Inside Pulse 12

Review: One Piece: Pirate Warriors (Sony PlayStation 3)

One Piece: Pirate Warriors
Publisher: Namco-Bandai
Developer: Omega Force
Genre: Action
Release Date: 09/25/2012

For many people, the combination of One Piece and Dynasty Warriors is a dream come true. Sadly, the game didn’t seem likely to come over here. However, it turns out that Namco-Bandai is not immune to the plights of fans. Pirate Warriors has indeed made it stateside. However, there are a few things you should know before jumping out to buy it. Firstly, there is no dub. There is only the original Japanese voices. That might not be a problem for some, but the next thing might. The game is only available on PSN. There is no retail copy currently available, and chances are there won’t ever be.

Even still, the game is out and there is clearly and audience for it. This is Luffy and company’s first foray onto the PS3, and expectations are through the roof. Can the game possibly live up to them?

Story/Modes

Pirate Warriors tells the tale of Monkey D. Luffy, captain of the Straw Hat Pirates. This particular game covers the story up until the crew takes a two year break. In fact, the story is the crew getting back together after said hiatus and reminiscing about their past adventures.

The world of One Piece is one where it has become a new golden age of pirates. The race is on to find the legendary One Piece treasure and become the new Pirate King. Luffy initially starts out with nothing to call his own but the title of captain. Throughout the course of the game, he’ll pick up new crew members, ships, powers, and abilities.

The plot doesn’t cover everything in the series by any stretch. While it gives a brief synopsis, that might not be enough for a newcomer to understand everything. For example, the characters of Usopp and Brook are not properly introduced. The game even makes a joke about how they’re skipping Brook’s introduction. Still, it covers enough to be decent, and there is plenty of character bios and logs to read to help newcomers at least get an idea of what’s going on. The story is full of humor, action, and occasionally high drama. It was interesting enough to play through.

The main story, or “Main Log” is pretty much all from Luffy’s perspective. There are moments when you’ll temporarily take control of another character for a boss fight or special moment, but Luffy is the star. However, each of the other playable characters gets a bonus story mode to play through in “Another Log”. The characters that are playable are Zoro, Nami, Sanji, Usopp, Chopper, Robin, Brook, Franky, Ace, Hancock, Jinbe, and Whitebeard. Counting Luffy, that’s twelve of them together. The mode allows each of them to play through the major battles that they were actually a part of in the story mode. As such, characters like Zoro have many more chapters to go through than someone like Ace. However, there isn’t any special plot or story to these modes. It just gives you a group of generic maps to play through. Still, it’s nice that they at least had one mode to play around with.

Any of the levels from Another Log can be played online with a second person. Players around the world can hook up (my last session was with a guy from Germany) to tackle missions and try to earn coins, the game’s form of equipment. Getting into a match can be tough, as sessions fill up fast due to the fact that there are only two slots, one of which goes to the one who created it. There is an online leaderboard as well, though the ranking points you can earn is capped. There are already a large number of people who have maxed out. It’s kind of disappointing that you can’t play with more than one person, especially with twelve characters to choose from.

Finally, there’s a challenge mode to play around with. This mode is the ultimate test of skills, as you face a series of tough objectives such as taking on multiple boss characters at the same time, fighting large groups of tough enemies, and getting little restorative items. You can keep your experience if and when you fail, which is nice. It gives veteran players something to do once the other modes have been played to death.

Overall, the story mode is the star, and it does a decent job. The other modes are nice to have, but are a letdown, except for perhaps the challenge mode. There’s no variety outside of the main mode, except in the character you choose. The tiny differences in the levels leave much to be desired. However, the game still gets positive points in this department.

Graphics

Turning a two-dimensional anime into a 3D video game is a tough proposition. The mark to beat has been set by CyberConnect2 with the Naruto Storm series. Pirate Warriors simply can’t reach that benchmark.

Let’s not downgrade what Omega Force has accomplished here though. The characters are full of life and feature some downright killer animations. The art style has mostly been faithfully replicated. If there were any caveats I had, it’s that the sex appeal of the female characters has clearly been bumped up a notch. Necklines have sunk lower, cloths have gotten tighter, and proportions even more exaggerated. It reeks of fanservice.

The use of color is what keeps the game fresh looking throughout. Really, the technical side of things is pretty impressive. Areas of the game largely consist of empty areas with four walls connected by tunnels. Still, the bright use of color and the strong art style keep things from looking boring.

The main campaign is where the visuals truly shine. There are a number of set pieces to gawk at, such as a harbor where a ship has been cut to pieces. Luffy swings around the wreckage in a truly breathtaking segment. Also, dramatic quick time events not unlike those in the Naruto games lend some cinematic flair to the boss fights. It simply looks fantastic, and the other modes pale in comparison.

