One Piece: Unlimited World Red is an action game, based on the long-running One Piece anime series, brought to North America by Bandai Namco Games. The One Piece anime is considered to be an epic at this point, considering its original release in 1999. The series is still ongoing with over 600 episodes, countless video games, and a plethora of merchandise under its belt. Unlimited World Red is a fun and polished game, but suggesting it to people that are not familiar with the series is a tough call. I picked up the game because it looked interesting enough, but had no prior exposure to the One Piece franchise outside of seeing the original cast of characters. Because of this, it is tough to know what’s going on. Following the story isn’t incredibly difficult however, and Unlimited World Red ends up being a fun, yet flawed, experience worth considering.
Japanese games oftentimes utilize an anime art style for their characters and environments. This style has evolved over time, and in recent years has gotten closer and closer to their source material. I generally don’t discuss graphics often unless they hinder or enhance the gameplay experience, but Unlimited World Red simply looks incredible. It’s one of the closest examples of a game that replicates the anime's art style almost perfectly. This is done with the use of 3D models which is even more impressive. The characters models, environments, and animations are all incredibly bright and vivid. There are times however, where the game cannot keep up with the action on screen. There are some frame rate stutters throughout the game, and one of the most disappointing aspects of the title is how stiff the character models appear during in-game story segments. Rather than the character models always displaying their animations and movements, most of Unlimited World Red’s story is told through 3D character models that show no movement when speaking. This gets bizarre considering the high levels of animation during cut scenes. The characters will stand there with their mouths gaping but not moving as their Japanese voice actors put a lot of emotion and effort into the lines. The questionable timing of the character animations isn’t anything game breaking of course, but it does make the player question the hardware power of the Vita.
One Piece: Unlimited World Red has action based combat with very light role-playing elements. Skills and upgrades are gained through the usage of words and phrases which are able to be equipped by the many playable characters. Outside of those lighter elements however, the structure and gameplay resembles the “hunting” genre. The combat system impresses early on with its beat-em-up style and flare, but quickly become repetitive as time goes on. The player is able to bring a party into battle, and sections of the map are sealed off once the larger battles commence. Boss battles are also pretty fun, and the game continuously throws zany new characters your way. Since One Piece: Unlimited World Red is pretty much my first experience with the series, I was constantly surprised at how unorthodox the characters were as I progressed. There was a boss battle with a seemingly average looking individual, and by the time the fight had started, the boss randomly transformed into a cheetah monster. In fact, the entire cast of characters is so incredibly unique and diverse that One Piece separates itself from pretty much any other game.
Completing quests can lead to the expansion of the town hub which acts as a base camp for the characters. The more the player expands, better items and upgrades become available. Luffy, the main character with aspirations of becoming a pirate king, acts as a friendly ambassador to the townsfolk. As the town becomes larger, Luffy’s stretching abilities become more useful as the player can press the triangle button to latch onto the buildings and slingshot across the town. This ability reminded me of the Batman: Arkham series' usage of the grappling hook. This cuts down time required running around town. Luffy’s stretching abilities also gives him unique fighting moves in combat.
One Piece: Unlimited World Red offers fun combat and impressive visuals, but struggles with keeping the story interesting without repetition. Fans of One Piece will find that Unlimited World Red does a pretty good job at staying true to the source material, but those unfamiliar with the story and characters will find it difficult to follow along. The combat is pretty fun early on, but it doesn’t evolve enough to keep things interesting.