One Piece: Pirate Warriors is the most Japanese game I’ve ever played. Bright colors, loud yelling coming at you from all sides, over-the-top anime antics/actions/attacks… It’s everything that the uninitiated gaijins lump together as “that Dragon Ball Z stuff” before writing off without a second look. But if you’re a fan of the One Piece anime – currently sitting at about 565(!) episodes – or the Dynasty Warriors franchise (with which Pirate Warriors shares a game engine and far too many ideas), you will feel right at home. Even if you’re not a fan before you start, you might be by the end. As the first One Piece game to hit the PlayStation 3, this succeeds in all the ways a licensed property should.
The first thing you might notice is the $50 price tag for a PSN digital exclusive. Fret not: this is the full retail game experience, including a robust solo campaign, extra modes and characters, plenty of collectibles, and tacked-on online multiplayer. It actually had an on-disc release in Europe and Japan, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that the download-only route in the U.S. is just a precautionary measure to ensure that Tecmo Koei doesn’t lose any money on the port. With no English dub (which, let’s be real, would most likely be terrible – and you’ll only really notice during battles anyway), all that seems to have changed is adding some English menus and BAM, they stuck it on the PlayStation Store. Don’t sell a lot of copies? Not to worry! It’s sold nearly a million in Japan already, and the U.S. localization cost the developers approximately $20.
The main story follows Monkey D. Luffy, a straw hat-wearing pirate who ate a magical fruit that makes his body super stretchy and far stronger than the average bear. His life’s goal is to become the Pirate King and find the “One Piece,” a legendary treasure. Along the way, he meets a bevy of colorful (and playable!) characters, and discovers that the true treasure he’d been looking for all along is friendship! Or something like that. See, like the Dynasty Warriors games – and really most action games throughout history – the story is just there to give you a reason to kill hundreds upon hundreds of henchman on your way to the much-stronger boss. Oh sure, the storyline follows a lot of One Piece fans’ favorite moments from the series’ last 15 years (and actually does it justice, even if it gets a little heavy-handed in the last few chapters), but for me, the action was the real draw here. I don’t really need to know why this guy is a giant giraffe, or this other guy slicked his hair into devil horns, or even why I’m so rubbery and can inflate my limbs just by blowing into my thumb. By the time my boat started talking to me, I had suspended every shred of my disbelief anyway. “Oh, so the skeleton is also a violinist? Of course he is.”
A typical stage in One Piece: Pirate Warriors involves slamming on the square and triangle buttons while taking on hordes of far-weaker-than-you enemies. Occasionally you’ll fill your special bar and unleash a bigger attack with the Circle button. All of this is interrupted by a fair share of quick-time events (which, strangely, I thoroughly enjoyed and thought were a nice complement to the action) and the occasional mini-boss or special henchman that you have to defeat in a certain way – usually by pressing the R1 button. Levels often end with a boss fight, but the strategy for them is all the same: dodge with X and wait for an opening, then attack. Rinse, lather, repeat. There are also a small number of pure platforming stages where you get to utilize your QTE gummy abilities to advance, but these levels are a lot slower and force you to be much more deliberate with your actions. I didn’t like them nearly as much, but the change of pace “breather levels” might be just what you need to keep from getting burned out on the main button mash-y campaign.
Besides the main campaign, there is “Another Log.” Here, you can replay the levels you’ve already beaten, but this time as the secondary character that was formerly only used for tag-team attacks. After leveling up Luffy for the past handful of hours, it’s tough dropping back down to level one with this new character. The storyboard cutscenes between levels are the same the second time around, and if you aren’t interested in the silver trophy you earn for each character, you probably won’t care enough to beat them all. At least the colorful comic art is just so, so pretty… and with a cross-hatched style all its own.
There’s also an online multiplayer mode, but it’s just another level with a real-life teammate instead of a useless CPU drone running alongside you. For some, online will be a blast, especially if you have a One Piece-loving friend somewhere else in the world. The whole mode honestly feels pretty unimportant, however, and I had trouble motivating myself to play more than a handful of uninspired matches. There is no PvP.
All in all, however, this is the One Piece game you’ve been waiting for. It’s true to the manga, the actual style of the game is spot-on, the Dynasty Warriors gameplay has been perfected after being used in dozens of similar games before, and there’s plenty to do, see, and collect over the 10-or-so hours of playtime. Try to ignore that the added modes add little to the overall package and the fact that slamming the square button for hours at a time can start to feel a bit hollow, and you’re golden.
Review based on PlayStation 3 release.