Dragon Ball started in Japan back in the '80s, and since then, it maintained a dedicated worldwide fan base. It continues to spawn all sorts of anime, movies, and games. While not every video game has been a solid hit, Bandai Namco recently found wild success with Arc System Works' Dragon Ball FighterZ. I was worried the next big title in the franchise would pale in comparison. However, after spending some time with the newly renamed Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot at E3, most of my fears were assuaged. I also had a chance to interview the game's director Kazuki Kimoto and producer Ryosuke Hara in the video below!
Fans of the show will know that the series' main character, Goku, also goes by his Saiyan name, Kakarot. As the titular protagonist, you take control of him. The game covers his story from the beginning of Dragon Ball Z, although the scope of the narrative has yet to be confirmed. Trailers have only shown events up to the Frieza saga.
While the narrative will largely tread old ground, Dragon Ball fans can find a lot of new things in Kakarot. In the 20-minute demo I played, old characters, like Eighter and Nam, made guest appearances in the world. Both of them played the role of NPC for some side quests. Canonically, they don't meet Goku after he grows up, but in this game, small narrative gaps like that are bridged. These kind of events reward those who have watched the show for a long time, but Bandai Namco producer Ryosuke Hara assured us that newcomers can still find a lot to work with.
The side quests were fairly straightforward. When I met Nam, he wanted me to trade a shiny rock for food and water for his village. After talking to a few NPCs scattered around the map, I returned to Nam to complete the fetch quest. Eighter, on the other hand, requested that I beat up a few baddies. Neither presented a real challenge, but in a way, seeing these old characters put a smile on my face. For anyone nostalgic for some classic Dragon Ball fan service, Kakarot might be worth it for that alone.
The game isn't necessarily open world, but you have access to large maps with plenty to do. Aside from the aforementioned side quests, you can gather resources. You can shake down trees for apples and hunt animals for food. In a moment of sheer, inexplicable quirkiness, Goku can fish off piers by attaching a fake Saiyan tail to his backside. Collectible tokens hover around the world for you to fly through, as well.
Overall, the developers at CyberConnect2 want to tell every aspect of Goku's story. While his iconic clashes with powerful villains make up the memorable parts of his tale, this game looks to flesh out his day-to-day activities and interactions. These quieter moments presented a sense of charm that no other Dragon Ball game has. The IP obviously lends itself to high-octane action or fighting games, but seeing the protagonist's daily life fleshes out his character for the better.
Navigating the map feels satisfying, and it nails the vibe that the Dragon Ball franchise has always had. You can mosey around the map with the Flying Nimbus, which cruises at a brisk pace. When Goku hops off the cloud, he can run around or fly on his own. In both cases, he can dash around at insane speeds following an instant burst of speed. That surge mimics the animations seen in the anime, translating the feeling of the show directly to your controller. Perhaps more importantly, it makes traversing these big maps easy and fun.
But what would a Dragon Ball game be without combat? You'll run into the occasional random encounter, and you'll of course find major boss battles with the series' iconic villains. The demo ended with Raditz, Goku's long-lost brother. The fight had two phases, and the first showed off what two-on-one gameplay looks like. As Goku, you team up with Piccolo to fight Raditz. Following that, you'll go toe-to-toe with the villain on your own.
The combat seems straightforward and simple at first, but after a few minutes, the depth becomes apparent. Combos end differently based on the last button of the string, leading to a variety follow-up possibilities. Above all, the combat just looks cool. At every turn, you'll feel the way you did when you watched the show. When you land a flashy combo and end it with a powerful Kamehameha, the game captures that moment of hype that the show nails so well.
Furthermore, the boss battle with Raditz actually presented a sense of challenge, and the gameplay changed across the battle. Whenever he launched a two-handed beam attack, the perspective would change, turning it into a shoot-'em-up for a few seconds. You maneuver to avoid the beams, and the lower Raditz's health, the more he launched stray ki blasts to make dodging harder. It's little things like that which keep these fights more engaging than straight-up brawls.
To put it simply, Kakarot looks to capitalize on the recent success the franchise has seen. The run of Dragon Ball Super, the Broly movie, and the success of FighterZ helped the IP reach a new generation. By retelling Goku's iconic story in great detail, old fans can relive their favorite moments while new fans learn more about the story.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot launches some time in early 2020 on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
If you want to know more about this and other announcements happening at E3 then be sure to check out our E3 2019 Coverage Hub.