I’m not going to lie to the true fans out there: the last time I caught an episode of the anime series One Piece, all I can remember happening is the protagonist Monkey D. Luffy–the elastic would-be “King of the Pirates”–just meeting his soon-to-be ally Roronoa Zoro, master of Santōryū technique (Three Sword Style). Oh, yeah, and there was also a little reindeer person. Clearly, I’m way, way behind in what is now a 700+ episode manga series and a 600+ episode anime series: but according to Namco Bandai, that’s okay: because One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 is a game made just for someone like me, with a custom story made to appeal to both fans and newcomers alike. But the biggest question is, does the gameplay also appeal?
When I got to try out a hands-on demo at E3 2013, the first thing that immediately came to mind is Dynasty Warriors, which comes to no surprise since it’s developed by the same team at studio Techmo Koei, Omega Force.
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 tasks you with navigating through a sea of identical enemies, with the occasional different enemy type and periodical mini-boss battles. You’ve seen it all before: pull off melee combos and special moves to cut through dozens of anonymous henchmen, go to the objective marked on your map, fight a mini-boss, and then move onto the next objective. Rinse, repeat. Some enemies even respawn before your eyes, out of thin air. What makes Pirate Warriors 2 stand out is, of course, brand recognition, and also the idea that you can play as, play with, or play against a variety of One Piece characters, including the heroes, the villains, and all of the characters in-between.
As someone who’s missed much of the series, I had the pleasure of having a guide at my demo who caught me up on the characters as I played and gave me the backstory of what Pirate Warriors 2 is about, which includes a plot about a mysterious substance that is turning friend into foe and forcing foes to become unlikely allies. Essentially, this is all a device that allows for “dream fights,” allowing fans to live out their favorite “What If?” scenarios while enjoying a brand new story and premise.
What this means for the game is that you can play as one of dozens of characters, and occasionally trigger a special maneuver that allows you to tag-in an alternate character to play as for a limited time. During my time on the game, this had me playing as Luffy, using his unique brand of gummy-limbed skills to knock out dozens of enemies. When prompted, a button press swapped in Nami, whose three-sectioned-staff summons weather attacks to wipe away enemies in her own way. There’s some fun here, seeing the extremely stylish abilities and attacks the different One Piece characters use against their many nameless foes. At the end of each level comes the true boss, which during my demo was Eneru, self-styled god of lightning (whose power Luffy is immune to since Luffy’s body is essentially rubber). It’s here where some greater variety can be seen, with this particular boss teleporting about and attacking me with lightning blasts.
With what’s said to be a wealth of costumes to unlock, a number of different islands to explore, and of courses a variety of characters to play as, there could be more to see in One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 for fans and newcomers alike when the game digitally releases to the PS3 this August. But if you’re not into repetitive hack and slash battles against dozens of identical drones, then this may not be the treasure you’re looking for.