Overall, we’ve got positive marks again. While the game isn’t nearly as impressive as comparable titles, the art style and animations go a long way into keeping it fun to look at.

Audio

The Japanese voice acting is right in line with the series, featuring the same cast and pretty decent performances that actually convey emotion. Things can get a bit repetitive during battle though. Characters spout of the names of the moves they’re performing every time. Since you’ll likely be performing said moves dozens if not hundreds of times per battle, you’ll get bored of them quite easily. Also, since the voices are in Japanese, you won’t know what’s being said during story battles unless you read the subtitles. That can be distracting during a tough fight.

While none of the music from the anime shows up, the tunes that are present are quite enjoyable. There’s a nice mix of upbeat tracks to fight to, from jazz to hard rock. It can be a bit generic at times, but still quite enjoyable. I’d call is superior background music. Towards the end of my run through, I ended up essentially muting the voices and sound effects so I could hear more of it.

The effects are in line with the show, and fit the crazy goings on quite well. Again though, you’ll hear them a lot through the course of a single battle, and an unspeakable amount throughout the entire playtime. They get old eventually, even if they’re initially quite enjoyable.

Gameplay

If you’ve ever played a Dynasty Warriors game before, you know just what to expect from Pirate Warriors. Battles take place on a map divided into several sections. One or two are controlled by allies at the start, while the rest are controlled by enemies. Said enemies are hundreds of identical weakling that attack you in huge groups. There is some variation, but not enough to keep you interested.

Where the game does get a bit interesting is in the missions. Each level has several missions that you must complete in order to succeed. You can fail some, but too much failure will result in a loss. The missions can be to take out singular targets, capture a specific territory, prevent an enemy from reaching a specific point on the map, or simply taking out a boss. Each battle presents itself with one or more mini-bosses as well. It should be noted, however, that each of these objectives essentially boils down to beating down some baddies.

Combat is straightforward and easy to master. You have two main attacks buttons. Square is for attacks against a single target, while triangle provides a sweeping attack. These can be strung together in a variety of combos. You also have a special meter that builds up as you deal damage. When the meter is filled, you can use a super attack. Anything in range is going to take serious damage. Each character gets at least two different supers that can be used. The basic one takes one full meter, while the more advanced super takes at least two. Luffy is special in that he gets even more meters and special moves. Each character also has a couple of specific special moves controlled by the right shoulder buttons. These can’t be used in combos, but often add an effect that helps in battle. For example, Chopper can target enemies to lower their defense.

There are several problems with this setup. Firstly, the camera and controls are not designed to fight a single target. Thus, boss fights become a chore because you can’t keep the boss in view. There IS a lock on feature, but it doesn’t work well enough to ease the problem an appreciable amount. Also, you can only dodge. You can’t block. The dodge is highly ineffective against boss characters that have a lot of speed and/or area of effect attacks. Repetition is the biggest problem however. In any given battle, you’ll defeat hundreds of enemies. Almost all of these will be mindless grunts that stand around and wait for you to hit them. You’ll end up spamming the same combos to clear them out, which can get downright boring.

The main story tries to avoid this repetition with a much more varied campaign. Thanks to Luffy’s stretching/rubber-like powers, a number of mechanics are introduced to keep things fresh. For starters, there is a great deal of platforming in the game. Luffy can stretch out his arms to grab grapple points and get to new areas. There are a number of levels where this is the majority of the action. Often, there is a bit of puzzle solving as well, where you need to create a path to the next objective. It’s nothing spectacular really. Most of it relies on tired context sensitive actions and quick time events. However, the change of pace is welcome compared to the drawn out battles that dominate the game. The boss fights are also better, as they often have a trick required to beat them. For example, the boss fight against Magellan has you using ranged tactics to avoid his venom attacks, as well as using grapple points to get in close for the kill. There are even special levels, such as one where Luffy has to carry Nami on his back while trying to reach the top of a mountain. You’ll need to keep her warm by getting her near fire, while occasionally putting her down somewhere safe until you can clear out enemies/find the correct path. None of these elements are in the extra modes, and it is sorely missed.

What we have here is a playable game with some tried and true mechanics. However, repetition rears its ugly head early and often. The combat does not evolve to any degree except that you unlock new combos. The main campaign tries to correct these issues, but the extra modes don’t. Variety is the spice of life, and this game desperately needs some.

Replayability

Getting through all of the content the first time won’t take long at all. You’re looking at around ten to fifteen hours for the story and extra logs. A lot of that is padding, since battles are so repetitive that you’ll be performing the same actions several times per battle. From what I gather, that amount of play time is short compared to other Omega Force games. Some additional playable characters would have helped add some time, and there are a host of interesting ones they could have used. I’d have really liked to play as some of the villains, particularly Buggy the Clown.

