Getting down to one of these melee button mashers in the Dynasty Warriors mold really comes down to whether you're into the current skin they've put on it, and your patience for fairly straightforward (some would say mindless combat). I'm a fan of Eiichiro Oda's oddball pirate adventure manga One Piece and its anime adaptation, and as far as it goes, I could press some Triangle and Square buttons for a while.
But it's when the PS3-exclusive One Piece: Pirate Warriors deviates too far from this formula that the bash-n-smash loses some of its appeal.
Like Nameco Bandai's Naruto releases, Pirate Warriors isn't so much a tie-in to the series as it is a summary, starting two years into would-be Pirate King Luffy D. Monkey's high-seas adventures with a brief abilitease mission against the Marines' killer robots, then jumping back to the beginning of the story (and lower power levels) as he assembles his crew in search of the famed Grand Line treasure.
While developer Omega Force maps a lot of actions onto the controller in Pirate Warriors, as Luffy (and occasionally his crew), you'll mostly be tapping away at the Triangle and Square buttons, mixing up with the occasional dash or jump using X. Circle provides a metered special attack to clear enemies out of the way, and certain scenarios even provide opportunities to team up with members of Luffy's crew for combo "Crew Attacks" when those characters are in range.
With the exception of a manual camera that requires an extra bit of care to manage, Luffy's attacks are satisfying to control, a megamix of his rubbery combat style from the books and animation landing a flurry of punches, kicks, and the occasional throw into the mix. The combat's of the dial-a-combo variety (1,1,2,1) and not exactly fluid, but it's not like the game's basic enemies will pose most of a strategic challenge (although some of the boss battles can be a little tricky as you figure out how to close the distance between yourself and some opponents with more advanced and diverse attacks). The occasional QTE extends out boss fights in the Asura's Wrath mold of timing them for better rankings instead of simply making them pass/fail.
Some of the other crew members (swordsman Zoro, for example) might pose a slightly greater challenge to control when you play out their story sequences, particularly those whose moves involve dash attacks which will necessitate more camera management.
As far as giving the game some depth, Omega Force has included some RPG elements like persistent leveling up based on Luffy's number of defeated enemies as well as collectible coins that will bestow additional status effects to his attacks, health, etc.
Unfortunately, in the pursuit of giving Luffy something to do between battles, Omega Force has included minor platforming (maybe not the best word for what they're doing here, but it'll do). Generally, this involves Luffy finding and flinging himself from launch points to reach platforms located around the levels. These wouldn't be so objectionable if there weren't so many of them breaking up the combat.
Omega Force via Tecmo Koei (Namco is handling the publishing rights in the U.S.) tells the game's story through CG cutscenes with the original Japanese audio using, I believe, the cast from the series. While the subtitle treatment will be great for purists, when plot points pop up on the screen in the middle of a frantic fight with a couple dozen pirates, it's easy to lose the narrative thread. This could very well have been a licensing issue, but the net result is that it can be a little frustrating to follow what's going on if you're not intimately familiar with the plot.
Additional challenges are available to unlock along with extras, to fully bolster the overall experience.
I'm still torn on the art style, which takes the original character designs and makes them fully 3D, adding a bit of cross hatching and shading along with realistic textures for clothing and items. It's really the cross-hatching that gets me since it's redundant on top of the shading and gives the characters a slight busy, over-embellished look.
One Piece: Pirate Warriors will definitely not change anyone's mind about this style of game or the source material, but as a fan, if you want to take a short dive into this high seas adventure, you could probably do worse.
One Piece: Pirate Warriors is available now on PSN.
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