The pitch for Dragon Ball Z Kakarot is promising. An open-world action-RPG, repurposing the biggest plots and battles of Dragon Ball Z's long history. The bummer part is that the open-world is sparse and the combat doesn't feel as cool as maybe going Super Saiyan should. Dragon Ball's universe seems rich for a true open-world game adaptation with its mixture of sci-fi cities and fantasy flourishes. Instead what we find are barren grassy plains, teeny tiny cars driving on barely visible roads, and the occasional character standing in the middle of nowhere offering up fetch quests, like Oolong.
Sure, you can swoop down from Goku's cloud to punch cars while your following companion Piccolo whines about something, but otherwise, there isn't much joy to be found in this little slice of Dragon Ball Z. Considering last year's smash hit of Dragon Ball FighterZ, a fighting game from Arc System Works that's equal parts fan service and a stellar fighter, perhaps it was too good to be true to hope for another Dragon Ball-related game to wow us.
But at the very least, there is one moment of my extended demo with Dragon Ball Z Kakarot that gave me hope. On the opposite end of the piece of land is a deep crater, and waiting in front of it is Raditz, the brother of Goku, who has kidnapped Goku's son Gohan. Together with Piccolo, they confront Raditz and initiate a battle.
Phase One is dull, with a lot of button tapping, side dodging, locking on as Raditz zips around, and the occasional special move like Kamehameha. It's Phase Two that stands out, which kicks off after a cutscene where Piccolo informs Goku that he may have the winning move to defeat Raditz (the Special Beam Cannon), if Goku is down to hang tight with the more powerful adversary in battle for a few minutes alone while he charges up. (On a side note, Dragon Ball Z basically operates like a video game, arbitrary battle stalling and all!)
With Goku now on his own against Raditz, in chimes a very familiar music cue. It's the original Dragon Ball Z anime opening, "Cha-La Head Cha-La," sung with gusto by Hironobu Kageyama. It's unexpected, considering the minimal and barely existent use of music before this moment. Still, knowing what lies ahead in this landmark battle of the series, it's a welcome one.
Unfortunately, the difficulty ramped up, and with the testy lock-on system, I found myself dying again and again to Raditz, where I had to repeat Phase One just to return to the cool music moment. In the show—spoilers ahead—Raditz mortally wounds Goku, but luckily, a newly emerged Gohan, a dying Goku, and Piccolo are able to return the favor to Raditz, with Goku making the ultimate sacrifice of his own life in order to finish him off.
Since I couldn't get past Phase Two, who knows if this properly shakes out in Kakarot. My guess is that it does, as from what I saw it already has Piccolo's "hold on bro, I gotta charge up for a few minutes, can you handle this dude?" moment.
While the action itself is clunky and the open-world doesn't take advantage of the rich aesthetic of Dragon Ball Z, the start of that golden music cue did admittedly bring a smile to my face. I can't say I had a swell time demoing Dragon Ball Z Kakarot, but I can say that at least it's not being shy about callbacks to the anime that helped make Dragon Ball a sensation across the world and remain beloved even three decades later.
Dragon Ball Z Kakarot is being developed by CyberConnect2 of .hack and Naruto Shippuden fame, and will be published by Bandai Namco. It doesn't have a release window, but it's in-development for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Soon, we will all fly away. Raditz be damned.