From there, you can replay the modes to level up the characters and get coins. Coins are like equipment that raise one of three stats. If you get three specific coins together, they form a skill and offer some unique bonus during gameplay. In addition, there are several trophies that depend on collecting the coins. Therefore, there can be some replay value in trying to get all of the coins. These are awarded during battle, and you can get bonus coins by earning a high rank for a level.

If you really try, you can probably get around twenty hours out of the game before you’ve seen and done everything there is to see and do. That’s decent enough I suppose, but not particularly great by any means.

Balance

This game is pretty darn easy for the most part. Most of the damage you’ll take is because of the camera issues during boss fights. Regular enemies simply can’t stand up to you. Bosses are pretty simple as well once you have the tricks down. Still, it can get tough if you’re under leveled. If you do start to lose, the game will ask you if you want to switch to easy mode. It also lets you skip some of the context sensitive stuff if you suck at it. The game wants you to be able to push through, and will accommodate even the weakest player.

One aspect severely lacking balance is the playable characters. There are clear tiers in terms of ability. Characters like Zoro, Ace, and Whitebeard are powerhouses that dominate the field. Nami is weak, while Chopper is practically useless. As such, you’ll likely stick to the same few characters for whenever you play. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen someone play as Nami, Chopper, or Usopp online.

Originality

I like that they tried to mix things up for the story mode. The inclusion of light puzzle solving and platforming elements is a nice change of pace from similar games. Even if it doesn’t work all of the time, it still breathes fresh air into the experience. It is much easier to play for long sessions when the repetition is broken up on occasion.

Beyond that, this is a highly derivative game. If you’ve played Dynasty Warriors before, you’ll be able to breeze through this without a hitch because you already know exactly what to do. However, the day we go looking toward licensed games for originality is the day I check myself into a mental institution.

Addictiveness

The main story is very good about getting you to keep playing. Between the sincere attempts to mix up the gameplay, there is a good reward system at play. Luffy earns new moves almost once per chapter. New coins and playable characters are also constantly being unlocked. The sense of progression is very nice.

After that campaign is over, however, the game is almost a chore to play. The extra logs quickly become tedious, especially after you’ve cleared the same stage a dozen times. The only changes to the stages is where certain events happen. Beyond that, you can always expect to fight the same guys and partake in the same missions. I had to push myself to play through them all, and my brain was essentially turned off for a lot of it.

Appeal Factor

If you’re a fan of both One Piece and Dynasty Warriors, this game if like a dream come true for you. The license simply makes sense for this kind of game. It never feels out of place. After all, rival pirates have large crews to take out, the marines have vast scores of troops to dispatch, and each of the main characters is supposed to be special in some way that it makes sense for them to be able to win against such large numbers.

If you’re a fan of one but not the other, this game is a harder sell. It’s not as involved as Dynasty Warriors fans would like, and there aren’t enough playable characters to keep diehard One Piece fans happy. It’s still worth checking out, but don’t get your hopes up.

If you’re a fan of neither, than this game simply is not for you. Even though the game attempts to mix things up a bit, it eventually falls into that repetitive grind fest that turns people off of Dynasty Warriors games. The license is front and center, so people who don’t appreciate One Piece are not going to be able to get past it for the gameplay’s sake.

The game might be a tough sell as it is. Though it’s download only, the game still costs fifty dollars. For a retail copy, I’d pay no more than forty as it is. I’d expect a better discount for the lack of case/manual. The price will more than likely drop eventually. The game also takes up eleven gigabytes of hard drive space. If you don’t have a particularly large HD, this is going to eat up a lot of real estate. These are just a couple of things to consider before making a purchase.

Miscellaneous

In the end, I’m very glad I played this game. I’m not someone who’s spent a lot of time with the genre, so I was able to avoid a lot of the fatigue that comes with it. I also began an appreciation of One Piece in general, similar to how a PSP Naruto game got me into that series. Frankly, there needed to be a One Piece game on the PS3. If digital download was the only way this could happen, then so be it.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Decent
Graphics: Enjoyable
Audio: Good
Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Decent
Miscellaneous: Above Average
Final Score: Decent Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

One Piece: Pirate Warriors isn’t going to appeal to everyone. However, fans of the anime and/or genre will get a kick out of the combination. The presentation is quite good, and the gameplay is functional. It could definitely have used more variety and more characters, but what’s here is serviceable at least. The game is certainly not as good as it could have been, but it at least offers a satisfactory experience for those interested.

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