I have an admission to make: I had no idea what I was getting into when I volunteered for One Piece: Pirate Warriors. Having never been a huge fan of mangas or the animes they produced, I was also not surprised to have never heard of One Piece, which just so happens to hold the title of best-selling series of all time in manga history. I was, however, quite surprised when I mentioned the name at home, and my wife yelled “King of PIRATE!” (referring to the abysmally bad “fan-sub” translation of an episode she saw 10+ years ago).
For those not in the know, as I clearly wasn’t, here’s a quick rundown of One Piece. Series star Monkey D. Luffy (heretofore referred to as Luffy) can stretch his body like Reed Richards (yeah, I just made a comic reference to explain another comic) after consuming something called a devil’s fruit. He goes on a ton of adventures with his motley crew, the Straw Hat Pirates, crossing the giant world spanning ocean in search of the “One Piece”, leading him to his ultimate goal of becoming, as my wife put it, “King of PIRATE!”
As I have done the story absolutely no service whatsoever with that description, suffice it to say that crazy shit happens, hijinks ensue, and we are all the better for it. And that means a lot coming from me.
What we are all not the better for is Pirate Warriors’ dreadfully repetitive Dynasty Warriors-esque style. This is a button masher straight from Tecmo Koei, and those mechanics really serve as a disservice to the story that’s presented.
Spending most of the game in the “Main Log” or story mode, you control Luffy through 16 stages. Most stages are linear, going from point A to a boss battle at point B, and when you are not wholesale slaughtering minion mobs, you’re engaging in a bit of Quick Time Event (“QTE”) platforming. Other stages are the massive territory battles from Dynasty Warriors, where Luffy and often a few of his ship mates mow through scores of baddies to capture points, thereby limiting enemy respawns.
Luffy’s combat animations are fun, and while the actions were very rough on my “square” button, his stretching limbs were a real sight to behold. For platforming, Luffy often extends himself like a slingshot, hurling his rubber body into the air. He’s also often called upon to slam his head into buttons, or blow up like a balloon to reflect projectiles. Controlling Luffy during these platforming sections is all QTE, with failure dropping you back to the last solid surface you were standing on. There is a bit of third-person aiming that comes with these. The aiming is clunky at best, and downright annoying when you’re asked to try and find something mid jump.
Most bosses function like bigger minions, simply bash on them enough and they fall down, only to project a “red dome of force” to push you back as they stand back up. After certain moves, a yellow wave animation appears above their heads, and if hit with a combo during this time (hitting square 5x works for this as it does for everything) you can stun them, allowing you to get in some extra hits or even to participate in boss specific QTEs.
Those individual events, each awarding a trophy upon completion, are the best bits of Pirate Warriors. Luffy’s Gum Gum powers (derived from the Gum Gum fruit) are a blast to see in action, and the QTEs accompanying his attacks or dodges are really satisfying (most boss attacks end with Luffy laying waste while you slam down on the square button until an “End This” prompt attached to the circle button arrives).
Pirate Warriors also offers three additional modes outside of the Main Log. “Additional Log” allows you to play through story levels through other members of the Straw Hat Pirates and some special guest stars from other parts of the series. I say story levels loosely because every level is made into a territory control level. For characters like Roronoa Zoro or Sanji, these are no problem, but they can be difficult with others, like Brook or Nico Robin, whose moves don’t span as large an area.
Challenge mode takes story areas and adds in only elite units, or combines bosses together. Online Mode, accessed from a separate menu, allows play through the Additional Log levels with one other player.
Along with the story, the graphics are far and away one of the best things about this game. With the design taken straight from the million selling manga and anime series, the characters jump off the screen with (often way to much) emotion.
Story beats are often told through still manga frames, with other comic panels pulled in to show close-ups of character faces as they emote, heavily, through the dialogue. While extremely cheesy, it’s also very engaging, and I had no problem following along, or catching up with the various characters.
Subtitles are a must, as all dialogs are spoken in Japanese, and they’re easy to read in comic/manga like frames as well. It was a bit hard to follow when characters talk during battle, as there is just so much going on that trying to read at the same time was a bit difficult, but anything really important is told during a cut scene.
There was zero reason for One Piece to be turned into a Dynasty Warriors clone. While not inherently bad, time and time again I found myself just trying to push through levels just to get to the next story beat. Characters that could have (should have) been expanded upon were nothing but fodder (the CP9 shape-changers were awesome, with the Giraffe being a personal favorite), and some only show up once during the course of the story mode (I’m looking at you, Milhawk) only to be made into joke minions in the Additional Log.
Digging into the history of the series a bit more, there was apparently a very successful platformer that was released on the GBA in 2005, but I think the series could really use the JRPG treatment, ala Final Fantasy or Persona. With a character tapestry that is so vast and comical, it would be such a treat to sail the Grand Line, leveling up the Straw Hats to chase after Gol D. Roger’s mythical “One Piece” and decimating the World Government along the way.
Instead, we’re left with repetition. Square, triangle, square. Square, square, square, square, square. For some, this formula works, giving way to Dynasty Warriors’ umpteenth installment, but for me, this style sold the game incredibly short.’
For not being a fan of manga/anime in general, I really, really enjoyed One Piece’s fiction. The characters are a blast, the animation is top notch, and the world is just way too crazy to even begin to describe. So much yelling, so much drama, and we’re unfortunately left with a DW clone to try it’s best to house it all. It’s a shame that the developers thought this was the way to go, but more power to them for at least trying to get these characters out there.
Unless you are a diehard Dynasty Warriors fan, I can’t promise you intriguing gameplay, but there is a fun story locked behind all the repetitiveness. Maybe one day we’ll see the One Piece game that this story deserves. Until then, I think I might just search out some episodes of the anime and see how they stack up.