There’s something in the gut that undulates the moment that the Omega Force logo pops up. Creators of the long-running Dynasty Warriors franchise, the Tecmo Koei subsidiary are potentially the most one-note studio in the entire pantheon of video game development. They make “Warriors” games; those games about jabbing the attack button over, and over, and over, and over and… well, you get the point.
But that’s a little harsh. Dynasty Warriors is a long-running series for a reason. Its gameplay isn’t for everyone, but it’s the quintessential stress ball of video gaming. Plus, Dynasty Warriors 8 wasn’t half bad. It added greater combo potential and increased the requirement for battlefield awareness. It still looked like ass, and the gameplay still seemed at odds with its upstanding Japanese presentation, but it was a good video game.
One Piece Pirate Warriors 2, however, is the best twist on the format I’ve played to date. And it’s worth emphasizing that this is a fully-fledged Dynasty Warriors spin-off now, considering that the first Pirate Warriors game was more of an arena brawler filled with QTEs. Pirate Warriors 2 is all about the big battlefield mob-squashing.
One Piece Pirate Warriors 2 is more of a Dynasty Warriors: Gundam than a Fist of the North Star; this is an anime license in the Warriors format done right. There’s a sense of lunacy to One Piece that seems to gel perfectly with the inanity and stupidity of the overly murderous Warriors gameplay; the two dovetail remarkably well.
Monkey D. Luffy is the main protagonist of the One Piece story. Leader of the Straw Hat pirates, Luffy’s body is completely rubber and he can stretch his limbs in ways that would make both Mr Fantastic and Stretch Armstrong blush. He controls but one of the pirate clans that cruise around the ocean in search of treasure and adventure. Among the cast is a gal with control over lightning, a chap who looks like a Rastafarian Death, a bloke who can turn into smoke (and smokes two cigars, at the same time, all the time, just to emphasise the name ‘Smoker’), and an interesting woman who can make limbs sprout out of the ground. Because anime, yeah?
The actual story of One Piece Pirate Warriors 2 takes place in the later stages of the greater One Piece narrative, after the “gap” (when Nami starts wearing less clothes). The tale deals with the problems caused for Luffy when a strange fog warps the minds of his crew, and he finds himself captured by the naval officer Smoker. While the tale is written specifically for the game, it’s still not particularly accommodating to those unfamiliar with the original anime. The cutscenes are still gorgeous and entertaining, and even if you don’t know a smidgen about the One Piece world it’s easy enough just to enjoy the eccentric character designs, energetic voice work and incomprehensibly awesome scenes. “Oddball” doesn’t even begin to describe it.
But it’s this avant-garde approach to character design and presentation that really helps One Piece Pirate Warriors 2 shine. Dynasty Warriors makes you feel powerful, but can be plodding. Pirate Warriors 2 makes you powerful, and knows you’re powerful. Within five minutes you’re punching ten guys with one attack, sending them flying; whipping up a tornado with your fists and hurling twenty enemies in the direction of thirty more; slamming your oversized foot into the ground to trampoline an ever burgeoning mess of foes up and down. It’s silly, and it knows it’s silly.
Your allies feel almost useful as well, mainly because their attacks are similarly exaggerated. It’s not uncommon to see other enemies sail over your head from a friend’s attack, only for them to then get caught up in your own attack, or have an ally sideline a boss that was eyeing you up at just the right moment. The game feels like a bar room brawl and you’re a group of superheroes that have just wandered in and started dominating the opposition, using the pub’s usual rapscallions as entertaining ragdolls.
You also have far more attack options than you do in a typical Dynasty Warriors title. The basics are indeed the same: you have two attack buttons, can initiate a “rage” state when one bar fills, and unleash powerful Musou attacks when another is topped up. One initial difference you’ll notice is that you can’t jump; that button has been re-purposed as a ground based dodge that can be employed to stagger blocking opponents.
Where Pirate Warriors 2 really opens things up is with your move list. In Dynasty you’re rather limited, with each character only boasting about four or five different links. In Pirate Warriors 2 characters unlock a variety of different attack strings as you level them up, accessed through various combinations of the two attack buttons (which can also be charged). What’s more these combos persist after a dodge, akin to Bayonetta and The Wonderful 101, allowing your offence to take centre stage even when under enemy attack. The combat may look ridiculous, and I mean that in a good way, but Pirate Warriors 2’s brawls have a significantly more refined flow than Dynasty Warriors, and this goes a long way to keeping proceedings fluid and fun.
Oh, and I may have made the comparison to Bayonetta there, but this is not that sort of action game. The only real challenge here comes from facing bosses, and there it’s simply a case of dodging attacks and countering when they’re weak, launching into a full musou combo when they’re staggered. Deep? Not really. Entertaining? Absolutely.
The game does burden a number of the caveats that plague all Warriors games, however. It’s a repetitive jaunt, and for some the lack of consistent challenge will be boring. Levels are long, and when failure at a boss means a full restart it can be frustrating if you do expire. Objectives are not always absolutely clear, and the map will sometimes point you to a section before you actually need to be there.
This said, if you do enjoy the game’s style then there is a lot here to do. Aside from the campaign there is a mode that will let you tackle its missions with any of its 27 characters (who must be levelled up individually), then there is a separate mission mode specifically designed for higher level play, full of hard-hitting baddies. The game’s modes can also be played with two players, either locally or online.
The one thing that the first One Piece Pirate Warriors did better than this sequel was convey the sense of adventure. Pirate Warriors 2 is a lot of man-punching and very little else, and to some fans of the show this emphasis on the brawls over the actual pirate exploration may disappoint. Although, on the whole, Pirate Warriors 2 is the more consistently entertaining game, even if some more snooty fans might question its representation of the show.
VERDICT: One Piece Pirate Warriors 2 is a Dynasty Warriors game that improves on its template largely through the sheer unorthodox nature of its subject matter. The world of Monkey D. Luffy presents an energetic and kooky backdrop that compliments the bombastic battles of the Warriors franchise remarkably well, and a number of smart control alterations and progression additions help buff the combat and sell the concept’s longevity. Next time I see that Omega Force logo I might just get excited instead of nauseous.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.