When a series of games have never ventured onto the Xbox consoles, there’s a mystery and a feeling of intrigue towards the unknown. That’s why I was eager to get hands on with the only One Piece video game to hit any Xbox system to date. Developed by Spike Chunsoft, and published by Bandai Namco, this fighting game One Piece: Burning Blood will need to hit the ground running to satisfy not only well seasoned fans, but also newcomers to the series.

What you’ll realise pretty quickly is that the One Piece gaming world based on the manga series of the same name is rather strange; one in which pirates are searching for a legendary treasure to ultimately become the Pirate King, all whilst being enhanced in various ways by Devil Fruits. These Devil Fruits can transform animals and humans into all kinds of crazy powered beings, sometimes even changing their body structures. The main protagonist, Monkey D. Luffy, has a rubber body, thus turning him into a pirate version of Mr. Fantastic and is actually the least odd looking person you’ll encounter.

Are you with me so far? It took me an awfully long time to get to grips with the goings on, so let’s move on to the slightly simpler gameplay. As this is a fighting game, you’ll find yourself battling one on one with all sorts of team combinations up to 3 characters vs 3 characters for the majority of the time, with the option of taking part in the massive 9vs9 team matches, usually across single rounds where the last team or man/woman/thing standing wins. Characters can be swapped in and out of the fight as much as you’d like, meaning you can adapt on the fly to whomever your opponent throws out.

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Once you understand about Haki and Devil Fruit abilities, it’s actually nice and easy to perform every move that each character has in their locker. The difference between the good players and the terrible ones is figuring out which move to use, when to guard and what some of the weirder moves really do. I’m certainly in the latter camp, but what’s good is the accessibility so that everyone can get some enjoyment out of it. Dare I say there’s a lack of combo moves or different moves in general, which are I feel necessary to keep the action fresh.

The regular moves, special moves and the massively powerful Awakening state that leads to an ultimate move are all visually exciting and creative, but there needs to be a point to the battles. And that’s where the game modes come into play.

Starting with the Paramount War story mode, you’ll take control of specific characters in their own episodes, focusing on their roles in the battle of Marineford. This is a decent way to get a glimpse at the narrative behind the fighting and characters such as Monkey D. Luffy, the world’s strongest man Whitebeard and even bad guy Akainu. In between the various cut scenes and still shot storytelling, there’ll be battles between the clashing groups that involve the character the episode is centred on.

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Although it serves as a baptism of fire to learn components of the fighting, it soon gets frustrating to be beaten to a pulp when the A.I. decides to unleash its overpowered hits onto you, but hey at least it’s a quick death. The story itself was hard to follow because I don’t know Japanese (there’s no English dubbing) and it’s hard to follow subtitles. However once I did grasp the narrative, I soon became bored of seeing the same story from multiple angles. On the positive side you’ll earn a decent amount of currency, Beli, and a few new characters to play with outside of the story mode.

Hidden away in the WANTED Versus mode is a series of ‘Wanted Posters’, basically challenges, that will also help you learn the controls with specific win conditions needing to be performed. It may let you choose to assemble your own team or you could be given a certain character to use; there’s an abundance of posters with varying conditions and difficulty ratings to keep you busy for ages. Being able to change characters and build teams is a good way to see what works for you before venturing online.

Before you decide to test your skills with the online masses you’ll need to have stuck with the initial story, and progressed far enough through it, in order to unlock all the modes lurking in the game. Once you have though, it’s straightforward enough to fight against others one on one in the Player and Ranked where each player has three team members – I’ve yet to fail in finding an opponent. I’ve been annihilated a lot, with players being infinitely more skilled than me so a little word of advice…practice plenty, or you’ll be turning up to the proverbial gun fight with a spoon.

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There is another online mode, Pirate Flag Battle, where you fight all over the One Piece world to help raise the status of your affiliated army and earn them global domination. You can battle against real people and A.I. on behalf of armies such as the Straw Hat Pirates and the Marines. Sadly, in the places where you can supposedly take on other humans, in stark contrast to the other online section, I couldn’t find a single person. It wouldn’t be so bad if the A.I. substitute the game offers in their place weren’t so skilful that it’s pointless for anyone but the vastly experienced to challenge.

Last, but not least for those looking for a spot of 1vs1 to 9vs9 against a friend locally, is the Free Battle Mode. I’ve only ever thought of modes like this as being good for a local battle or to try things out with no consequences. It’s no different here but the customisable settings are lacking in depth, hence I can’t see it having much use for most players.

I’ve struggled to spend much time in any one mode except WANTED Versus due to the onset of repetition or general boredom, and so there’s a heavy reliance on having a load of characters to perk things up. Fortunately, the 30+ characters (plus variants) included are brilliant, with them all having a unique personality and move sets that have to be seen to believed. A talking reindeer, a skeletal musician and a clown are just a few of the weird and wonderful characters recreated extremely well. There’s even a whole load of support characters that don’t fight, instead end up offering help with attack buffs or healing powers.

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One Piece: Burning Blood isn’t an overcomplicated fighting game, and for that reason endears itself to newcomers on a technical level. Where it lets itself down though is on the repetitive story mode, the lack of moves that can be performed and anything that keeps you clinging on for more apart from the varied WANTED posters. The characters themselves are exciting and each brings something completely different to the table; I’m only still playing it to use and see all their specials at least once. From a visual standpoint, the cel shading works great but there are occasional close-ups that just show way too many fuzzy lines that aren’t kind on the eyes.

It’s not a great game, nor is it terrible, but One Piece: Burning Blood has a whole host of characters that are worth grabbing the game for. They are the star of this show.

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