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Dragon Ball Z has been in my life for as long as I can remember. The anime was on Cartoon Network a lot when I was growing up, and I'd seen its huge, intimidating manga collection in the only comic shop I think my hometown had when I was a kid (love you, Thunderbooks). Then, one day, my parents bought me a copy of Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22, and my dreams of being a saiyan finally came true, sort of. The vivid colours and detailed combat were a revelation, and that PlayStation game has always stayed with me.
Now I'm all grown up and video games are grown up too, offering levels of immersion beyond that old game. Yet DBZ has never really tried to meet the ambition of modern standards, instead prioritising its combat mechanics in every instalment. Not to say that's a bad thing, but there was always the sense that this enormous franchise could be bolder, more ambitious in its efforts.
Well, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is here, and I can honestly say that this new title is what every DBZ fan has been waiting for.
Taking on the roles of Goku, Gohan, Piccolo and Vegeta, Kakarot sees you relive the iconic battles from the series' history, and they've never been more fun to play. But that's not all. You also have lush, open-world environments to explore when you're not duking it out to save the world.
These sandbox areas are full to the brim with enemies to fight, items to collect and characters to interact with, with it all set against beautiful backdrops that look like they've been taken straight from the anime. There's ample opportunity to explore by foot or by air. Visit shops, go fishing, or just rest up at a campfire. It's all delightfully charming. But this is DBZ, so expect plenty of action.
Bouts are fought in an arena fighter style, the camera fixed behind your character, offering all the advantages a third-person viewpoint has to offer. That is until the game changes camera during an opponent's special attack, but you won't be in peril for long.
Speaking of attacks, each character has basic physical and ki moves available (ki basically works like magical energy). But it's the specials that really make the experience. Raining down Goku's Kamehameha or Piccolo's Special Beam of Terror on opponents never gets old, and chaining them to the end of a combo is almost too satisfying. But there's more to Kakarot than these showstopping moves.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is an RPG, too. As you progress through the game, your characters will level up and learn new moves. You also have access to a variety of unlockable attacks and power-ups that allow you to customise each of your z fighters, making them stronger for the bouts that lie ahead. In addition, there's the Community Board feature, which lets you increase your stats, including passive ones. There's the Adventure Community, which increases ki, health and the potency of recovery items; and the Training Community, where you can improve your defense and the amount of EXP you earn. In total, there are seven different boards, with each one offering its own boosts and bonuses.
Most importantly, though, what's the story of Kakarot? Well, it's just that, it's Kakarot's story - or rather Goku's. If you didn't know already, Kakarot is Goku's original name, but that was lost a long time ago when he was only a baby. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot tells the story of the Dragon Ball Z anime, following Goku from the time of the Saiyan Saga, when Earth is invaded by a warrior named Raditz of the Saiyan race. Goku and his friends save the day from this dangerous character - who turns out to be his brother, no less - but in doing so Goku pays with his life.
Luckily for us, death is never usually permanent in Goku's case, but you'll have to play Kakarot to see what I mean. Or not. I mean, this story is about 30 years old, or more like 25 to UK viewers, so I suspect you may know all of this already.
Normally, knowing a story inside out would put me off enjoying a brand new video game, but Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot delivers a timeless tale that feels fresh despite it being around for years. Playing this is not so much about enjoying a story, as it is reliving a legend, and that's where the game really shines. From Goku's ultimate sacrifice against his brother, to Vegeta's menacing arrival on Earth, Kakarot makes every moment feel just as incredible as they were back when I was a kid.
It may have taken three decades, but we finally have the Dragon Ball Z game the series deserves. So... when's Dragon Ball GT getting one?
We reviewed Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot on PlayStation 4 using code supplied by the publisher. The game is also available on Xbox One and PC. A guide to our review scores can be found here.
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