Do you love the wacky adventures of Straw Hat Pirates Monkey D. Luffy? Do you enjoy pummeling wave after wave of mindless enemy soldiers in Dynasty Warriors? Namco Bandai and Tecmo Koei have teamed up to combine the two and give you a beautiful anime beat-em-up with this PSN release. Though it’s an extremely popular series, One Piece games are somewhat rare in every territory but Japan, so it’s nice to see an adaptation show up with such excellent production values and graphical polish. It’s a shame that the excellent source material and beautiful paint job can’t save the game from being a Dynasty Warriors derivation with very little change or fresh ideas, but there’s still plenty of fun content for you to enjoy.
The story follows that of the popular manga and anime. Luffy, founder and leader of the Straw Hat Pirates, serves as our protagonist. His unique ability to stretch his limbs to ridiculous proportions was given to him after he ate a demon "Gum-Gum Fruit". His dream to find the legendary "One Piece" treasure, left by the world’s greatest pirate, is the motivation that sets the story in motion. This is also the goal of many of the villains in the series. "Main Log" is the game’s main story mode, where Luffy is your frequent main character (playable pals pick up the slack during certain boss fights). If you’re a fan of the manga, you’ll know what it means to say this mode starts just before Luffy meets Nami and progresses from there. It isn’t the longest campaign, but manages to cover just about every important event in the saga. After playing the first chapter of Main Log, players are allowed to select "Another Log", which allows you to choose from characters that have been unlocked and play through other minor story episodes. Though I’m new to the series, I enjoyed the chapters, and I imagine a player already into the lore would absolutely love it.
The visuals in Pirate Warriors are absolutely astounding, and as a PlayStation 3-exclusive title, this is one to brag about. From the view of the sea and sky, to the perfect recreation of every character, textures are smooth and detailed, while colors positively pop off the screen. The game has excellent cutscenes that tell the story of One Piece, often accompanied by quick-time-events that allow you to play out some of the actions in them. If you’re opposed to that idea, don’t fret; they don’t happen too often, and they’re usually only used to finish off a boss in dramatic fashion. After exposition scenes, the game usually cuts to a manga-like perspective and has head shots of characters appear while they converse. All of these are still beautifully done, and that visual flair also extends to the environments. Battle stages are very interesting and stylish, but as beautiful as the world is, it’d be nice to see more exploration or something of the sort – battling and small bouts of platforming are the most you’ll do in these gorgeous settings.
On par with visuals is the voice acting, which is excellent. Emotion is conveyed well, and comedic lines are delivered with great timing. However, if you’re not a fan of subtitles, beware – there is no English voice option to be found. The battle music is jazzy and extremely catchy, though you can still find some Dynasty Warriors-esque cheesy guitar riffs. It sets the tone for the over-the-top, hilarious battles you’ll find yourself in. On the flip side, the menu music sounds both epic and calm, and perfectly fits the setting of sailing on the ocean in search of the ultimate treasure. The sound effects in battle are also commendable, and seem as though they’ve been pulled directly from the anime.
Unfortunately, gameplay is not similarly impressive, and borrows too much from Dynasty Warriors to be comfortable. All of the creative attacks (including Luffy’s basic stretch punches and roundhouse kicks) are smoothly animated and fun to use, but after you’ve slayed 300 mindless opponents with the same 5 or so combinations, those combinations lose their charm. Bosses seem to be the only foes with any sort of decent AI. It’s worth saying that the action is enjoyable, and taking out waves of enemies with your elastic limbs feels great when you round up 50 or so and let loose with your special attack. It’s just that there is little-to-no change in the action, and repetition quickly sets in. Combos are performed by a mixture of Square and Triangle button-mashing, but the combos don’t vary much in style or effect, and only a small number can be executed. The decision to remove jumping in favor of dashing is also frustrating, as it hinders your mobility when surrounded by forty-odd enemies.
The inability to block, along with small platforming segments shoehorned in to break from the endless killing, make dashing an unfortunate necessity. Since many battles take place at port towns or on the sea, the areas you need to traverse are often separated by water. The solution to this wet divide is to give Luffy "Unique Actions". These are performed with R1 and R2, the former of which deals contextual attacks and counters to enemies. The latter sends the camera behind Luffy’s back for an over-the-shoulder perspective used to target points that Luffy can use his rubber limbs to slingshot himself towards. Sadly, this adds nothing to the game, as it’s only used to change which part of the map you’re in so you can battle another horde. This breaks the action, changes your point of view, and forces you to clumsily aim for a set object that you must be a certain distance from to target.
At the end of a story episode, you receive experience based on how many enemies you killed, how quickly you responded to quick-time-events, and how much damage you took. Based on these factors, you’re also given a rank, and you may be rewarded with coins. The experience raises your level, which increases your health, attack, defense, and your special attack, allowing you to destroy waves of enemies even more effectively. Coins act as equipment, baring the face of a One Piece character, icon, or item. Equipping these will raise certain stats or boost the power of a combo. There’s also a system in place that grants special effects if certain coins are equipped alongside compatible partners.
If you grow tired of Main Log and Alternate Log’s side-story missions, there’s Online Mode, Challenge Mode, and a gallery. Online Mode allows you to battle through episodes with a friend to gain experience and coins. This can help ease the repetition of single-player gameplay, as you compete with an ally for kills and spoils and help each other out of tight spots. Meanwhile, Challenge Mode is unlocked after Main Log is complete, and only grants victory if you clear episodes while also fulfilling the criteria of new trials. Gallery allows you to view all the content that you’ve unlocked, including character bios, a glossary with important terms from the story, cutscenes, music, and the coins you’ve obtained. The gallery’s bio and glossary sections are essential for newcomers who want to delve into the game’s story without missing a beat, and many of the cinematics are definitely worth a second view.
All things considered, One Piece: Pirate Warriors is far from a bad game. The voice acting and music are great, the graphics and presentation are superb, the source material is interesting and hilarious, and there’s an addictive leveling and item-collection system in place as a reward for battle. Though tedious and uninspired, battles can still be fun, and it’s obvious that a lot of work and polish has gone into making this game worthy of the One Piece empire. It’s just unfortunate that Unique Actions are clumsily executed and the only significant changes made to the Dynasty Warriors formula. Repetitive action and less-than-stellar attempts to be different are the only problems that mar this otherwise commendable title.