One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3 is all about smashing through big crowds. No matter which character you’re controlling, you’re essentially a god, eternally smashing through thousands of weakling enemies per stage with an extraordinary set of physical skills. It’s gaming in its purest form of empowerment. And it’s enormously fun.
There’s a problem though, and it’s one familiar to anyone that’s played a Dynasty Warriors game or one of the earlier One Piece titles – there’s really not much else to it. But in the right sized doses, this could find a place in your heart.
One Piece is based on an anime series and the story seems to be a rough highlights reel, meaning it’ll make zero sense to anyone that hasn’t watched it (severe déjà vu if you played the first game on PS3 too). Levels and their plots don’t seen connected, it’s just an endless barrage of waffle stuffed with overlong cutscenes and comic book (well, manga) picture dialogue scenes. The writing is painfully clichéd and riddled with as many children’s anime tropes as you can care to name.
Let’s not get too hung up on the story though, as this game is all about the action. You start the game as Luffy, a maniacally enthusiastic teenage(?) pirate captain with rubbery limbs that can stretch and expand. Think Dhalsim meets Mr. Fantastic with severely aggressive tendencies towards crowds.
Stages quickly form a familiar pattern. You’re placed on a large map with lots of square areas linked by passages or gates. You’ll travel around the map, smashing your way through large crowds of enemies until other gates open and you can eventually take on the boss. Defeating captains marked on your map can boost your progress and you can even take over certain areas so your own swarm of pirates can take on the mobs too. You also have a few high-ranking allies with special abilities who will fight all over the battlefield too, although with nowhere near as much effectiveness as you. They can be briefly teleported in for special combos though, which are very useful during crowd control.
Criteria for failing a mission usually involves losing your starting base (this never happens) or one of your allies fleeing the battle when their health gets low. In these latter instances you have to chase the cowardly tossers down and refill their health, by getting close to them before they make it to the exit. It’s incredibly annoying, especially when you’re on the other side of the map.
You can fail if you die too, but on easy and normal settings, you’re unlikely to. Does this mean you should play it on hard? No, the difficulties just mean longer enemy health bars and you really don’t want to drag out the levels any more as they can take up to 30 minutes as it is.
The combat is quite basic, but more moves unlock as you progress and it really is impressive how easily you can dispatch huge numbers of soldiers with your elaborate moves that see a flurry of fists and feet rain down on enemies. Some strikes can be charged first, but we’re not exactly talking Bayonetta levels of finesse here. Play a few stages back-to-back and it all starts to feel too familiar.
Thankfully, new characters are unlocked throughout for use in the campaign and other modes that recycle the same stages. Coming with completely different moves sets, combat styles and weapons, they can make the game feel fresh again. Sadly, you’ll have to level them up individually, which may mean replaying some old story levels if you don’t want to make later chapters an irritably long slog due to your mismatched level.
There’s an online or local co-op feature which is a great way to get through stages faster before the boredom and frustration can take hold and the connections seemed smooth enough. Annoyingly, it’s not drop-in/drop-out co-op. You either have to wait in the lobby for ages after requesting a partner or you can start a stage and be pulled out if a partner arrives (you’ll keep your XP at least) so you can restart it together, which is very frustrating if you’re near the end.
Graphically, the game goes for a bright design to match the feel of the anime. Backgrounds are fuzzy and lack detail though and you could just as easily be playing this on last-gen tech. The frame-rate only really stumbles during the most packed of areas and after a particularly devastating special combo move.
On PS4, there’s an irritating issue involving the Share button. Any cutscene/dialogue is interrupted by the ‘ding’ from the prompt saying you can’t record that particular scene and then again for when you can. It never shuts up and I’ve never played a game where it’s so active. What’s worse, you can still record during these bits anyway. Fingers crossed this will be patched soon.
In an attempt to add depth and longevity to the game, it’s become unnecessarily flabby in the menus. There are several levelling systems for individual characters with points/money and another involving face coins. Then there’s a ‘Crew level’. It’s incredibly bloated and actually makes very little difference. The game wants you to think that you’re pushing your way towards all these milestones and it’s just nonsense. There’s no need for all the post-level notifications either. On average I have to press the X button 30 times to get from the end of a level to the start of the next one.
Mixing things up as much as possible is key to enjoying One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3. If you stick with Luffy continuously throughout the campaign, you’re likely to go insane with the repetition. The different skills from the rest of the cast could save things though.
- Faster in co-op
- Lots of unique characters
- Empowering combat is fun…
- …But the repetition deflates your enthusiasm
- Missions are way too long
- Endless menus between missions
The Short Version: The repetitive missions grate all too soon and the bloated levelling makes little difference. The random chunks of story lack consistency and will only be understood by hardcore fans of the show, who deserve a better narrative than this. But when played in short bursts or with people online, there’s an easy-going yet empowering flow to the action that makes it hard to put down.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed) | PS Vita | PS3 | PC
Developer: Tecmo Koei / Omega Force
Publishers: Bandai Namco