Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot manages to remain strikingly faithful to its source material whilst simultaneously ensuring that you're given the freedom to carve your own path. We went hands on at a recent press event at Bandai Namco HQ, and came away extremely impressed.
The ultimate tightrope act for developer CyberConnect2 to walk is striking a balance between looking after DBZ's hardcore fans, and at the same finding a way to invite new players into the fold. Lean too far in one direction, and sales can plateau because you played it safe. Wander away from what made the original series such a memorable classic and you'll alienate folks looking for a nostalgia trip in playable form.
It's a conundrum that has plagued licensed video game adaptions for eons, and then Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot comes along, proving once and for all that this is the way to deliver a balanced take with room to breathe.
As a retelling of the events of the show, with all of its visual splendour and bombastic chaos, it came as quite a surprise that our demo began with Goku running around the forest gathering apples with his son Gohan. There was an obligatory fight sequence which introduced the basics of combat mechanics, but that introductory segment still remained very unexpected. For an adventure like this to kick off at such a deliberate pace, it's fair to say that our expectations were subverted, and immediately cemented the notion that this was a faithful, yet surprising effort.
There's so much to see and do, with collectables, optional activities like fishing and cooking, and conversations aplenty. Once you've completed the initial round of objectives, you're free to dive into random encounters and explore as you see fit. The whole thing feels open, but you never lose sight of your current goal. When you're able to fly at will, boosting into the sky with reckless abandon, there's a wonderful sense of momentum to exploration that keeps pushing you forwards.
Despite a slight blandness to some environmental textures, the character models are incredibly well realised. Destructible scenery is also a neat addition, with some of the bigger action sequences benefiting greatly from having such a reactive environment. Slam your opponent into the ground and they'll leave a crater where they landed. Even entire rock formations can crumble as a result of your actions. It gives everything a sense of weight that's too often missing from titles like this.
There's also a ton of neat flourishes that really helped to elevate the whole experience. Increase your altitude and reach the sky box boundary and a prompt will appear that allows you to open the map. Atmospheric detail is lovely, and very much in keeping with the show's aesthetic. There's so much packed in here that it feels like genuine care and attention has been taken to deliver an authentic adaption.
Of course, the fighting mechanics themselves are absolutely a highlight, and provided countless opportunities to mix up your approach. Through a combination of dodging, finding the right moment to charge your ki and unleash special moves, and closing the gap on your opponent in between their attacks, there's a lot to think about.
The controls for adjusting your height mid skirmish were a little fiddly, requiring a combination of button presses and control stick manipulation, but it's a minor quibble in an otherwise superbly well realised system. This is a polished and immensely gratifying action adventure indeed.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot launches on 17th January 2020 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
A huge thank you to Gemma Cooper, and the team at Bandai Namco, for inviting us to play the game.