To say One Piece has a large and colorful cast would be a gross understatement; it’s a show that seems determined to one up itself in terms of craziness at every opportunity. How it’s taken this long for the anime powerhouse to get a fighting game releases stateside is a complete mystery. We’ve gotten plenty of brawlers and Dynasty Warriors clones. Now it’s time to see how the Straw Hat Pirates make the jump to the arena.
At the start, the only mode unlocked is Paramount War. This is a story mode that covers exactly one arc of the entire One Piece universe: the battle at Marineford. This is both an interesting and very strange choice. On one hand, the arc is popular and chock full of action; on the other hand, it requires a damn near encyclopedic knowledge of the show to keep up. It also doesn’t include Luffy’s crew. It’s a good thing the game’s roster isn’t limited to this arc, otherwise there might be riots about the exclusion of characters like Zoro and Nami.
Anyway, the mode goes through the typical cliff notes version of the story, and you get to see the tale through the eyes of four different characters. That might seem interesting, but what it really means is a lot of repeated battles and cut scenes. Each of the four points of view is dragged out over too many battles, and it gets redundant quickly. Even worse, the mode is horribly unbalanced. Expect to be put into fights where you’ll have half of your life taken out in one shot, while landing a massive combo barely chips away at your opponent. It is frustrating. The fact that the mode itself is lackluster and covers such a small portion of the overall story doesn’t help matters.
Beyond the story, you have a few options for local or online play. First up is the typical exhibition mode, which involves custom made teams of three going up against each other for the heck of it. There’s also a “Wanted” mode that offers specific challenges, and the reward is extra cash to be used to unlock more characters. For online play, there’s the standard ranked and player matches, and your mileage in this mode will vary based on your interest. There’s also a mode that takes inspiration from last year’s Mortal Kombat X, where you’ll join a faction and attempt to win battles in your faction’s honor. You start on a map that you can move about by spending energy, though said energy regenerates over time. Different locations on the map may task you with going against an AI or another human opponent, and winning earns you points toward taking that location. At the end of the season, players are awarded bonus money depending on how their faction did. It’s not a great mode, but it might give you reason to come back.
Presentation has long been the strong point of One Piece games, and Burning Blood is no exception. Each character model and environment is remarkably faithful to the show. It still has that creepy sort of elastic look to it, but it works. The real standout are all the special effects based off of each character’s unique powers. Each battle is an impressive light show full of color and detail. The camera is more than willing to zoom in to let you see an opponent’s facial expression when you land a particularly powerful shot. That doesn’t work out so well for gameplay, but it certainly looks amazing. As for the audio, you have the Japanese track only. They do the typical bang up job, and Luffy is as excitable as you could want. It gets a bit repetitive in some matches, but that’s less likely to happen if people aren’t spamming the same handful of attacks. The music is generic but appropriate rock tracks similar to what you’d find in the rest of the franchise. It’s not a perfect presentation by any means. Some animations are a bit wacky and nothing stands out as top of the line. However, the complaints are minor.
On the surface, the combat system shares a lot in common with other anime fighters. You’ve got a light attack, a heavy attack, a modifier button that allows for special moves, a gauge that fills up as you take damage, and other similarities. Where Burning Blood starts to separate itself is in how each fight is paced. Attacks are pretty slow for one. They’re also likely to send an opponent flying across to the other side of the map. This means you spend a large portion of each match simply chasing your opponent. It’s awkward to say the least. Every character controls the same, but what each button combination does is mildly different. For example, Akainu’s circle special allows him to burrow underground before rising up at your command. For someone like Buggy, however, that button combination sends him rushing forward in an attempt to grab his opponent. Each character has a different move set, which is certainly nice.
Combat essentially boils down to mastering the basics. You can guard, which will block some attacks. If you move while guarding, you can dodge to a degree. If your opponent is utilizing these defensive techniques, you need to know how to guard them. Holding down two buttons allows you to perform a guard break, for example. There’s also a special meter than each character has. Depending on the character, that special meter will either allow them to become temporarily invulnerable or add on some extra effect. There’s kind of a rock, paper, scissors aspect here. You’ll have to build your team carefully.
Speaking of teams, you can have up to three different members of your team, as well as up to three support characters. You can swap between team members on the fly, as well as use your special meter to perform chain attacks or save you from an enemy combo. It works fairly similarly to something like Marvel vs Capcom, except not nearly as fun. Support characters can’t be played, but can instead be set to offer you benefits during battle. Some give you passive boosts, while others need to be activated. They can do things from boosting damage under certain circumstances to straight up healing team members. Getting the most out of the system will require experimentation.
It could have been a decent fighting game, but the two things work against it. First of all, there’s that slow pace I mentioned. While the moves are flashy, they also tend to knock enemies back. This makes it hard to start impressive combos or press an advantage. It also means so much of the battle is simply holding down the analog stick. Secondly, the game is incredibly unbalanced. I get that not every fighting game is meant to be tournament ready, but this one goes the extra mile. Certain attacks not only do extra damage, but are harder or downright impossible to avoid. Mihawk, for example, has an incredibly multi-hit combo he can launch at will from across the map. This allows him to knock you back and continue laying on the pressure without fear of reprisal. While you can eventually learn how to get around this, he’s but one of the characters with such an advantage.
The game is also lacking in useful content. The story mode might last few hours, but it isn’t fun at all. It also avoids the typical three on three combat that every other mode uses. The other modes will only last you as long as you can stand the combat. There is an in-game store where you can unlock new characters and supports, but chances are you’ll have picked up your favorites before long anyway. This should not be a full-priced game.
Short Attention Span Summary
One Piece: Burning Blood does the obvious thing. It creates a fighting game based off an anime with a ton of super powered characters. However, this time it doesn’t work. The fighting engine is lacking, the characters are simply not balanced, and there’s a general lack of meaningful content. It looks pretty though. Ultimately, this game may be worth it for hardcore One Piece fans who were waiting for this type of game. Casual fans, and fans of fighting games in general, will probably want to pass on this.