all players), but it’s certainly more exhilarating than most franchise titles.