Monday, December 10, 2012

One Piece: Pirate Warriors - Your Hopes and Dreams are Still On-Board

Due to lack of an American retail release, here's the European box art.
If you have delved into the world of anime/manga at any point, chances are high that you may have come across the title, One Piece. For those who don't know what the series is, or simply don't care for this type of medium, One Piece is a highly popular Japanese manga created by Eiichiro Oda, that has been running in Weekly Shonen Jump in Japan for around 15 years. The story tells of the misadventures of a boy named Monkey D. Luffy, who dreams of becoming King of the Pirates and is after the legendary treasure known as the One Piece. As a child, Luffy accidentally ate the Gum-Gum Fruit, which turned him into rubber and allows him to stretch his body, at the cost of being unable to swim. However this doesn't deter him from his goal, as he sets sail on (initially) a raft, gaining many friends and foes along his journey.

The series was serialized in the American Shonen Jump Magazine before the publication became the digital Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha, where the manga continues to run in English. The manga has also been adapted to anime form, where it has received about a dozen movies (only one of which is officially canon), several video games (none of which I have played except for the one I am about to go into), and tons of other merchandise (in Japan it's gotten popular to the point where recent volumes not only outsold the Harry Potter books, but also themselves on many occasions). The anime has also been dubbed into English for American consumption twice, first by 4Kids before being taken over by Funimation (whose dub I have only begun watching), the first of which seems to have contributed to the problems One Piece has with finding an American audience due to the company's shoddy work overall (I have only read about this dub online, which makes me glad I initially actively avoided the series as a child). In light of the manga's 15th anniversary, Namco Bandai Games has recently published a game developed by Tecmo Koei and Omega Force, titled One Piece: Pirate Warriors, earlier this year. A few months ago the game was released in English, but retaining the Japanese audio, although American players must download it off of PlaySation Network while European audiences have the option of retail. After one of the most expensive purchases I have ever made for a download, I can safely say that the game is totally worth the money. If you are a One Piece fan.

One Piece: Pirate Warriors follows the same story as the manga, with the framing device for most of the game being the current members of the Straw Hat Pirates, Luffy's crew, telling stories to each other (I'm going to give it to you straight: Just telling you the names of every member that's not Luffy automatically creates massive spoilers). While the game does a pretty faithful retelling of 60+(!) volumes of manga, a number of bigger and smaller (often important) arcs have been cut from the story. Though there's several animatics and text recaps to accompany the story levels, or the Main Log, you are still not getting the full account of what happened during the Straw Hats' voyage, since some events are not even mentioned or are simply glossed over (including an entire story arc that was reduced to a sentence or two), which the game actually pokes fun at near the end. This means you are better off reading those 60+ volumes before playing the game; I have personally been reading the manga up to the ending point of the game and beyond, one way or another, and I can assure you that such an investment is definitely worth your time and money.

Omega Force is known for developing the Dynasty Warriors series, one that you may have at least heard of. I myself haven't played any of the Dynasty Warriors games, but from my experience with Pirate Warriors, I think I have a good idea of what the series is like. As you progress through the Main Log, you encounter three different types of levels; one is a straight-up platforming section where you occasionally fight enemies while solving puzzles that take advantage of Luffy's Gum-Gum powers, one is based around capturing territories while completing objectives to advance, and the other is more or less focused entirely on a boss fight. During the levels you are able to collect a variety of power-ups by hitting chests, which gave give you a temporary boost or refill your Life and SP Meters. The SP Meter is an orange bar that's divided into sections, which increase when you level up enough, which can be used to pull off special attacks based on how many meters you use. You can also collect Coins, either by opening special chests or completing certain objectives, which can be used to enhance your character's stats. Each Coin represents a character, symbol, or item from the One Piece universe, and they can be equipped to a character by accessing a special menu, in sets of up to three, again depending on how much you level up, and grant special enhancements depending on the Coin; if you arrange the Coins in certain sets, you can also unlock a special enhancement that is applied to the character as long as you maintain that set. During certain encounters, you are also tasked with completing a Quick-Time Event(s), which I compared to Asura's Wrath, that represent an intense moment as Luffy triumphs over his enemies. During the territory missions, you are able to initiate a Crew Strike by pairing up with another character, allowing you to switch over to another character after performing a specific combo in order to dish out more damage to enemy swarms.

Throughout most of the Main Log you play as Luffy across the various arcs included, but you are also sometimes able to briefly play as another character, which is than unlocked for use in Another Log. In Another Log, you can play as one of the characters unlocked through the Main Log to play during missions from the story; if you use certain characters on specific missions, you can also play through their own story, increasing the replay value, but you do have the option of using completely different characters for those missions if you want to have some fun with it. Each character plays a bit differently from Luffy, though I ended up getting bored while testing out each character, since the only levels I could play were territory-based, which can become a bit monotonous after a while. However, there are certain animations that perfectly display the quirks of each character, which brings some entertainment to this mode, but not enough to keep me going personally.

As far as extras go, there is also an option to play Another Log missions in local co-op, which I tried out, but the split-screen for this mode is a bit awkward and I quickly stopped using that mode. Aside from a rather difficult Challenge Mode, there are also glossaries and character bios to help fill you in on the world of One Piece (from what I've read of them, they're actually pretty accurate). However, even with all this extra information, you're still better off catching up on a bulk of the manga prior to playing this game.

Onto the technical side of things; let's begin with the graphics. The character models are, put simply, amazing, perfectly capturing Eiichiro Oda's current art style and remaining faithful to where it looks as if the manga came to life. Some of the cutscenes before and after each mission actually use these models to perfectly recreate panels from the manga, albeit sometimes with an art style more advanced than before, but the execution still works really well. Some of these cutscenes are also fully animated, also faithfully recreating enitre manga sequences, making it the closest you can get to a CG One Piece anime. The level designs also expertly use the designs of each locale on the Straw Hats' voyage to their advantage, taking many creative liberties while still creating a sense of immersion.

The music of Pirate Warriors is also fantastic, ranging from lighthearted to intense depending on the situation. It matches each situation nicely and sounds like it fits in with One Piece (I am not intimately familiar with the anime soundtrack). As mentioned above, while the game has translated all Japanese text into English, it still retains the Japanese language track, though this might have been influenced by the progress of Funimation's dub of the anime. While I don't mind the Japanese acting that much, I think it still would have been nice to have an English language track.

Aside from the omission of arcs from the story the game is trying to retell, I only really have one major complaint. I was playing on Easy (because it was the very first thing the game asked me when I began and I'm not familiar with Dynasty Warriors gameplay), and even then I had one hell of a time against Admiral Aokiji in the Main Log, due to heavy spamming of attacks and me not being able to actually land a hit for quite some time, even when using the full extent of Luffy's SP Meter, which made the fight very frustrating. The fight just felt a little broken, and it took me a few tries before I was actually able to win.

One Piece: Pirate Warriors is a good game for any fan of One Piece who is essentially caught up with the story. It perfectly captures the spirit of the story and faithfully recreates key moments for the optimal One Piece video game experience. If you have only just begun to get into it or haven't experienced the series at all, I would suggest either holding off on this game until you have read those 60+ volumes or simply skip it altogether if you are not a fan of Japanese media for whatever reason. However, if you don't care about knowing all the details and are a fan of Dynasty Warriors gameplay, I would suggest downloading this game, so long as you keep in mind that it doesn't contain everything.

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