Game: One Piece: Pirate Warriors
Developer: Tecmo Koei/Omega Force
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Available on: PlayStation 3 only
Unless you are unlucky enough to live, or regularly sail in close proximity to, Somalia, chances are you love pirates. Whether you are talking Treasure Island, Pirates of the Caribbean, or Captain Pugwash and his crew, everyone loves a bit of fruity clobber and doubloon-getting piratical tomfoolery. There have been some good video games featuring the oft-lovable scourge of the high seas, too. Sid Meier played upon the hidden desire to keep a parrot on one’s shoulder within us all when he dropped his cracking 1987 missive Pirates!. Skies of Arcadia was a thrilling Dreamcast role player with strong pirate tendencies and, of course, there is the classic point and click Monkey Island series, which features a goddamn ghost pirate; the variety of nautical swashbuckler most likely to terrify nu metal nasties KoRn.
Another highly popular pirate-themed concern is the long-running One Piece manga, which, like many of the household manga names in Japan, began its life between the pages of the Weekly Shonen Jump magazine. One Piece follows the fortunes of Monkey D. Luffy, a wild-eyed lad who has gained Reed Richards-like stretching abilities after consuming a demonic Gum Gum Fruit. Luffy hangs out with the Straw Hat Pirates, a ramshackle crew of ne’er do wells with whom he sails around the world in search of the legendary One Piece, an item said to be the greatest treasure in the land.
Like many manga faves, One Piece spawned an animé, several movies, and all manner of merchandise. Of course there have also been a ton of video games, too. As is the norm for manga and animé tie-ins, the quality of game can often be hit and miss. Quite often, the games are marketed towards the Japanese market, where gamers have different tastes and will lap up a decent manga-themed game for its storyline alone. Developers also tend to push out as many games as possible, in the shortest time, often with quality suffering as a result. One Piece Grand Battle (the PlayStation 2 and Gamecube version, that is) has, up to now, been the best of the thirty-odd games featuring the stretchy pirate dude, a fun 3D fighting game which played like a cross between Soul Blade and Super Smash Brothers. Elsewhere there have been umpteen Japan-only RPGs, a Mario Party-esque boardgame/minigame crossover, and plenty more substandard fighters.
Namco Bandai have changed things up for their latest One Piece jaunt, deciding to climb into the proverbial sack with Tecmo Koei and their Dynasty Warriors craftsmen Omega Force for an all-action 3D hack and slasher. Omega Force have had a pop at licensed games before to great effect, check out our review of what they did with the Gundam franchise. Does the combination of crazy manga pirates and time honoured button hammering gameplay pay off? It has already been a monster success in Japan, shifting in excess of 900,000 copies, and receiving rave reviews.
STORY: Pirate Warriors serves as something of a “greatest hits” for fans of the animé and manga, in that the story covers a great deal – but not all – of the labyrinthine story from the original animé. What this means is that you get to play out many different chapters from the source material; several story arcs that take in the bonkers cast of characters and island settings. I am told that it is a far from comprehensive deal, so fans will probably find things missing or moan about the non-inclusion of some of their favourites, however there is a lot of crazy storylines on offer.
The main solo campaign revolves mainly around the awkward, bendy Luffy character, with sections where you get to play as Sanji or sword-wielding, green haired badass Zoro, and brief intervals where you get to take control of other members of the crew like Nami the Navigator. Aside from the main story mode, there is also an option to unlock specific missions for a number of other characters, such as my favourite, the reggae infused skeleton Brook, and although you sometimes only get a couple of levels for each of the characters, it helps you to get to grips with the many intertwined threads of the crazy, often very funny plot.
GRAPHICS: Omega Force should be praised for the job they have done on the visuals – the whole thing is big, bright and colourful – and extremely faithful to the animé and manga. Luffy is brilliantly captured in all his wild-eyed, stretchy-limbed glory, both in the game field and in the many cutscenes, and fans will love the opportunity to play as some of their favourites from the original series. There is a great amount of attention paid to detail too, with all of the characters and settings from Eiichiro Oda’s work faithfully recreated, from their physical appearance to their signature special moves.
