Do you know how popular the One Piece franchise is? I didn’t. Sure, I was aware of its existence, but as a 30 year old man (ok, I’m 31……you’ll find yourself lying one day too), I was blissfully unaware of just how massive it really is. The manga has been running in one form or another since 1997 and is said to have sold in excess of 260 million volumes as of 2010. God knows what the number is now. Either way, with a hugely successful manga followed by an equally successful anime, the only thing surprising was just how long it took for a videogame to show up.
In true Namco Bandai / Tecmo Koei fashion, the original One Piece: Pirate Warrior was fashioned into a rather limited Musou clone in the image of the hugely successful and seemingly critic proof, Dynasty Warrior series. It did try to add a little variety to proceeding with some basic platforming, some ill-advised quick time events and cinematic boss battles, but none of that really worked, leaving a Dynasty Warriors clone painfully short on the basic inclusions that tend to make them quite so popular in the first place. With a limited roster of characters and a host of mechanics that failed to add anything of value, it was, for lack of a better term, a bit pants.
Still, it flew off the shelves and a sequel showed up a year later. As for said sequel, well, how successful you perceive it to be will depend largely upon on how you approach it. As a Dynasty Warriors clone, the sequel is far more successful with three times as many characters, a totally new story and a host of additional quests and collectibles combining to create a Dynasty Warriors clone on par with the likes of Fist of the North Star and Gundam. However, by removing those few aspects of gameplay that made it even slightly unique rather than actively attempting to improve upon them, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 has essentially given up the ghost of being anything other than yet another button masher that gets by largely on its excessive, although admittedly impressive levels of fan service.
If you’re a fan of One Piece and that doesn’t bother you, well, in all honesty, you probably already have this sitting on your shelf. For everyone else, despite its many positives, like all Musou titles, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 should be approached with a degree of caution. The actual gameplay and framework is much more solid this time around with core combat improved, the addition of collectible coins making upgrading a more natural, engaging experience and the updated support mechanics and ‘Haki Mode’ offering up at least a degree of tactical diversity and a great way to get other characters involved in the battle.
These, along with a host of other minor improvements and an array of slashing cuts do make this a far superior game to its predecessor, but by playing it safe, has subsequently lost any chance of doing anything genuinely interesting with the fantastic source material. In fairness, special abilities do play up to the unique powers and skills of each character and, thanks to some nice visual touches, does capture at least some of the spirit that has made the anime/manga quite so popular, but with such limited scope for anything other than mindless repetitive brawling, there is little doubt that this solid sequel will still be seen by many as a missed opportunity.
I would love to say that co-op saves the day, but the online infrastructure is poor and will drop you in with random players on random levels. It works, but it all feels a tad archaic by today’s standards. Local co-op on the other hand, while an improvement and theoretically the best way to experience the game, is naturally dependent upon a split-screen mode that simply doesn’t work for games of this ilk. I’m not blaming the developers – the simple fact is that these Musou titles don’t look good and are no fun to play when in split-screen mode.
As always, a game in the Musou mould will split opinion. Unlike the first game, this is a very solid take on the genre with far superior fan service, a vast array of playable characters and an all new story mode that will surely go down well with fans of the series. Saying that, while One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 now represents another very solid entry into the Musou genre, that does not necessarily make it a worthwhile experience. What is here works, but that doesn’t deter from the fact that it is repetitive, unambitious, artistically bland (outside of the characters) and, well, just a little boring. The thing is, as always, some will absolutely love this game, but be warned, One Piece fan or not, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 is now, for better and for worse, Musou to the core.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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