Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developing a Dynasty Warriors anime tie-in is a little like baking using one of those ready made kits. The simple yet empowering Dynasty Warriors ingredients come pre-mixed, so all Omega Force needs to do is sprinkle on some flavour from a beloved cult anime franchise, pour into a colourful cel-shaded mold and throw into the oven. It's foolproof, meaning that the end result should be delicious every time. Unfortunately, as we've often discovered, it's just as likely to be downright inedible... if not execrable poison.
Fist Of The North Star: Ken's Rage 2 was so atrocious that I actively encouraged potential consumers to watch an imported box set while pounding their knuckles to rags with a ball-peen hammer instead. To use my earlier analogy, it resembled a half-baked Arctic roll stuffed with human sewage rather than vanilla ice cream. There was no excuse for such a shoddy waste of a classic license.
Luckily, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 finally washes that sour taste from our mouths. It's an enormous tasty gateaux, perhaps a little stodgy in parts, but covered with colourful icing and packed with varied chunky chips that makes each bite taste sweeter than the last. Before I get sidetracked and run down to my local bakery, let's make one thing clear: Omega Force have more than redeemed themselves with a tie-in that One Piece deserves.
Plus, you get to take the field as an afro-sporting skeleton rock star and kill legions of Marines with mid-air guitar solos. Which is nice.
As a piece of fan service through and through (heh), Pirate Warriors 2 will be somewhat impenetrable if you're not au fait with the misadventures of rubber-armed Monkey D. Luffy and his ragtag crew of super-powered piratical reprobates. The non-canonical storyline has been specifically penned for the game, drawing on some of the more ambitious story arcs untapped by the original - notably the 'Punk Hazard' arc that sees Luffy's crew scattered by a bizarre brainwashing gas. In an effort to keep things as accessible and simple as possible, the important facts run thusly: you are a ridiculous superhuman pirate on a quest to unite their crew, solve a mystery and beat up countless thousands of rival privateers and Marines in the process.
One Piece's irrepressible character is arguably more important than the plot, and translates brilliantly into a videogame. Gorgeous cel-shaded visuals capture the look of the series, while the raunchy soundtrack and boisterous VO keeps the atmosphere unpredictable, upbeat and delightfully manic. All of your favourite major and incidental characters are here in full force, most of whom are playable and pack their trademark OTT fighting styles and inexplicable magical abilities. From the grimly determined pirate hunter Smoker (who smokes two cigars and uses smoke-based attacks... who'd have thought it) to the skeletal musician Brook , the colourful cast are brought to life with enthusiastic Japanese voiceovers and serviceable English subtitles, introduced via numerous story twists that exist solely to bulk out your roster and shoehorn in even more familiar faces.
The traditional Warriors framework is present and correct, of course. You'll lead your army to victory over enemy forces by capturing territory, defending your own garrisons and generally dashing about some sizeable maps like a mad thing; lending your supremely powerful general to wherever they're needed most. Unlike the appalling Ken's Rage 2 (ugh), we get the full-fat experience here, boasting plenty of choice about whether to attack, defend or optionally take down tough non-essential bosses for extra experience and accolades. There's a surprising amount of depth to the overall experience, and multiple ways to complete each stage beyond just running to face the overall big bad in an epic confrontation. Whatever you choose, however, you'll have to scythe through innumerable hordes of colourful pirates with ridiculous weaponry and rack up four-digit kill counts.
New faces, same old boss... but what makes Pirate Warriors 2 a great rather than functional tie-in is that One Piece's personality has been actively factored into gameplay rather than sitting on the sidelines in cutscenes.
The Straw Hat Pirates and their temporary allies make for superb videogame protagonists. Case in point: default character Monkey D. Luffy, who's capable of stretching his rubber limbs into insane inflated weapons to smash enemy formations into submission or forging his arms into enormous cannon balls ("Gomu gomu no...!"). Necromancer Penelo summons adorable ghosts to brutalise her opponents, while schizophrenic Kuzan manifests titanic ice formations that lay waste to entire armies, scattering foes like ants and slamming them into the scenery. Whereas most Dynasty Warriors generals wield one sword, Zoro has three. If you saw a character do something cool in the anime, chances are you can make them do it here. Often as part of a regular combo.
Responsive controls and the ability to effortlessly dash without breaking combos makes for a fast and fluid brawling bonanza, made doubly vibrant and fresh by the art direction and frenetic pace of the action. Omega Force have also added an impressive extra layer of versatility and depth to the combat with a new 'Style' mode that slows down time, outrageous special attacks (including the aforementioned mid-air guitar jam that makes enemies boogie before keeling over lifeless) and expanded Crew Attacks that briefly summon another playable character for the duration.
Each brawler feels powerful, potent and different, making for a pleasingly unique experience depending on who you favour. More importantly, though, everything you do is over-the-top, empowering, ridiculous and unapologetically good fun. One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 absolutely nails the whole point of the exercise: letting you actually become Luffy, Nami, Zoro and crew.
Better yet, the uninhibited bizarre atmosphere and rampant lunacy of even the basic attacks makes for perhaps the most fresh and enjoyable Dynasty Warriors game in ages.
By now, you'll probably know that Dynasty Warriors games are stuffed with content, and Pirate Warriors 2 is no exception. Beyond the replayable missions, you can engage in special Crew battles, alternate Dream levels, challenges, local co-op, online multiplayer and more; during which your characters gain persistent experience, power, skills and collectible coins to further boost their stats. Omega Force also threw in a few thoughtful new tweaks, such as the ability to instantly level up new characters by spending in-game currency rather than grinding them up from scratch.
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 isn't perfect, and most of its issues stem from that ancient one-two punch of incredibly lengthy levels with no checkpointing. Wiping out on a tough boss after half an hour of battling is often cause for Dualshock-flinging frustration, but pales in comparison to failing due to AI breakdown. Ally pathfinding is abysmal, often leading to critical characters taking laborious circuitous routes to their destination via garrisoned enemy bases, sometimes stopping to admire the scenery even as the skies darken with incoming cannon fire. Having to restart because an ostensibly elite pirate can't use a map is unacceptable. At least they can hold their own during regular battles.
There's also plenty of potential pitfalls that can be summed up with one simple phrase: "it's a Dynasty Warriors game." The series core gameplay is button-mashing grind in boxy arenas, forever. The draw distance is laughable, though frame rate remains pleasingly stable this time around. Criticising the age-old formula feels like flogging a dead horse, so rather than dwelling on what comes with the territory, I'll instead praise One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 for making the ageing experience feel vibrant and exciting again, and fun enough to distract us from the stolid core of grind eternal. The Grind Line, you could say.
Let's face it: you already know whether or not you're going to buy One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2. If you're an active or even lapsed fan of the series, you probably should.
- Responsive, gleefully outrageous and utterly empowering action
- Colourful and expressive visuals, raunchy soundtrack
- Superb fan service; numerous characters and enthusiastic voice acting
- Makes the Dynasty Warriors formula feel fresh and exciting...
- ... but won't convert you if you can't stand the series
- Weak pathfinding and quirky AI
- Repetitive if played for too long in a single sitting
The Short Version: One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 is a hectic and unapologetically over-the-top brawler that's worthy of the license. If you're a fan of the anime or just fancy a more vibrant and exciting take on the Dynasty Warriors franchise, it's hard not to recommend this weighty serving of colourful catharsis.