There are few characters in the world of anime more iconic than Goku, the Saiyan sent to Earth as a baby who eventually becomes one of the most powerful beings in the universe. His story has been told across almost every medium imaginable since his manga debut in 1984, including anime, video games, and the terrible live-action adaptation that we don’t speak of. The latest in a long line of video games based on Dragon Ball to hit consoles, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, has made its way to Switch.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is mainly a love-letter to fans of the series. From the first moment that the iconic Japanese theme song starts through to some of the obscure characters who show up as you explore the world, this game is a nostalgia-fest for anime fans. Considering the long-standing voice actors for both the Japanese and English dubs reprise their roles here, it all feels familiar and comforting from the very beginning.
Beyond just exploring moments from the anime, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot adds slice-of-life elements to a story that seldom features those kinds of moments. Almost in defiance of the “Goku is a bad dad” jokes that have circulated among the fandom for generations, Kakarot opens with simple scene of Goku teaching his son Gohan to fish and carrying the child when he complains of being tired. It is short and simple but little moments like that are scattered throughout the game, giving fans something new to learn about their favourite characters and are the most rewarding parts of Kakarot’s story.
Despite being based on one of the most famous fighting manga of all time, don’t expect a lot of depth in the combat of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot. This isn’t Dragon Ball FighterZ, where skill and timing are the most important aspect of gameplay. Expect more of an RPG system, with levelling up and grinding being the way to overcome bosses that are giving the player difficulty.
Fighting and completing side missions will give characters experience points to level up and make their attacks stronger, while exploring the overworld will net characters coloured orbs that will make their special abilities more powerful. Eventually enhancements like transformations will become available, but the gameplay largely stays the same. Picking up on the visual cues from bosses to know when to block and spamming different attacks are usually the best strategies for players to use.
Because the game only features characters from the manga or anime, it also doesn’t offer the customisation that previous games like Xenoverse did. There is some opportunity for players to build characters to suit their playstyle, but largely this game is meant to be for fans to fight as Goku and his allies as they appear in the manga.
Most of the game is competently put together and runs well on the Switch. The character designs look and feel like they’ve come straight out of the anime, which is exactly what we wanted from the game. The only technical hiccup we ran into during our time with the game was when we took it on the road. If players aren’t connected to the Internet, either through a wired or wireless connection, an error will pop up each time they exit or enter a cutscene. This can be overcome by going into the game’s settings and disabling the Data Sharing feature, but it was frustrating until we found a solution.
Aside from this issue, the game didn’t present any technical problems during our playthrough. The visuals do a good job of replicating the classic anime style, with some small touches thrown in to make the world feel more alive. Watching mountains crumble after being hit with an energy attack or seeing the water part as a character flies close to its surface don’t add anything mechanically to the game but they go a long way to making the player feel like they are controlling some of the most powerful characters in anime history.
The Switch version comes bundled with the A New Power Awakens DLC, which brings characters from the Battle of Gods and Resurrection of F movies into the game. These are presented with the same polish as the main story but deviate more from their source material. Part 1 focuses on the pair of Goku and Vegeta training to become powerful enough to challenge Beerus, the God of Destruction. To do this, they have to fight Beerus’ attendant, Whis, in challenges of increasing difficulty. While some of the challenges are fun, they quickly becomes a grind and expose the shortcomings in Kakarot’s combat system.
Part 2 is more of a gauntlet than a usual fight. Dozens of enemies line up and need to be mowed down before players can take on the resurrected Frieza. Unfortunately, after completing the main story and Part 1 of the DLC bundle, this fight doesn’t really pose much of a challenge anymore. The visuals are good and they manage to recreate some great moments from the movie, but those wanting to experience it are better off just watching the film.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot might not be the deepest or most challenging of games based on the franchise, then, but it is far from the worst. Between the endearing moments added to a story we already know and love and the faithful recreation of the anime’s visuals, this is a game geared toward existing fans. With its simple combat and emphasis on grinding, newcomers are unlikely to find much worth sticking around for.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot might not do much more than retelling the story of Dragon Ball, but it does that well enough that existing fans will find joy in exploring the world and fighting iconic villains from the franchise. Despite the lack of depth to its combat and a minor internet-based technical inconvenience to work around, the game saves itself by expanding on the already massive amount of Dragon Ball lore available and giving fans the slice-of-life moments we've so sorely needed. Non-fans won't find much to love here, but it's a more than serviceable retelling of an iconic story.