As with all Dynasty Warriors games, the action is thick and fast, and the camera, which can be operated manually, can throw up some problems; particularly during targeting. You can ‘lock on’ the camera by clicking R3, but sometimes it just seems a little too slow. Elsewhere, from a technical standpoint, everything generally moves along very smoothly without any slowdown or nasty popping, even when you are putting a rubber fist through a dozen sailors.
SOUND: Pirate Warriors has a stack of speech both in-game and during the cutscenes, and everything is delivered in Japanese by the original voice actors from the animé, so everything is very authentic (and subtitled). The music is your standard animé-style combination of frantic pop, wailing guitars and suchlike, and is pretty forgettable stuff; without a single tune from the original show.
GAMEPLAY: Without wanting to sound lazy, at times, what we have here is very much a re-skinned Dynasty Warriors title, albeit one without quite as many enemies on screen at once, and with more of an emphasis on platforming and even puzzle solving when compared to other games of this ilk. Some stages require you to perform tasks or explore – like one where you have to find some medicine for a crewmate – but the majority of the time you will find yourself using Luffy’s stretchy limbs to beat up dozens of sailors and enemy pirates, in the hope that you can unlock some more interesting combos or special moves. The combos you start out with are simple and repetitive, but you can customise your characters by finding coins and earning booty at the end of each stage. The puzzles are easy to work out, and the exploratory sections are not exactly Uncharted-like in their scope. Occasionally there will be a QTE to pull off, particularly during boss battles, and Luffy can employ his Stretch Armstrong-like abilities to climb, swing and negotiate hazards, as well as the musou special attacks (Luffy inflates his fist to the size of a car and throws it like a wrecking ball) and hold (grab) moves.
There are some other nice touches too. When in range, you can team up with an ally to carry out a neat dual attack. Luffy also has the ability to inflate himself into a rotund beach ball shape at will, which allows him to deflect projectiles back at enemies. Being a pirate situation, this of course means cannon balls. The other thing that sets this aside from a mundane DW-style title is the fact that the small, carefully selected cast of additional characters, who you take control of in short bursts during the main story, but in more depth during the “Another Log” mode, all play very differently. Unlike Dynasty Warriors, which suffers from having numerous characters that may as well just be palette swaps with a slightly different weapon, here, everyone has their own special attacks and nuances that set them apart from each other. Zoro, for example, has his mighty (some may say overpowered) swords and fights more like a samurai warrior than a pirate. Usopp, on the other hand, is the master of ranged attacks and can peel off shots from his catapult.
LONGEVITY: Finishing the first section of the main story will unlock the “Another Log” mode, which is a lot of fun as you get to experiment with the other denizens of the One Piece universe. There are tons of hidden coins and items in the main story too, and you have to be at your best to achieve the best possible rank for each stage. There is a basic online mode, which allows you to play co-operatively in runthroughs of stages from Another Log, with online ranking. You can also play the game in two player co-op, however, the split screen does tend to become rather cluttered and confusing, and it is far from ideal, especially given that the last Dynasty Warriors game allowed you to play with up to 4 players working together.
VERDICT: A new and interesting take on the Dynasty Warriors style of gameplay, One Piece is actually more reminiscent of a lighter version of a God of War or Devil May Cry, or even the vanilla third person sections in Asura’s Wrath. Light because it is still a button masher at heart, but still recommended because having the charming, ludicrous narrative of the One Piece manga certainly helps matters, and the whole thing looks superb. It is a great game to have a mindless bash on, lapping up the kooky stories within, and taking in the gorgeous animé-style graphics. Any game that kicks off with a chase involving a pirate dressed as a clown gets a “yaaarrrrr” of approval from me. It is undoubtedly more fun and appealing than Tecmo Koei’s other musou output, just don’t pick this one up expecting it to reinvent the wheel.