Very few folk are likely to be familiar with Monkey D. Luffy, the Straw Hat Pirates or the Japanese shounen manga (aimed at males aged thirteen and upwards and therefore including fighting and enhanced physical attributes...ahem) series they all come from, or One Piece, as it’s known. The thing is, One Piece is absolutely massive. Since 2008 it has been the world’s biggest manga series, generating lifetime sales of two-hundred and eighty million volumes including up to four million on particular books. An anime series has been around since 1999 and there have been multiple games since 2000, however 2012’s One Piece: Pirate Warriors was the first where Bandai Namco engaged Tecmo Koei and Omega Force to help development, a sensible move given the sprawling third-person brawler/action-adventure it became (the development teams were familiar with the genre thanks to their Dynasty Warriors game series). That game was fantastically successful, gaining massive critical success (at least in Japan) and selling over one million copies. It was so successful a sequel was rushed into production and exists now as One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2.
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 is largely more of what made the first game so popular, unsurprisingly. On booting up the game you’re treated to a very bright and bouncy cinematic which fleetingly introduces you to various Straw Hat Pirates and their flying / floating ships. Eventually you get to choose to start a Pirate’s Log and within in that you can begin your Dream Story, or the main mode of the game as most would recognise it. Oddly, given the speedy turnaround of this game’s development, the story is non-canon and is in fact unique to this game. Whilst it would have been easier to take something known and loved by the fans it was probably deemed too risky in the short timeframe - what if they got it wrong, or made a poor choice? Regardless, it allows the devs to really go for it in terms of all that happens over the twelve or so hours you’ll spend navigating the plot.
The story comprises main chapters and crew chapters (basically extra bits of story involving other pirates met through the game) and as you move through them the basic setup and execution are the same. You pick your crew member to play as - which to begin with is Monkey D. Luffy, with others unlockable as you get further into the game - and choose your loadout, something which is split into two categories - skills and crew. The crew loadout is who you choose to go with you into this particular mission, although it will not be them exclusively who come ashore. The skill loadout is where you get to apply the various skill notes obtained by collecting coins (ostensibly used to help level up your character but if you get the right combo they also provide a skill note) you collect in-game, each providing some benefit, for example attack speed. Again, the further into the game you are, the better the choices for each of these and the more entertaining and varied the level is. As things get harder you get more tools at your disposal so the increasing challenge shouldn’t be a problem for anyone who can grasp the action mechanics early on.
The structure of the game then is mission by mission, each tackled with your chosen loadout from what’s available. Combine this with an objective to capture a location by defeating all opponents, area bosses and main boss, and you have your game. Repeat ad infinitum. Each level comprises hundreds of baddies similarly to the developer’s Dynasty Warriors series. Aside from this it feels like an Eastern God of War as you’re in a three-dimensional locale aiming to defeat everything in your way using the skills and combos at your disposal. Instead of fantastical weapons and godly skill though, you (as Luffy at least) are a rubberised wrecking-machine. You can punch and kick and all combinations thereof. Your arm can extend to reach farther than you’d imagine, it can enlarge to drop tens of enemies on their behinds in one go or you can do something akin to Eddie Honda’s hundred-hand slap if you get the button presses right. As you might expect your first forays into battle will feel very uncontrolled, a true button-bashing exercise. But as you learn what five triangles does, or a quick circle, circle, square, you’ll find preferred moves or the right move for a given situation and start to rack up the K.O. count well into the hundreds.
Special moves are apparent, too. Fighting successfully fills a meter. When unleashed by pressing R1 your character will make some kind of stand and then you can double in size for example, or swap to your crew members and play as them for a period of time. Whatever happens the devastation is immense and after a very short while all is back to normal. As you defeat more enemies, more bosses (who appear when enough red shirts are sent packing) and capture more areas you obtain XP which allows you to level-up your chosen characters, improving their skills in various areas and enabling more combos which enhance your avatar’s skill and power if executed successfully.
As you churn through the missions you’ll find the story is fun and fleeting, superficial really and secondary to the multitude of characters you can play as. Each level is getting you to attempt the same thing - beat the bad guys and achieve the objectives. The overall objective of a given mission is similar from one to the other but things change on the fly in-game, something which you’ll need to stop and check periodically if you want to succeed at it all. The screen is too busy to take it all in when announced so handily it’s all collated in a menu accessed via the pause button. Really though it’s all about trying the thirty-seven characters you can unlock, each with their own distinct and varied style (for the most part) - both in terms of how they look (Luffy looks like an average young chap but Nami has been created through the shounen lens) and how they play. Some have weapons, some are speedier, better close-up or good for attacking multiples at once rather than individually. Trying each to find your best fit is imperative, as it is in traditional one versus one beat ‘em ups. If you find a particular character is superior in your mind to the ones you’ve had to date it improves the endgame sufficiently to forget that each mission is just a variant on the same template.
The game doesn’t end when you have completed the Pirate’s Log Dream Story mode. Any completed level can be tackled via Free Log and the drive to do this is twofold: the desire to obtain an S rating instead of the A or B you already have, and the chance to find the three secret coins. Remember the more coins you have the better equipped your characters will be but there are also all manner of trophies which have as part of their requirements the need to obtain a set number of coins. There are also galleries where you can spend earnt cash and the items available make this a worthy way to add value to the game itself. You can get hold of dialogue and music for instance, which given it’s the original Japanese voice track on offer here the work is outstandingly good quality and deserving of being listened to again and again. The audio then is standout thanks to the original track being used rather than a voiceover but the animation and graphics more than match the quality of similarly fast-paced action games from this generation.
Given the source material One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 is likely to be avoided by most as they have no connection already in place and the genre is ten-a-penny on the current generation of consoles. This would be a mistake. The story is lively and full of interesting characters even if it’s basic in its plotting and execution. That’s not a problem though given the focus is on the battles themselves and the mechanics of the fighting, made ever deeper thanks to the variety of crew members at your disposal and the combos that come with them. It’s not Bayonetta depth but it sits well alongside Kratos and company. The structure can get repetitive but there’s so much going on in addition to the main objectives that if you enjoy this at the start you’ll still do so at the end. The otaku edge to it is the nudge needed to make it a worthwhile addition to your collection.