Unlike some of its Shonen Jump counterparts that seem to have almost yearly releases in their respective fighting game franchises, it’s been eleven years since the last console fighting game focused on One Piece was released. This is probably why One Piece: Burning Blood has been so highly anticipated by Straw-hats around the world. Does it live up to their grand expectations? Or is it as disappointing as an empty treasure chest?
Unsurprisingly Burning Blood is your standard Bandai-Namco 3D fighting game based on an anime franchise. It implements the standard 3D arena fighting system, with a fairly simplified combo system and a focus on the ability to swap between up to three fighters. This is a double edged sword as it does allow fans of the franchise, who perhaps aren’t big fighting game aficionados, to easily jump in and have a great time, but lacks the depth more dedicated players need to drive them to continue playing and honing their skills.
Ultimately the fighting system is not overly deep, but the real fun comes from how unique each character feels. The game features over forty characters from the franchise’s history – right up until the story arc currently airing in the anime and does a fantastic job of highlighting their unique fighting styles, characteristics and abilities. Luffy unleashes flurries of elastic punches and kicks at his enemies, Brooke’s jumps are extremely floaty due to how light he is and Ace is able to turn his body into fire to block & dodge attacks. It really makes messing around with each character a lot of fun and is the major draw card for fans to pick this title up. It is also worth noting that if you were unlucky and your favourite character didn’t make the cut for the roster they will almost definitely be included as one of the many support characters. However, they will only grant you a boon or ability, as opposed to joining in the actual battle, which is a tad disappointing.
At the beginning of the game you are restricted to the campaign mode, which sees you taking on a re-creation of one of the series most popular story-arcs, The Paramount War. Unfortunately, the campaign does not do justice to the source material, ultimately killing the sense of drama and tension present throughout the manga/anime, with horrible pacing and fights that just don’t carry the same gravitas. The best part about the campaign is probably the ability to play through it up to four times as integral characters, as well as participate in a number of optional side-battles, allowing fans to experience this iconic moment in the One Piece story from multiple angles. I also appreciated how the game didn’t fall for the trap that is common in fighting games, especially ones based on pre-existing stories, where they force the player to win every battle. Instead, One Piece: Burning Blood opts to make players survive for as amount of time instead for fights they are intended to either lose or escape from as part of the narrative.
The game forces you to understand each move by blocking your progression if you can’t successfully perform it. Once you can perform the move, the game will throw you into a situation where you must use it or you will have a hard time progressing. While this implementation ensures you are able to play the game effectively, the length of time required takes away from the overall experience.
Along with the standard versus modes, Burning Blood also offers up a couple of other modes that give you some interesting ways to play. Firstly, there is “Wanted Vs” mode, where you will go on missions to fight various hypothetical combinations of characters. This is a simple, but fun way to practice and preview characters you have yet to unlock. If you want to mix up your online experience there is the “Pirate Flag Battle” mode, where you join a pirate crew and then go online and challenge players from rival crews in order to take over islands. It’s an exciting way to increase the stakes on fights and has great potential, if the community embraces it.
While normally I am a supporter of unlock systems in fighting games, the way Burning Blood handles it is simply frustrating. For starters, all modes outside of the campaign are locked until playing up to certain points within the story. This means those who just want to pick up the game and immediately jump in and fight a friend, either on or offline, can’t. Even after unlocking the multiplayer mode you are restricted to about a third of the games cast, with the rest of the characters needing to be unlocked primarily through earning a virtual currency and purchasing them.
Graphically, the game is hit and miss. Characters are fairly well animated both in game and during cutscenes, but the arenas are fairly simplistic and ultimately unexciting. The music is also largely forgettable, not really drawing upon the anime’s score, which is a shame. Fortunately, the game keeps its original Japanese voice cast, who reprise their roles faithfully for any new dialogue they recorded.
One Piece: Burning Blood feels like a game where the developers settled for “good enough”, which is a shame as the One Piece franchise has immense potential for a really great fighting game. With a bit more time and care put into the graphics, campaign and music, the game could have potentially been amazing. Fans of the franchise will still have a good time, trying out all the characters and making interesting match ups, but the lack of depth in fighting mechanics is likely to leave most players wanting more.
Characters are fun and unique to play
Good selection of interesting modes to play
Shallow fighting game mechanics
Frustrating unlock system