It’s quite clear Bandai Namco have been on a roll since the beginning of 2020 with their anime-inspired releases, both in terms of quality and quantity. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot got them off to a flyer, before One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows and My Hero One’s Justice 2 further delivered solid experiences. There’s room for yet another major anime and manga series to get its chance to shine now though; step forward One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4. Can this fourth instalment, and the first to launch on Xbox One, continue the recent trend by being a game to treasure?
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 comes from the developers at Omega Force, which has once again led to it becoming a combination of the famed gameplay seen in their Warriors games and the unusual pirate antics found in the tremendously popular One Piece series. As someone who often got bored swiftly during the likes of Dynasty Warriors, I expected much of the same here to be honest. I was wrong, because in reality there are many ways that the infusion with One Piece brings about a whole lot of enjoyment.
Pirate Warriors 4 contains three main game modes to tackle: Dramatic Log, Free Log, and Treasure Log. In Dramatic Log you can wade your way through missions created around six of the major story arcs from One Piece. These tales range from the early days when Monkey D. Luffy had to deal with Crocodile and the Baroque Works, through to a desperate attempt to save his brother Ace from execution and all the way up to the latest goings on in the manga/anime. There’s an awful lot to try and fit in, which means a lot of the details are skimmed over, but those players with at least a casual interest will catch on to the narrative and understand what’s happening.
The storytelling is done via a mixture of narrated stills, action-packed cutscenes involving the in-game models and some melancholic conversations where the characters are statuesque – all of which are subbed with Japanese voiceovers. The cutscenes are to be admired the most, mainly for being chaotic and emotional in equal measure. Letting the visuals down occasionally however are what can only be described as an overbearing amount scanlines during cutscenes; otherwise the vibrant and exciting action comes across great, with the bizarre folk of One Piece basking in all their glory.
As for the actual missions, and they feature a variety of objectives that essentially see you pulverising vast amounts – akin in size to the herds of zombies in The Walking Dead – of World Government and pirate minions, while attempting to save fellow pirate allies and defeat the nastiest of enemies like Crocodile, Lucci, and Big Mom, amongst others. The fighting is in the third-person perspective within an assortment of environments, which contain destructible elements. These places are generally split up into territories too, so if you take down the leaders in each area then the enemy reinforcements will stop coming.
Due to the nature of One Piece characters possessing all manner of amazing special powers, the events that unfold are absolute carnage in the best possible way. Take Luffy for example; the special attacks in his arsenal include a Gum-Gum Bazooka manoeuvre that unleashes those stretchy arms like a catapult and the Gum-Gum Giant Pistol, which inflates his hand into a massive fist to deliver a powerful strike. Even the normal and charge move combinations feature some cool use of his abilities, like blowing up his body swiftly to blast away enemies or launching a fist from distance. The sheer satisfaction of wiping out near 100 weak baddies in one go is immense and that’s a factor which really helps cover-up the obvious repetition in objectives.
On top of that, there’s often the option to choose which character to play as – depending who’s involved in the mission – thus offering freshness by not always having to be Luffy. It’s great to be able to cause mayhem using Usopp and his explosives or manipulate water with fish-man Jimbei. Once you’ve unlocked a few characters, it can be fun to replay completed story missions through the Free Log mode, which enables any of the unlocked selection to be used. It’s a great way to try out the likes of the ice-conjuring Aokiji and Smoker, who coincidentally, posses the power to control smoke. That is the only reason you’d bother with Free Log though.
Whichever character you decide on for your activities, XP and Berries are earned as well as a number of unusual coins. The Berries and coins are used in conjunction with one another to upgrade certain skills and abilities, for both an individual and the entire cast. That means you can ply your currencies into improving the health, attack, stamina and defense of every character or just a sole being. There’s joy to be had from acquiring new moves and persistent skills, but it will take bloody forever – in a good sense – to get them all as there are loads in total.
And you’ll definitely need to get those upgrades to make life a little easier when tackling the proper enemies. Depending on whether it’s someone like a pirate commander or a named character, will dictate the amount of shield you’ll have to deplete in order to really do damage to them. It can be a real change of pace when you’re usually decimating the masses almost instantaneously, but at least it adds a bit of thought to proceedings as you wear them down. While the newest addition of Titan enemies, which are gigantic, prove to be strategic affairs in the way that you have to be smart in dodging and hitting their blind spots, such moments are a real slog. A cool idea, but it’s a chore in reality.
Outside of the aforementioned Dramatic Log and Free Log, Treasure Log is the third and final offering. This mode plays host to multiple scenarios to tackle, with any unlocked character available for selection as you return to locations such as Marineford and Alabasta. It’s a clever way to earn rewards and level-up characters that you’re going to be using in the story missions, as well as an outlet for trying out new ones. The objectives are fairly simplistic and familiar, seeing a set amount of enemies or a specific character needing to be defeated. Capturing territories is also a factor in some scenarios, but it matters little what the objectives are when the fun is reliant on merely beaten up a ton of folk in the most awesome ways imaginable.
Given that there are 43 playable characters in Pirate Warriors 4, you could spend hours trying out all their unique move sets. Aside from the usual suspects, the Vinsmoke clan – Ichiji, Niji, Reiju, and Yonji – are amongst the newest characters to join the roster. The most impressive aspect is how different the whole roster feels to use; even though there are only four main classes in the form of Power, Speed, Technique, and Sky, it’s a disservice to refer to them in such a basic way as within these classifications, clear difference is apparent.
Sadly, there are two main factors that hinder the overall experience. Firstly, and despite every mission being playable online – which would be glorious – I am yet to find a single person to join. There are two possibilities as to why: it’s not made clear enough in-game that such a thing is possible, or there’s no one playing. Either way, it’s disappointing. The second issue is in regards how tricky it is to follow the mini-map with a free-flowing camera angle. You won’t believe the amount of times I’ve gotten lost due to the camera facing a different way to the character denoting arrow on the map. The damn map is hard enough to read by itself, without direction confusion thrown into the mix.
All in all though, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is a real blast as it injects the madcap abilities and personas of the One Piece universe into the Musou style of gameplay that the Warriors games are known for. Sure, the objectives themselves are quite bland, but the action itself is a hell of a lot of fun thanks to the varied roster possessing devastating moves. The sheer amount of missions and scenarios present, alongside a shed load of upgrades to unlock, means you could play for hours on end. You just have to put up with the mildly annoying mini-map, the new massive enemies and the struggling online side of proceedings.
As long as you like to enjoy yourself with mindless fun or are interested in the antics of Monkey D. Luffy, then One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 on Xbox One is worth a purchase.