One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 offers a faithful retelling of the iconic series’ story with thrilling combat to boot.
My last review was for a game based on My Hero Academia, an anime series I’ve never seen. That impacted my entire approach to the game as I was playing it as an outsider. This time around, playing One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4, the situation is different, but not all that much. I loved watching Luffy’s weird pirate adventures as a kid, but as I grew up, the show dropped off for me. I’m shocked that it’s still continuing to this day, and can only imagine what’s changed on those pirate-filled seas.
Regardless, I know what One Piece is, but I still didn’t know what to expect from One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4. What I found was a wonderful retelling of the Straw Hat Pirates’ adventures partnered with exciting, albeit repetitive, gameplay. And while there are some hang-ups in the story that seem to stem from localization issues, it hardly takes anything away from this epic journey to the Grand Line and beyond.
As I said, I went into One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 with a little bit of a background in the series. I knew who Luffy was, Zoro is one of my favorite characters from what I can remember, and the art style is more or less unsettling. And it seems like not much has changed since I watched the show as a kid, for better or worse.
All the same, the game’s story is a faithful retelling of this show’s 20-year saga. Billed as the dramatic log, you play through the story of One Piece from the very start, and I mean that quite literally. One of the first cutscenes you’ll see is of Luffy receiving his namesake straw hat from Red-Hair Shanks. The game takes you through all of One Piece’s main story arcs and, thankfully, doesn’t dwell on any filler. Sections of importance that you don’t play through are handled well through narrated cinematics and are highly reminiscent of the shonen anime.
The real meat of the story comes at the climax of each arc, just as it does in the show. As emotions came to a head and tensions rose to a breaking point, I was engaged and enthralled. The world of One Piece is weird, juvenile, and wacky, but don’t think it isn’t filled with real drama or decent messages. I was even surprised to find some tear-jerking moments, like Usopp’s apology to the crew or Ace’s death.
That’s not to say the story of One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is without faults – there are plenty, they just aren’t written. The game’s more dramatic moments are shown through fully rendered cutscenes, and assumedly, they would showcase the game’s graphical fidelity. Admittedly, they do, but they’re also hindered by the often off-putting style of One Piece and some localization mix-ups.
The smallest of these sins are grammatical issues in the game’s translation – something I can more or less forgive. What I can’t forgive as much is the game’s beyond disappointing lip-syncing. In moments of high tension, the characters’ voices are almost completely desynced from their lips. Of course, neither of these take away from the fun I had with the game. However, they did take away from my experience with the story and detract from what should have otherwise been intense or heartbreaking moments.
In the end, the journey you experience in One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is perfect for a game adaptation. The video game version of Luffy’s saga is enough to intrigue someone with little to no background in One Piece, and its handling of the series’ more memorable moments should leave die-hard fans happy. If you’re looking for a more digestible way to get into the story of One Piece, that’s what this title is offering.
Looking over to how the game actually plays, it’s more or less the same story – a fantastic and rewarding experience with some hiccups in between. Overall, playing One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is like playing a Dynasty Warriors title. Every mission places you on an enormous battlefield – sometimes a large town with destructible buildings, or a large barren wasteland filled with enemies to pummel. And pummel, you do! Playing as one of the super-powered members of the roster puts you a few rungs up the food chain from your basic enemies.
Combat is pretty straightforward – in most cases, you can just button mash your way to victory. In others, namely going up against bosses, you’ll have to actually mind their attacks, dodge out of the way, and whittle down an armor bar before dealing any real damage. Fighting can get repetitive if it’s approached like this, and I wouldn’t blame a player for doing so. It’s incredibly easy to mash the light attack button through a level. However, varying your attacks and combos, and making use of super moves makes the game infinitely more interesting.
While this system isn’t all that complex, it is satisfying. With a few moves, Luffy can attack swathes of enemies, fling them into the air, and then slam an enormous, inflated heel down. Every character in the game is also exceptionally well animated. Every single regular and special attack is given special attention to detail that in turn lends weight behind each punch, or viciousness behind each swipe of a sword. Just watching fights in One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is a treat, taking control of one even more so.
To spice up combat, each character has their own growth map and a suite of special moves. Special moves are activated with a combination of button presses, and if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll likely recognize them. These attacks each have a cooldown, so they’re best used against tougher enemies. You’re able to upgrade these abilities, as well as gain others and upgrade stats on the growth map. Each character has their own, and these maps are extensive.
Besides basic upgrades to health, speed, stamina and such, you can unlock and level-up special attacks and perks. You unlock all of these combat bonuses with a combination of coins and berries earned in-game. I found myself hardly needing to grind for more currency for upgrades, but the few times I did, it didn’t take long to earn more – thanks mostly to the game’s alternate modes.
Besides the story mode – which admittedly offers the most fun in the game – there are two other main game modes. Free logs simply give you the opportunity to play through story missions with any character, a fun little mix-up, but ultimately it doesn’t add much. Treasure Logs are where the game’s writers had the most fun, and you might too. In this game mode, you’ll find yourself in different scenarios and have to fight your way through them. They don’t change the game up much, but wacky scenarios and dialogue are well worth playing through some of them for, if not just for the coins and berries.
While this all seems like a good experience, the most fun I had in One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 was when I was able to play as one of the giant characters. For most of the game, you’re stuck playing as a regular-sized person. In One Piece standards, that’s pretty boring. However, playing as Whitebeard the pirate, a towering goliath wielding a staff that controls the wind, I was immediately thrilled. It’s the same kind of fun you have playing a Godzilla or King Kong game as you’re this giant, unstoppable force that smashes through the opposition. I understand why you don’t experience playing giant characters more in the story, but you haven’t really played the game until you give it a try.
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is what I look for in a game based on an anime or manga. It was clearly made with special care directed towards the source material, and even if you’ve never heard of One Piece before, you’ll come out of this game loving its characters. And I have to say, as someone who’s not really a fan of games like Dynasty Warriors, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 pulls off the combat style with grace. Its combat has that one trait that takes a fighting system from good to great. It’s not just fun to play, but it’s fun to watch.
I haven’t played many One Piece games before, but Pirate Warriors 4 has set my sights on the series. For those getting into One Piece now, this title is a fantastic introductory that sets a high standard for future entries to come.