Oh Japan, you be so crazy. I have no idea what is going on with One Piece Unlimited World Red. The adventure starts when the Straw Hat pirates spot an island, set off to explore it and are instantly kidnapped. The main protagonist, Monkey D. Luffy, Captain of the Straw Hats, sets off to save them from the clutches of what I’m assuming are series regular villains – he seems to recognise most of them anyway. And that’s the first barrier to entry: you’re very aware Unlimited World Red is part of a wider series.
Introduction to each character amounts to a few lines of text that flash briefly during the opening cutscene, and with several anime seasons alongside a staggering 35 other games in the series you can understand why – Ganbarion expects you to know who is who.
This should matter, it really should, yet somehow it doesn’t. Perhaps as a legacy of the volume of content to draw upon, each character has a unique personality. All are a little bit silly, but you have the big, hulking idiot, the more serious samurai, the giant talking squirrel. The cast is varied and great.
All of which is tied to a really satisfying combat system. You’ve got two attacks, mapped to square and triangle, which can be combined in combos and with a jump to defeat your enemies, and while this may sound sparse, the ability to swap between two other party members – chosen before you leave the central town – means you never get bored. Luffy uses his elasticated body to bounce around a battle, while the shipwright Franky can lay down a turret for other characters to use. When you’re not directly controlling them the A.I. does a good job of managing them, and battles become chaotic, enemies flying across the screen, your three heroes’ focal points drawing opponents in and then knocking them away. It feels like you’re playing an anime cartoon.
As you fight you’ll build an SP bar that allows you to unleash a special attack by pressing R1 and a face button, either by yourself or with all three characters. This triggers a short attack animation and most enemies just disappear.
There’s a plethora of baddies to beat up as well. There’re the standard goons, alongside some knight-type guys and, for some reason, a race of desert-dwelling seals, to name but a few. Boss battles dial things up a notch, too. At one point a dragon casually appears, which Luffy attacks for something to eat (because he’s just badass) while at another point a mad scientist has created a giant jam monster. It’s imaginative to say the least. There’s also a levelling system and “power words”. The latter are basically buffs you can assign to a character, boosting attack or a particular resistance.
Ganbarion have also included a town-building metagame to sink your teeth into. Plunder you find on your adventures, plus a little money, can be used to redevelop the town that serves as the hub for all of your adventuring. First construction is the tavern, where you can pick up side quests, while other options include a pharmacy to purchase health capsules (read: potions), and a factory that can upgrade your items.
The items in question come in the form of a bug net and a fishing rod that you can use at specific points in the wild to gain new items. Each triggers a mini-game that’s usually a variation on rhythm button pressing which, while not hard, do provide a bit of a refreshing break from the normal gameplay.
One cool feature is the option for a second player to jump in and control another party member. They’re able to freely roam the same zone as you, and obviously help in battle. For some reason the screen splits into two windows rather than half and half, wasting about a third of the screen in the process. It’s not too bad, but I can’t see why it couldn’t have just been split vertically.
Gameplay-wise, One Piece Unlimited World Red is more than solid, a case supported by the visuals. Everything is rendered in 3D animation, with the rippling clothing particularly impressive, and everything is bright and slightly exaggerated. The environments are diverse, featuring lava, ice and desert locales to show off the game’s breadth. It’s not challenging GTA V or the Uncharted series anytime soon, but it does look good, and on the smaller screens of a 3DS or a Vita it should look fantastic.
The original Japanese voice acting has been kept, something I know a lot of fans will be happy with, but the subtitle translation is solid, and it perfectly fits the over-exaggerated nature of Unlimited World Red – an English dub just wouldn’t sound right. You do have to be a quick reader though: a second or two longer on screen for some of the subtitles would have been nice.
It’s not perfect – after a while combat becomes a little one note, with you simply button mashing until everything on screen is dead, and the wider plot is a little hard to follow – but Unlimited World Red is consistently enjoyable.
VERDICT: If One Piece is a series you follow, my words aren’t going to impact your choice to buy this. But if, like me, you’re new to the series, Unlimited World Red is surprisingly enjoyable. It’s all silly and over the top, full of daft enemies and exaggerated characters, and it positively screams “I am a game! Have fun with me!” Sometimes, though, that’s exactly what you want.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.