The following review contains spoilers for the One Piece manga/anime.
Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece is one of the few manga that transcends the many conventions surrounding popular works from Weekly Shōnen Jump. There is a lot of fighting, but the setting of a world where Pirates roam the seas is unique, adding in bizarreness thanks to the Devil Fruit that gives many of the characters their special powers. When One Piece: Pirate Warriors was released last year, it did a somewhat decent job at not only retelling a sizeable proportion of the manga, but also defied the conventions of developer Omega Force’s own Dynasty Warriors franchise. With the grounds firmly established, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 should be the update that cements the game into a proper series. Unfortunately, it seems that much of the ambition from the first game has been dialled back.
Instead of continuing the saga, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 has an exclusive non-canon story. When Luffy and the Straw Hat Pirates find themselves being pursued by the Marines all the way to the laboratory of Punk Hazard, they discover several strange artefacts on the deserted island. Without warning, not only does the majority of Luffy’s crew start going berserk, but also several of the marines turn on each other. Their commanding officer – Smoker, reluctantly joins up with Luffy and fellow survivor Nami to break the spell of the cursed artefacts, while uncovering the mystery behind who is responsible. It’s a big departure from the abridged in-canon campaign from the first game, coming with its own set of baffling continuity flaws. Perhaps the most potent issue is that if this is supposed to be set during the New World saga, why are Ace and Whitebeard alive? Sure it’s nice to see several characters who don’t even meet during the manga interact with each other, but it’s a relatively poor adventure despite its gripping initial hook.
Rather than reinvent itself in the presentation department, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 opts for a very similar look and feel; sporting Omega Forces’ signature guitar-wailing soundtrack and Japanese voice-overs on a translated script. If you’re used to the subtitled anime, the cast really do the material justice and the game is still visually striking with far fewer glitches to worry about. One thing that will irk many is the fact the localisation translation into English is full of grammatical errors that quite frankly are on par with the likes of “All Your Base Are Belong To Us!”. One late example comes from Ace, in which he proclaims defiantly, “I am the old man’s enemy…! I am Teach! And I will destroy you!” Considering the gravity of the situation in the battle, the person speaking it, and who he means by “old man”, this pretty much sums up how bad the translation can get.
But then we get to the gameplay, which has transformed purely into Dynasty Warriors. Gone are the Luffy only stages, the save points, and thankfully the QTEs. Large sprawling maps with ever-changing events are now the basis for every main level, but you also see smaller-scale maps in each of the unlockable crew episodes. You’re always on your toes, but it never goes beyond getting somewhere as fast as you can to beat a certain enemy or capture a certain base. Given how the levels in the first game tried to go out of its comfort zone to varying levels of success, it’s sad to see it regress back to traditional ground.
Having said that, there are some advantages to this more focused gameplay style. First off, you’re not just confined to one character as the game opts for a rather generous levelling system. The idea is once you can buy using in-game currency levels for your other crewmates. It may come across as a bit “pay-to-win”, but the limitations in place make sense and it relieves unnecessary grinding for new characters. The coin pairing system from the first game returns along with several “Skill Notes” which are essentially Bingo charts that upon obtaining certain coins in a line grants you a new ability to equip your characters – such as increasing attack power depending on how many territories you control.
Playing online requires you to have a little patience when matchmaking. The general idea stems from requesting rescues on certain levels, either initiating them yourself or responding to the corresponding SOS you will receive. Connection failures happen all too frequently, while at other times the SOS you have clicked on will be dropped. Once in though, games are reasonably short as two of you can steamroll through levels, squashing everything in your wake. There are online rankings, but because it is all cooperative play, their meaning is almost nonexistent. Challenge mode adds some additional content and there are plenty of unlockables using the in-game currency, but they are a side-show at best.
For better or worse, the sense of identity that last year’s title had has been surgically removed from One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2. The fact that the game tells its own story, unbound by the confines of the manga, is interesting yet greatly flawed when you consider when it takes place and the fate of some of the characters as recently as last year’s effort. The translation is downright laughable for all the wrong reasons. Somehow, given that One Piece: Pirate Warriors was a bit of a flawed gem, its sequel fares worse by taking out the features that made it unique.