The One Piece franchise is one that has been putting out solid video game entries one after another. The earliest one I had played was 2007’s One Piece: Unlimited Adventure and since then I’d enjoyed nearly every release (except for Romance Dawn). The Pirate Warriors games in particular are some of my favorites. Fast forward a bit to when the first trailer of One Piece: Burning Blood is unveiled, and I thought it looked pretty great. It may have been a fighting game, which isn’t exactly a genre I gravitate towards, but it did feature characters from some of the newer story arcs engaging in some flashy melee combat. Sadly, as is usually the case, looks can be deceiving and the end result turned out to be one of disappointment and frustration.
Things begin innocently enough. You have one mode to start with, Paramount War, that is both the primary story mode to the game and a tutorial of sorts. You’re treated to cutscenes and still frames from the anime to give you the run down on what’s happening and then you’re tossed into battle as the game tries to teach you the mechanics. And I have to give them props, the tutorial does a better job than most fighting games of easing you into the experience. It may not be as complex as an Arc System Works game, but the effort is appreciated all the same.
I didn’t do a ton of research into Burning Blood before deciding to review it, since the One Piece pedigree had been so good to me thus far. If I had, I wouldn’t have been so shocked to discover that the story mode only covers one major arc, and that’s it. I suppose that’s why the mode is called Paramount War, as it deals exclusively with the Marineford battle right before the two year time skip in the series. So the good news is, if you’re not entirely caught up with the series, you won’t have a ton spoiled for you. But if you are, you’ll be incredibly disappointed since Luffy duking it out with Doflamingo is featured prominently on the cover and that fight isn’t even covered by the story.
It’s a shame too, because the way the material is delivered is incredibly engaging, especially for fans wanting to experience some of the major battles themselves. But after clearing Luffy’s arc, you’ll find yourself witnessing a lot of the same scenes, but only from Whitebeard’s point of view. Then Akainu’s. Then Ace’s. I don’t think I’ve seen filler episodes that have recycled content as brazenly as this game has. But even that is not the worst sin committed by this game.
Before I get to that though, let’s talk about how it controls. Each of One Piece: Burning Blood‘s characters share the same basic scheme. You get a regular attack, a unique attack, a block and jump buttons. Holding down the left shoulder button, changes the face buttons into special attacks, whereas the right shoulder releases an ability depending on who you’re playing as (for example, playing as Ace kicks in his “flame on” so to speak). Your ability release can help with escaping attacks too, unless you’re up against an enemy whose own techniques innately dwarf your own. Its use is also reliant on the meter that constantly recharges near your health bar. There’s another gauge that fills up slowly on the bottom left that will allow your character to “awaken” if you tilt the right analog stick. Tilting it again will unleash their ultimate attack, which is both incredibly flashy and devastating. You can adjust the camera using the touchscreen, and you may find that you’ll need to depending on your character since the default is awkward and the larger folks like Whitebeard can often obstruct the view of the action.
In many of the modes, you’ll be asked to put together a team, often consisting of more than one character. You can have up to three depending on the value the game places on their abilities as well as up to three support characters. Tagging in backup characters is as easy is hitting a button on either side of the touchscreen and depending on when you do so, you can land a free hit or even prevent the other team from landing one on you. Support characters offer numerous benefits, such as halving the health of both characters or strengthening attack under certain circumstances, and often these effects are automatic. For the ones that aren’t, they are mapped to the directional pad. Nearly every button is used in some way and although having some functions assigned to the touchscreen is less than ideal, they did the best they could do with the options they had.
That being said, combat feels very slow compared to other anime fighters based on Naruto and Dragon Ball Z. In addition, the balance of the characters seems much more substantially off, even for a game with such a large roster. This is problematic for a game with an online component. Especially when characters like Blackbeard have unblockable moves and can lock down characters preventing them from using their abilities.
Which brings me full circle to what I was alluding to when I was discussing the story mode. It’s bad enough that I have to repeat the same battles over and over with the same handful of characters. But some of them are so one-sided and difficult, you will want to chuck your Vita out the window before you see it through in the first place. Some fights seem fine, but others are so stacked against you that one has to wonder if it’s even possible to win. It’s not uncommon to have half of your health wiped out by one attack, whereas doing an entire combo to the CPU will carve out maybe ten percent if you’re lucky. And there are no difficulty selections to compensate. Your characters do level up via experience, but I hardly noticed an improvement from one level to the next.
Fortunately, even though much of the roster is unlockable via the story mode, you can opt to spend your beli instead in order to gain them. There are other modes available too once you’ve fought some battles in the story. Free Battle will let you set your own ground rules and duke it out with any of your unlocked characters and supports. You can also go online and face down other players from around the world. Pirate Flag Battle ties into the online portion somewhat, but instead of fighting online, you’re asked to join a pirate crew and try to vie for control over the world’s territories. By winning fights in certain areas, you contribute to the takeover of that region. Finally, there’s Wanted Versus, which is a sort of challenge mode where you take on bounties for money.
At least the presentation is impressive. One Piece: Burning Blood manages to capture the manga aesthetic quite successfully, and many of the attacks are quite flashy in execution. I also enjoyed after finishing off foes with certain attacks how they would get launched into some background landmark. Some of the attacks get pretty lengthy at times, especially when you’ve seen them multiple times, but fortunately you can turn those off. Also, and I’m probably in the minority here, but I still think it’s a shame that even after several successful releases, Namco is not utilizing the English voice actors. I enjoy FUNimation’s work, not to mention I have grown accustomed to it in their DVD releases, though at least the Japanese audio is here and it’s pretty damn good.
I really wanted to like this game. But one issue led to another and eventually I ended up with an avalanche of annoyances that I just can’t overlook. Combat is unsatisfying, many of the main story battles are one-sided and unfair, not to mention the character roster is more unbalanced than what is reasonable. And I especially can’t overlook the fact that the Luffy and Doflamingo fight prominently displayed on the cover of the game never happens during the main story mode (unless there’s an unlockable fight I missed out on, but I somehow doubt it). If you’re desperate for a new One Piece game and don’t mind replaying the scenes from the Marineford battle until your eyes bleed, it may be worthwhile to pick up on the cheap. Otherwise, you’re better served by some of the older games that have come out over the last few years.
Short Attention Span Summary
One Piece: Burning Blood seems to have something of an identity crisis. It tries to be a serious fighter, but has nowhere near the deep mechanics or the balance to pull off such a thing. Yet, it doesn’t succeed as being a casual anime game for fans, as the story mode regurgitates the same Marineford battles on top of stacking the deck against the player. The presentation and character roster is nice, but without a solid structure to build those things upon, it’s a moot point. Fans would be better served by one of the several One Piece games that have released over the past few years.