Video games based on movies and television shows are dubious affairs at the best of times, and games based on anime and manga are certainly not immune to controversy. Popular series like Naruto, Fist of the North Star and Gundam have all seen game releases over the years, and they have drawn very polarized reactions from series fan. I fully expect that One Piece: Pirate Warriors will have the same effect. Based on a long-running anime and manga series, developers Temco Koei and publishers Namco Bandai released this game in Japan back in March 2012 to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the franchise. A western release has finally come to fruition as a downloadable title on the Playstation Network, and if you’re a fan of beat em’ ups, this is one game that is definitely worth checking out.
Let me start this review with a disclaimer of sorts; I had never seen the One Piece anime series or read any of the manga prior to playing One Piece: Pirate Warriors. I have been aware of it and intrigued by the unique plot and setting, but it never crossed my radar. However, not being familiar with the source material actually puts me in a good position, since I can review and assess the game objectively. In my experience, fanfare or derision can cloud a persons judgement when it comes to critically analysing it as a game. Accordingly, this is not a review that will preach to the choir of One Piece fans, nor will it take the side of series detractors. This is strictly a review of how One Piece: Pirate Warriors plays as a game.
The story of One Piece: Pirate Warriors closely follows both the anime and manga series, though it is unable to cover all plot points in a series that spans fifteen years and over five hundred episodes. The chief protagonist is Monkey D. Luffy, the young man who is granted extraordinary powers after eating the demon Gum-Gum Fruit. These powers allow him to stretch, flail and bend his limbs far and wide, well beyond anything nature would have intended a human being to do. As a young rascal, he forms the Straw Hat Pirates, a motley crew of outlaws that set out to recover the One Piece treasure. This is an item that belonged to the world’s greatest pirate, and acts as sole motivation for Luffy and his crew.
As is often the case, Luffy is not alone in his desire to secure this highly prized treasure. The villains in this game are also after the same thing, so Luffy must battle wave upon wave of enemies as he seeks it out. As the game progresses, he meets other characters who later become instrumental in his overall mission. I won’t lie, certain key plot points and series in-jokes went completely over my head, however the story itself did a fair job of maintaining my interest. The characters range from being highly likeable to downright annoying, though none are as annoying as those I’ve seen in other anime spin-off titles. Those unfamiliar with the series should be able to grasp the fairly simply plot, however the best experience will be had by those familiar with the source material.
The gameplay in One Piece: Pirate Warriors draws the inevitable comparison to the Dynasty Warriors games, and this holds true in many of the combat mechanics. In truth, however, this game is less tactical and more of a straight-forward hack and slash game. Those who have played other Musou games like Samurai Warriors will find the gameplay especially familiar. You spend the majority of the story mode playing as Luffy, using his various skills to dispatch wave after wave of enemies. The sheer number of enemies you encounter at any given time borders on ridiculous, however using the button combos to perform ridiculous moves is where the fun really lies. The combat is pure buttom-mashing for the most part, but Luffy is agile and versatile enough in his skill sets to offer some depth.
The combat in One Piece: Pirate Warriors starts off fairly simple, and I quickly adapted to the combo system and fighting mechanics. The difficulty ramps up when you start to encounter a more diverse roster of enemies, including opponents with cannons and large brutes that require special attacks. From the beginning, you are taught various combo attacks that require successive button presses to pull off. Most are easy to learn, while others take some getting used to. Luffy’s abilities evolve over the course of the game as the player levels up, so his stretchable limbs and wildly over-the-top finishing moves get more creative as the perks stack up. Some of the moves you have early on include a giant wrecking-ball maneuver, and one where Luffy blows himself up like a balloon to deflect enemy cannonballs.
Quicktime events also factor heavily into the gameplay, however it quickly becomes evident that these serve mainly to break up the monotony of simply killing waves of enemies. Several setpiece moments will prompt you to press a specific button to dodge a large enemy, avoid a potentially fatal fall or finish off a boss. Depending on the difficulty level you choose to play on, this can either be a cakewalk or a frustrating test of your reflexes. This system is also present in many of the platforming segments, as you need to perform quick botton presses to go to different areas on the map. For the most part, it works, however the game relies too heavily on it at times. Being able to move more freely and use Luffy’s extendable arms instead of button combos would have been preferable.
For the most part, the combat in One Piece: Pirate Warriors is fun and hilariously over the top. While it does become repetitive at times, there is enough depth in the combo system and special abilities to off-set the tedium that games in this genre often suffer from. To add a palpable sense of reward, there are some light RPG elements also included. At the end of each chapter, you are given a score based on how well you performed throughout the level. This takes into considering how many enemies you have killed, how effectively you used the combos, the variety of combos used and how quick and efficient you were during the quicktime events. This, combined with coins you collect throughout the levels, gives you currency that you can spend on skill upgrades and new abilities.