As far as anime goes, One Piece is about as Japanese as they come. It boasts a large range of colourful characters from the bad-arse samurai, to the chunky cyborg, the cute plush mascot to the carefree boy hero. Even the boobs are there, unashamedly clad in a bikini through rain, hail or snow.
But beneath the colour and excitement of this zany, if not a little misguided, anime game lies something darker. As one navigates the PS2-era screens, complete with creating a “save slot” and asking permission for the use of “controller vibration” (ladies and gentleman, start your rumble packs), it’s hard not to feel like we’ve played this game before. Then the familiar territory maps come into play. Hordes of cloned baddies rear their ugly mugs and before we know it, our thumbs are thrust into a button mashing defence. Slowly, but steadily it becomes clear… this is Dynasty Warriors in cosplay. Whether it was Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage, Bleach: Soul Resurrection or even one of the many Dynasty Warrior titles themselves – One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 is simply another case of an old game in a new skin.
At its core, there is little to differentiate this game from the other DW clones. Combos are created by chaining together square and triangle, starting with basic attacks then unlocking more complex chains as characters levels up. There is no punishment for botching a chain however, which means mashing square and triangle proves just as effective as a well planned combo. Successful attacks power up an SP bar that, when full, allows characters to perform devastating super moves. These work as crowd movers, creating much needed breathing-room when things get a little claustrophobic.
All this is old news however, what One Piece:PW2 brings to the table is companionship: seen through the use of the style gauge and rescue requests. When activating the former, characters are sent into a frenzy, ploughing mercilessly through enemies with a fierce agenda. Defeating enough enemies summons a crew member, giving players control over a secondary character for a brief amount of time. It’s a clever addition, playing towards the One Piece theme of “strength through friendship” while breaking the monotony of facing a whole stage as a single character. Rescue Requests also play to this theme, where those with an internet connection can send out an SOS beacon which floats through the vast sea of gamers playing at that time, asking for aid with difficult levels. These work to create a seamless multiplayer experience, reducing wait times by cleverly attaching the function to both the “Main Episodes” and “Crew Episodes”.
The “Main Episodes” follow an original story known simply as “Dream Story”. These begin with a series of character interactions that set the scene for the stage to come, a process that looks more like a theatrical puppet show than a cut scene. Characters stand facing each other in front of a still background, lighting up and performing a single gesture when it’s their turn to talk. While the voice acting is exciting, the lifeless nature of these scenes are disappointing at best – especially considering the source material is an animated TV show (the keyword being ‘animated’).
The stages themselves work much like the rest of the game, being varied visually (snow level, factory level, beach level) but at their core are repetitive copies. Some layouts are even used multiple times over, only with a different theme tacked on. Each stage is made up of a series of square rooms linked together by thin hallways and large open spaces. If the square rooms are blue they belong to your army, but if they are red or yellow they belong to the enemy, requiring you to beat down a certain number of soulless baddies until a larger, soulless baddie appears – who upon defeat relinquishes the territory to you. This, in turn, strengthens your army by spawning a bunch of soulless goodies to aid your primary character. It’s a solid gameplay mechanic, but one that quickly becomes a stale grind – especially when you’re required to do this three or four times a level.
During an episode, players can collect coins dropped by powerful enemies and treasure chests. Coins work a bit like trading cards, having a certain amount of star power and representing something from the One Piece universe. They are used to strengthen a character’s life, defence and attack by inserting into slots under the three headings. As characters level up, they gain more slots which mean more coins can be attributed to each skill. Coins can power up by linking with something related. For example, a Luffy coin next to a Nami coin will power up because they are crew members, where as a Luffy coin next to a samurai sword won’t power up because they have no relation. With an abundance of combinations the system works as a good way to test fan base knowledge, and is a little more playful than simply loading points into each character stat.
At the end of the episode, you’re given a letter rating based on clear time, amount of kills and damage taken. On top of this, three special coins can be collected by fulfilling certain requirements. The first is given for reaching 1000 kills, the second for protecting all your crew members and the third for achieving an overall ‘S’ ranking for the level. The fact that this never changes throws the game into yet another cycle, every level seems to follow the same steps – get 1000 kills, open the gates, kill the boss, 1000 kills, open the gates, kill the boss, 1000 kills, open the… you get the idea. It’s mind numbingly addictive, especially for the trophy hunters who burn to perfect their games, but lacks a sense of achievement, as hours seem to disappear as you follow the same old grind.
The game features an original story which, while impressively incorporating as many One Piece characters as possible, adds to the games numbingly repetitive nature. Everyone you meet wants to fight you – but once beaten decides they’ll join you instead. The bonus of this is that they become a playable character, the downside is it unlocks another level in the “crew missions” where you have to beat them again if you wish to use them as a crew-mate. This is because, while they’ll fight for you, they won’t join your crew until they can properly “test your strength”…. apparently they’ve already forgotten the beating you only just dealt them. The story also gets lost a bit amongst the fray of battle, as Japanese is the only audio language available to English audiences. To combat this, text boxes appear with a characters face and the english translation at the bottom of the screen, which is great for purists, but can often be overlooked when your focusing on mashing baddies and capturing bases, leading important points to slip by unnoticed.
Despite all this, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2‘s real strength lies in its characters. The game perfectly capturing the zany fun of the popular series through the character design alone. Each character feels unique, utilising their special abilities in marvellous ways. Some characters punch and wrestle their way through crowds, others sling flames or ice, while one even soars above like a fiery phoenix. No two are the same, and considering there are a total of 27 playable characters, switching between fighters alone can keep the game feeling fresh, even despite its repetitive design. The movement, actions, attitudes and handling of each character is so well realised it’s the heart of what makes One Piece: PW2 so damn addictive – especially for two players. Half paying attention while the two of you slash and burn your way to victory amongst idle chatter is what this game was made for, using it for anything else would only melt minds over and over.
At the end of the day, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 does fans of the series a great service, but newcomers might not be so forgiving. While the “puppet show” cut scenes, capture the base gameplay and generic level design feel lazy, a solid foundation of characters gives the game an unquestionable charm. The letter grade system, combined with crew missions and rescue requests, will successful have players going back over old levels again and again questing for that silver S, constantly telling themselves “just one more level, then I’ll stop”. For One Piece Pirate Warriors 2 is addictive as hell, but its repetitive nature leaves much to be desired.
Strong Characters | Crew Attacks | Co-Op
Repetitive Gameplay | Level Design | Dull "puppet style" cut scenes