What is Yamcha's level of proficiency

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is an OK game but a great DBZ experience

Kakarot is a Dragon Ball Z game that I always imagined, but it's far from perfect

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is taking over the Dragon Ball Z video game franchise where it's always needed: in the pen.

The outside world may see the Dragon Ball Z series as an explosive, ridiculous anime that deals with punches, energy balls, screams, and power levels over 9,000. Fans certainly realize that a good, over-the-top fight is key to the series, but we also know that Dragon Ball Z is more than bad guys pissing each other off. It's about hours and hours of filler - time you spend watching characters get charged up for a few episodes instead of actually fighting, or Piccolo and Goku learning to drive. Most of the time is spent on the things that happen between fights, and those moments have almost always been covered up in the games.

The adoption of this filler primarily affects Kakarot, but it may make it difficult to sell the game to anyone who is not already a fan of the show.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot wants to play through the series, not just the highlights

Image: CyberConnect2 / Bandai Namco Entertainment

Kakarot will tell you what it is about right from the start. After a short training fight and some story cutscenes, Kakarot drops me into Goku's shoes to end my search. But instead of going straight into another battle against a new enemy, I stand on a trail and watch Goku's young son Gohan trudge into the sunset to look for apples. I follow him and collect apples as a father and son.

We fish together, make a warm meal by the fire, fly around the world and collect resources in our Flying Nimbus cloud. Then we return home to meet Chi-Chi, Goku's wife. This isn't the exact rhythm of the anime's opening episode, but it's pretty close. I'm not having fun yet, but I loved the perfect recreation of the world.

As always in Dragon Ball Z, at some point some form of danger arises and needs to be addressed, but not before Master Roshi sends me on a side quest to find his dirty picture book, written by the talking sea turtle named Turtle (which Goku accidentally and accidentally stole hat) only calls tortoise). I run around the small island, speak to Turtle, and click on a glowing patch of sand to win the book back for Master Roshi. When the action starts again, I'll set off with Piccolo in search of Raditz - Goku's surprising space brother who kidnapped Gohan and wants to destroy the earth.

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Fans are likely to nod their heads, and they'll find how ridiculous this all sounds to someone who hasn't seen the show in years. But that's the whole point: the games used to be in a rush to get to the "good stuff," but Kakarot is comfortable reflecting the flow and pace of the show itself. Fans may get more of what they love about the source material, and newbies will get a lot more of the weird stuff, for better or for worse.

For example, I'm stopping over to do a favor for old Dragon Ball characters - like Eighter, the peace-loving android who looks like Frankenstein's monster, even though Gohan's life is in danger. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is more interested in the world and characters in the series than in the deadly danger posed by their heroes, both of whom lower the stakes while increasing fan service. It's a strange mix for sure, but I don't hate it.

After Raditz and Goku both die - and Raditz reveals the impending threat from two Saiyajins who are more powerful than him, Nappa and Vegeta-Piccolo take Gohan with them to training and the actual filler begins. Get ready to hunt, cook, fish, train and wait for the next big battle.

Sounds good?

Why the filler works

Image: CyberConnect2 / Bandai Namco Entertainment

At the end of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot's opening saga about Saiyan - which took me about six or seven hours - I'm seven out of 33 chapters through the game. In the break between the Saiyan and the Frieza saga, I spend a lot of time hunting, looking for apples - apparently the only fruit on this version of the world - and fighting with other Z-fighters.

Previous Dragon Ball Z games spent very little time in this year-long training session. It takes hours to switch between fighting Raditz and fighting the other two Saiyan warriors in Kakarot, and you're busy doing odd jobs all the time. For comparison: Nappa is the second fight in the popular Dragon Ball Z: Budokai fighting game, with Raditz being the first.

But the year of training in the game isn't exciting to play, and most of the sections between Raditz and Nappa's bouts are just boring. I walk around the world of Dragon Ball Z doing side quests for some of Dragon Ball's supporting characters. These are not the filling quests I originally expected where you could see Yamcha play baseball like on the show. These are boring searches like chasing six gazelles by sprinting up to them and pressing the circle or B button.

The actual missions aren't particularly entertaining either. Ask them to fetch ingredients to eat or to hunt down a dinosaur in a bizarre mini-game. Some missions allow you to compete against other warriors who are training for battle, but nothing seems to happen during the entire training period. However, the dialogue in these missions is often fun and charming, including one of the dumbest side missions where Piccolo is convinced that Yajirobe wants to fight him.

On the show, this section feels like everyone is wasting time trying to get stronger while waiting for the Saiyans - and that's exactly how it feels in Kakarot. That might sound like a deal breaker, but as a longtime fan there is enough fan service and big fights to keep me going - always remembering to play more.

Without the fun, quiet moments of the show or the introspective explanation of the training philosophy, Dragon Balls characters look like muscles with spiky hair. Just like on the show, some of the non-essential filler can be boring, but it does give me a better connection with my heroes and their friends. As a fan, it feels worth my time, even if I'm not really enjoying it.

But is it good

Image: CyberConnect2 / Bandai Namco Entertainment

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is a fun Dragon Ball Z game, but that determination assumes that you already know and love Dragon Ball Z.

Kakarot captures the strange pace and energy of the show perfectly - better than any other Dragon Ball game before. The characters monologue for a long time and King Kai occasionally yells at me through the loudspeaker on my PS4 controller. Usually a fun Dragon Ball Z game makes me want to watch the show again for the tenth time, absorbing all the details that I missed during the game. But Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is all encompassing, and a 2020 review seems redundant after playing.

As a video game, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is competent. Flying around the world takes getting used to. But with practice, like Goku and friends, you can level up in the anime, even if it's just a matter of seeing how the giant Dragon Ball Z world fits together and collecting upgrade orbs. The fight is also more complex than it initially seems. There's only one button to hit, but the combination of evasive maneuvers, punches, ki-blasts, and special attacks keep the fights fresh and occasionally challenging. The real meat of the game is still the fight, and the fight is still competitive with some of the better fighters out there.

Image: CyberConnect2 / Bandai Namco Entertainment

The new RPG systems like the Community Board, where I get the trust of Goku's friends by taking on side missions, are so exciting that I feel like I become my fighter as I play. As I get my character through battles and side missions, I also get experience points that improve my stats. And collecting orbs in the open world - not unlike the Crackdown series - gives me the currency I need to improve my skills in the skill tree. Fishing, hunting, and gathering ingredients is a chore, but the meals you prepare from these ingredients also offer permanent rewards. So it's always worth it.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot isn't a disaster, but neither is it the first Dragon Ball Z game I would recommend to friends who are not into the anime. I thought this was my chance to get my wife to join Dragon Ball Z, but the pace of some of these chapters doesn't help.

For Dragon Ball Z fans, it's a joy to see this world come to life in a game, especially one that doesn't just take you from fight to fight. Instead of struggling through every problem, Kakarot offers me the opportunity to live in real time in the first fantasy world I ever loved as a kid. What could have been boring in any other setting I found comforting because it was familiar to me and the relative novelty of seeing this aspect of such an over-the-top imagination was so well recreated in a game.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is mediocre as a game, but as a Dragon Ball experience, a kind of "show simulator", it is exactly what fans like me were hoping for. I think what I find out is that a game based that closely on the show might not be the best idea.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot launches January 17th for PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One. The game has been verified with a final download code from Bandai Namco. Further information on OnlineSpiel's ethics policy can be found here.