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ONE PIECE: PIRATE WARRIORS 4
Played on: PS4 Pro
Released: 26.3.2020 on PS4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch.
I’ve never watched, read, or played anything related to ONE PIECE. It’s a mystery to me in every way. I recognize the lead character — the hilariously named Monkey D. Luffy — but that’s about it.
At 926 anime episodes, 95 volumes of manga, 14 theatrical films, and over 20 years of content, there’s no chance that I’m ever going to be immersed enough to understand the lore of this yarn anytime soon. Luckily the game does an admirable job in trying to condense the saga into a coherent 15 hour recap; even if the end result feels more like a cliffnotes session than a fully rounded story. There’s very little nuance or drama be found here unless you’re already aware of it.
Does that matter overall? Not at all. ONE PIECE PIRATE WARRIORS 4 is still fun and even accessible to a degree. But is it more enjoyable if you do? Absolutely. This is the gaming equivalent of a three course dessert, and how much you’ll enjoy it depends entirely on how you feel about ONE PIECE to begin with.
PIRATE WARRIORS 4 continues the formula set by the DYNASTY WARRIORS series without changing much on the surface. Known as the Musou genre, the basic idea is very simple: compared to everyone else, you’re close to omnipotent. Imagine the ending fight to MAN OF STEEL and you get the idea. Enemies still appear in swarms of hundreds for the player to smack around, and watching them fly around like pinballs is still inherently satisfying. Even after you’ve beaten up some half a million(!) of these guys the game feels like a blast. It’s not big nor clever, and the tactics feel more than a little shallow, but it is fun. Especially when the rip roaring soundtrack kicks in, delivering some wonderfully cheesy guitar riffs to go with the over the top sound effects. As far as presentation goes, ONE PIECE: PIRATE WARRIORS 4 absolutely slaps.
The main storyline is played in the Dramatic Log, which condenses the 900+ episodes of the anime into one big highlight reel. In total it covers the six main arcs of the story: Alabasta, Enies Lobby, the Paramount War, Dressrosa, Whole Cake Island, and Wano. The player gets to experience the major highpoints and fights of the series, with the occasional cut scene and animated sequence to fill out the biggest gaps in logic. Voiced by the original Japanese cast, this is easily the most enjoyable part of the experience, even if the animation doesn’t capture the real thing entirely. Anime is joyously over the top if it wants to be, and ONE PIECE is a prime example of that kind of hyperactive storytelling. The game, while admirably accurate visually, feels sluggish in trying to emulate the frenetic energy on its own.
There are over 40 characters to choose from across the ONE PIECE lore. This means that gameplay is rarely boring, as each of the villains and heroes brings their own set of talents to the table. A few of them feel a tad too similar (which is to be expected), but overall the variety feels surprisingly welcome. Personally, I found myself using Luffy the most. There’s something endearing about the rascal.
The treasure log is the secondary mode in the game. A series of challenges and levels outside of the main storyline that can be played both alone as well as with a split-screen co-op partner. The online mode allows for a grand total of four players, and the insanity that ensues from this is nothing short of hysterical. The PS4 shows its age a bit here (the game itself isn’t that much of a looker to begin with), and there’s some noticeable stutter at its peak.
In other technical aspects ONE PIECE performs moderately well. The camera is still an iffy mess, often pointing in a completely wrong direction than where it needs to be, and the lock-in system works only when it feels like it. Most of the time you’re surrounded by so many enemies that it doesn’t really matter. Crowd control is one of the easiest and most fun aspects of the game, and the area attacks are both devastating as they are pleasing. But try and do anything else and the controls quickly show their limitations. Random quests will see you escorting friends or capturing areas unseen, and neither are fun to play. Fighting against commanders or bosses also lack any feedback, and often you’re just punching at air hoping to drop their health bars down a bit faster. It’s a major drawback in a game that is entirely built around making you feel like the most epic brawler in the world.
Luckily the game makes up for a lot of this with a swell progression system that is immensely rewarding. A skill tree system grants bonuses for all characters, while personal progression is tracked through new perks and moves. Whether your playstyle is that of a tank or a fast moving manic pixie hellbeast, ONE PIECE has you covered. It’s an aspect all Musou games should emphasize more.
The game features everything fans could want from the series, and delivers a compellingly heft 15-hour story mode to feast on. The secondary multiplayer and co-op modes have another dozen hours of content on top of that, making this an absolutely packed adventure to uncover.
I enjoyed my time with ONE PIECE: PIRATE WARRIORS 4 quite a bit, but I honestly can’t say I’m yearning to go back for more. It’s not a bad game by any measure, but it’s not for me. For fans of the massive franchise it should be an absolute no brainer to get. They should add another star to the total. Everyone else, give the demo a try first.