After reviewing One Piece: Pirate Warriors, having went so far as to name it my “worst game” of last year in our series of GOTY podcasts, there was a 0.023% chance that I would like its sequel. I thought by making it a Dynasty Warrior clone, and a pretty mediocre one at that, Tecmo Koei had done a real disservice to the franchise and it's wonderful fiction. I still think that.
And then the strangest thing happened. I did a bit of digging once I heard there was going to be a sequel, and it started to sound like, while still a clone, they had made some changes that actually made a Pirate Warriors 2... appealing. Different. Hell, almost exciting. As the weeks towards its release counted down, there was this incomprehensible giddiness building inside me, bubbling up and filling the empty spaces left by the summer doldrums. By the time I was told we had a code for it, I literally, old definition, squealed with joy. I never expected those feelings to be right. I couldn't have predicted ever writing that One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 is, quite simply, brilliant. And it is. It absolutely is.
PW2 breaks from the manga storylines that its predecessor held so dearly to. In this original “Dream Story,” Luffy and the crew of the Thousand Sunny find their way to Punk Hazard, a testing ground owned by the Marines, the military wing of the World Government and sworn enemy of all things pirate. Stumbling into the laboratory wing, Luffy sets off a chain reaction that results in most of his entire crew falling under a form of mind control, which forces him to leave them and join with Smoker, a Marine he's run afoul of plenty of times previously.
This unlikely alliance of Marine and Pirate is the backbone of a story chalk full of ridiculous team ups. By the end of the story, you've fought every member of Luffy's crew, joined with his dad Whitebeard, and fought the largest, most unlikely alliance of pirate crews ever assembled. It's fabulously over the top in almost all instances, and unlike the last game, there isn't a dull moment to be had.
What helps this “never a dull moment” come to fruition is the level of choice you are offered with who to take into battle. No longer assigned a crew member, this freedom delivers a mixture of strategy and thought that the previous game never came close to. Following the story, you gain access to Luffy and his crew, plus a huge variety of almost every character in the One Piece universe. Certain characters do become unavailable for play depending on the level and their involvement in the story, but with the amount of characters available, there should always be one you find enjoyable.
This theme of choice extends into combat as well. Built on the now more then familiar Dynasty Warrior system, combat can be broken down to you against hundreds of peons, sprinkled with the occasional “Captain” character, with a boss waiting in the end. While stages may offer variations on a theme, most come down to killing whatever is in front of you as quickly and efficiently as possible. Three hours into the first game, I had come to terms with the fact that it wasn't going to change or get any better. 20 hours into PW2, and I am still feeling the itch to finish what's left of the 30+ individual Crew Logs.
Crew Logs are small, self contained levels where the character it's named after serves as the boss. These are never anything more then a giant fight, with objectives that rarely go beyond “Defeat the generals; Defeat the boss.” They're all proceeded by a small vignette where the character central to that log finds some contrived reason to challenge you to a fight. Most are lame, with a few being so cheesy you almost feel bad for the character involved. It would have been nice to see a bit of character development, something beyond the ridiculous "I can only fight with those I find worthy" shtick, but at least completing them grants you the option to assign that character as a crew member.
Assigned in the pre-fight prep screen, this crew member serves almost like a tag team partner, able to drop in during your character's Style mode (for those uninitiated, Style mode can be activated once your Style meter is filled, granting you either speed or strength, and letting you cancel the Logia/Style Mode of attacking bosses). While their time is limited, this ability to call someone else in, especially someone who can augment any weaknesses your chosen character may possess, is incredibly useful. It also adds an element of strategy and urgency to combat; you want to hold it as long as possible until you finally unleash it. At the chance of making it sound like some super sexual tantric release, tagging in your crew at just the right time is... well probably not as good, but you see where I'm headed with this.
Speaking of augmenting weaknesses, the coin system for upgrades is back in full force. Found either from downed “named” enemies or in very noticeable golden treasure chests, each level contains a random number of regular coins, as well as secret coins. Each entry of the main log sports three of the secret variety, two available in level from ultra-golden chests which appear after a mystery condition has been met, and one from S ranking the stage. While randomized, you can increase your chances by using one of the “recommended” characters, though to be honest, I have yet to see a real difference.
I am happy to say that the overall level length has been shortened, with the longest ones, the last couple in the Main Log, taking only about 20-30 minutes to complete. Length was a huge issue with the first game, for both the character specific side logs and the Main Log, so this reduction tightens the overall experience. With the additional padding of those strange platforming sections gone, levels now rely solely on the game's combat to carry the load. It's also good to keep in mind that “S” ranking a stage requires about 1200 KO's as well as staying below damage taken and time thresholds. On longer stages, especially in the late game, keeping that damage-taken stat down is an absolute chore, requiring eyes in the back of your head on top of excellent reflexes.
Unfortunately, there is still no checkpoint system to speak of. While death is only ever an issue on harder difficulties, there are a few times where a mid level checkpoint would have been quite welcome, with extra emphasis aimed squarely at the two “true ending” levels.
Each and every level can also be completed online, or using a new mode called Rescue Request. With Rescue Request, you send out a request for help for a particular level, either main or crew log, and it can be answered by anyone, allowing them to “drop in” rather then queue up. I've only ever seen one rescue request pop up at a time, and it seems exactly like the other “pure” online mode, with the only exception being the promise of more coin drops. It's a neat concept, but it doesn't really add anything, especially with the relatively small online community.
Thankfully, going back through levels, whether by yourself or with online help, is not hard on the eyes. Everything, from the character models to the levels themselves, is beautifully rendered and super crisp. Newer levels, like Punk Hazard or Thriller Bark, really lay on the environmental effects, with the former easily being a standout for its “Dark” tornadoes and mix of extreme environments (one side is ice, the other is made up of lava flows). Most character models are carried over from the first game, but some new ones, most notably Trafalgar Law, show a level of detail that's both astounding and true to the design from the manga (in Law's case, I am speaking of the DEATH letters spelled out on his fingers).
While all the designs are ripped straight from the source material, the looks for Nami and Robin come off as a little creepy. Both are endowed with incredibly large breasts, and while Robin's are held beneath a rather cleavage-y top, Nami's are free to flow and bounce, being covered only by a bikini top. Yes, these are the current looks for these two characters, straight from the source, but the inclusion of their earlier looks, as bonus crew members that you are able to unlock after the true ending, really highlights the obvious difference between the two designs. It's more then a little distracting, seeming a bit out of place given the look of everything else, and the first thing anyone walking by is sure to notice (Proven by my wife's exclamation of “wow, boob-tastic”).
Small issues aside, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 succeeds by working with the hand it's been dealt. By adding choice, through characters and Crew Skills, and trimming the level length, what's left is a focused experience that leaves you feeling like a heroic participant rather then a fatigued shell struggling to find purpose, wishing your time with the game was over rather then looking for more. While I still believe that the One Piece franchise would be better served away from the constant combat that Tecmo Koei has made their bread and butter, PW2 is more endearing then it had any right being. If you are a fan of One Piece, or a fan of Dynasty Warriors, you owe it to yourself to play this game. If you're not a fan, play it anyway. If you're lucky, I'll save you a piece of Devil Fruit.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!