Name the most successful Manga in existence and you’ll probably list a hall of fame. Those such as Astro Boy were breakout hits of the 80s, while cult fandom in the 90s made the likes of DragonBall Z and Sailor Moon popular among their respective cliques. Quite a lot of the most successful manga from the past decade has come from the Weekly Shōnen Jump, including the likes of Bleach and Naruto.
These never really resonated with me, possibly because I just never had the time to get into them, though some of us are quite heavily into those manga. One Piece however, the most successful manga this year and indeed the best-seller in Japan for several years prior is slowly becoming a passion of mine. Despite first suffering a fairly shocking adaptation by 4Kids, the anime is now rather well handled by Funimation, making One Piece really popular in Europe too. But can One Piece: Pirate Warriors do the one thing that the series hasn’t done so far: Break into the videogame market?
Think of the Main Log mode as essentially One Piece: Abridged. Directly taking influence from the manga it is based on, you will face many of the key encounters in the series in the eyes of Luffy, the kid who ate the Gum-Gum Devil Fruit that wants to be King of the Pirates. You do control other characters in the Main Log on occasions, but the majority of the 16 part story is spent bulking up Luffy’s abilities with fateful encounters and set pieces.
As mentioned though, this is an abridged version of the events from the anime and manga, so certain battles like the one for Usopp’s island are not here. It also loses most of the charm that makes the manga so successful in the first place, meaning only the dedicated fans need care about the story here. For those who want to discover more, read the manga. Another Log mode allows you to take on stages under the guise of the Straw Hat crew in a more traditional style befitting of the “Warriors” franchise.
“Warriors” franchise you say? Is this going to play out like the Dynasty Warriors/Samurai Warriors games did? You can tell by looking at what kind of stage you are playing at any given time. If it has the word Musou in the stage, then you’re essentially playing another Dynasty Warriors clone, albeit dumbed down with none of the strategy. Victory conditions and losing conditions change on the fly, with certain events in the battle influencing enemy behaviour. These battles are rarely taxing as it is only if you’re unprepared that you’ll find yourself overwhelmed. One or two unique enemies may prove a hassle to the AI partners who are generally incompetent (I’m looking at you Kizaru), but generally speaking it is a rinse and repeat affair. The one sole diversion is the ability to link with partners on the battlefield; by attacking with the button combination on-screen under their picture once linked, you can summon them in to continue the combo as that character. It certainly helps spice things up, but ultimately adds little to the already tired formula.
If you are playing an action/boss stage however, then you’re almost playing another Dynasty Warriors clone. Fundamentally the style is the same, but there are added context sensitive sections for Luffy to overcome. One level could have you exploring an island, while another may have you taking a critically ill Nami to a doctor on your back. It’s nice to have levels that aren’t just like every other Musou level in Omega Force’s arsenal, but when the overly simple puzzles and infuriating “platforming” sections rear their ugly heads, it all heads for messy gameplay.
Since you don’t directly control Luffy during these sections, the mindless context sensitive button inputs just sap all the potential from what could have been a huge advantage for the game. There are also areas where the odd cheap death may appear, usually because of a poisonous monster chasing after Luffy that can kill him with one hit or an ally close to death in a battlefield situation because they got too close to an enemy character. Either way, the thing you’ll notice when fighting is that the camera has a mind of its own. Sure you can lock certain enemies into the viewpoint, but when everyone is darting across the screen, it becomes hard to keep track.
Upon completing the 16 part epic that is the Main Log, you also have access to the Challenge mode which invites you into an impossible gauntlet. You can also opt to play Another Log with a friend locally, though the performance of the already dodgy camera is then accompanied with a lower frame rate; or you can even go online to team up with another pirate. Since quite a lot of the content is unlocked via the Main Log however, this will be where you spend the majority of your time and it feels shallow as a result.
While the likes of Dynasty Warriors franchise are tied to a particular universe, it is refreshing to see a game from Omega Force that embraces a different style. One Piece: Pirate Warriors is visually appealing and as vibrant as the colourful anime series it is based on. The locations look as if they’ve been ripped out of some HD version of the anime that hasn’t been produced yet and the characters look amazing on-screen in fluid glory. So it is more than confusing why they opted to make it so that half the cut-scenes are still-drawings akin to visual novels. Perhaps they were trying to go for a more manga feel, but there’s only so far that gets you beyond the pages of a book.
Another cop-out seems to be the insistence of having just the Japanese voiceover cast, when they could have recorded an English dub to help with some of the confusing Musou battles. I’m not suggesting getting the 4Kids dub team in, but at the very least the Funimation one would have helped capture the feel of the anime at least. The music on the other hand in my eyes at least is spot-on, if somewhat predictable. Omega Force have an obsession with heavy guitar riffs, but by putting in tones that sound similar to those from the anime, it gives the music flavourful meaning to the setting and an overall chirpy attitude.
As admirable as it is taking on such a celebrated manga franchise, One Piece: Pirate Warriors seems to fall a little flat. Those looking for their passage into the manga should probably invest in reading the manga itself as this heavily abridged game is shallow on the plot and doesn’t provide a lot on what makes One Piece a great work. Gameplay is a largely uninspired version of the Dynasty Warriors franchise, with awkward Quick Time Events littering battles and platforming sections alike. A huge shame then, as a proportion of the game’s unique events are well done and the production values look fantastic on the PlayStation 3, representing the anime in glorious fashion. While I still can’t see why this was an exclusive to the platform, One Piece: Pirate Warriors is a beautiful looking and sounding game. But alas, the largely uninspired package lets down the brand name, with only the dedicated fan really showing much interest.