Tecmo Koei’s Dynasty Warriors series is a formula that could be applied to so many franchises. We’ve already seen the company move from various eras, such as the Sengoku era of Japan’s history or the Hundred Years War that happened between England and France in the 14thcentury. What really made me personally excited was the move to anime licences, such as Gundam and Fist of the North Star. Last year, gamers were treated to One Piece: Pirate Warriors, a game that surprised me with how fun it was. Its use of Dynasty Warriors gameplay, along with the platforming sections, made it a mix-up for a series that often remains straightforward, but it did contain problems that I wished would be fixed in the sequel, which back then I said would no doubt would be happening. Seems I was right, as here we are with One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2, so has Luffy and the gang improved their game?
One of the more exciting aspects of Pirate Warriors 2 is the fact that the game has set up an original story, named Dream Story, that isn’t canon. This is wonderful for people who already played the first game, as it removes the need to replay sections of a story fans have already experienced just a year ago. The plot is set two years after Luffy and the gang entered the New World, and once again follows the Straw Hat Pirates as they discover the mysterious dials and are forced in battle between the Great Pirate Alliance, The Marines and the Straw Hats themselves. It’s not a particularly great story, mainly used as an justification to get the cast together and let them brawl it out between them, but I have no issues with that.
For people who enjoy the Warriors games, but don’t really know much about One Piece, then you can still get away with enjoying what’s on offer here. The characters shine by being eccentric and likeable, and with such a vast range of characters – there are 35+ characters to pick from, although some are pre-time skip versions that stop them being original – there is bound to be one that you will find yourself attached to. For me, Nami was quite a character, thanks to her ability to place clouds above the soldiers on the battlefield, then once activating a certain combo the clouds would burst into lightning, causing massive damage. But of course if you aren’t into that, there’s also the star of the show, Luffy, with his rubber limbs that can hit people afar, Zoro with his three katanas, or Robin, a woman who can summon hands out of the ground… yes, this is a complete and utter bizarre cast of characters, but that’s what makes One Piece interesting.
In fact, the gameplay as a whole feels better presented than the original game. No longer are there “action” stages, which were maps in Pirate Warriors focused on platforming and quick-time events. Those stages were a strange inclusion, since there was no dedicated jump button, making all the jumps fixed to context sensitive cliffs – it felt awkward and forced. Also, the camera couldn’t handle the positions for any of the more complex jumping areas or quick-time-events, causing for some serious obscured views. Now with them gone, what you’re left with is pure Musou mode, which is the typical Dynasty Warriors gameplay you would expect from a title that has the word Warriors in it, so fans of Omega Force’s work will surely enjoy playing this.
Initially, players will only have Pirate Log accessible to them during the start of the game, along with two crew members that can be used. Pirate Log is where the main story is set, with each chapter containing multiple episodes that act as the game’s stages. Once you’ve played a fraction of the game other options begin to unlock, such as Crew Episodes, which are part of the Pirate Log, but are one-off missions that star the selected crew as a boss. This is still a standard map, where you take over encampments, kill lots of marines and pirates and beat the boss. Characters are also unlocked through Pirate Log. If you want to have access to everything then you will need to play through all of the story.
Once on the battlefield, everything will seem familiar to fans of either Warriors games or the first Pirate Warriors. The map is displayed on the top right corner, covered in red to represent the enemies, which of course need the help of your fist or weapon to be delivered a beating. The life and special bars sit on the top left, with a bar that builds up on the side of your selected character’s portrait to represent a new move called “style.” When using style your character will be given an increase in damage for a limited time. Deal enough damage while in style mode and you will be able to summon your assigned crew member for additional combos. Pressing circle once the crew metre is filled will force the main character into a special attack. Once complete, they will switch with the assigned crew member, who can then come in and finish off the combo. Players are given a little time to control this sub-crew member before casting their special attack and reverting back to the original playable character.
Style is a curious mechanic, because bosses in the game can also activate a similar move that makes them invulnerable to attacks. The only way to defeat this is to either wait for it to run out or activate your own style to counter theirs. It also mixes up the gameplay by allowing fans, for a brief time, to play as another character without having to revert back to restarting the level. What I believe should happen next is that whenever Pirate Warriors 3 arrives, they should let fans pick a team of three heroes, similar to what Warriors Orochi 3implements, to let fans play who they want for as long as they want.
Combos are extremely easy to grasp, because there’s a limited number and follow such actions as square, square, triangle or triangle, triangle, triangle. Combos create specialised attacks, such as crowd control or air damage, so it’s worth learning combos to use them in the correct situation. More combos are unlocked as a character levels up, which is done by simply finishing levels and receiving the experience points. There is no jumping in Pirate Warriors 2, as a dash button is implemented instead, but the dash is helpful for extending combo strings or dodging out of an enemy’s attack. It’s useful to master, because it can save you a lot of trouble when bosses begin to use abilities that can freeze you on the spot, leaving you to stand there and take the damage.
I am a little disappointed with the stage designs. I know I said the “action” stages of Pirate Warriors didn’t work well mechanically, but the idea was good at as a concept and it at least made the levels complex with height and other aspects that weren’t limited to running along the ground in simple lines that lead to boxed areas where most of the enemies lie waiting. To be fair, there are some interesting ideas thrown in to make the levels different. One of the earlier examples of this is a stage that features a foggy area of the map, making it feel like a maze as you have no sense of direction. But I would like a grander scale and more variety for the next instalment.
This being a Warriors game means it suffers from repetition, so you have to be a fan of the genre to completely enjoy it, because no matter if this is One Piece, Samurais, Gundam or whatever new license comes to fruition – can I please have Naruto Ninja Warriors – if you don’t like the notion of tapping buttons and beating the hell out of people, then you will simply get bored with what’s on offer here. Any One Piece fan who can deal with that, then they’re in for a fun time, as it is the best One Piece game to come to English soil. It manages to capture the essence of the show and translate it into a Warriors game successfully. If that’s all you are looking for from this title, then you’ll be very happy.
Two player cooperative, a feature that’s always included in Warriors games, is unsurprisingly here in full glory. Online play is featured, which is great for people who want to play with another person. It’s also handy when you want to defeat the stages on the hardest setting, as you can send an SOS signal, which opens up a lobby, allowing one person to join you and help you overcome the challenge. I found it was easier to make your own room rather than helping someone else, as the lobbies would always be full when I accepted someone’s SOS request. You can also set up rooms to replay any of the existing stages you beat – great for farming to level up. It’s annoying that after every stage is completed the game will kick you out, meaning you have to search for another partner. I don’t know why it can’t just let players pick the next level, as what the game does at the moment feels prehistoric in regards to online gaming. The only mode you can’t play online is Challenge, which are special levels that will test your skills.
The developers have done a wonderful job capturing the artistic visuals of One Piece and rendering them in 3D. It helps that the game keeps the style it built on in the first title – the pencilled cel-shading that resembles the source material. It’s colourful and vibrant, and I feel that this is the most atheistically pleasing Warriors title to date. It’s a huge shame that the frame rate seems to be all over the place. It seems to be unlocked, so at one point it can be nice and smooth, but then often you’ll see it shift down a pace. It never gets to the crawling mess that the pre-patched Dynasty Warriors 8had on the Xbox 360, but it’s still an unwanted occurrence. Voice acting is once again only in Japanese.
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 takes the foundations that were built by the original Pirate Warriors, strips away the gameplay that it wasn't confident about and sticks with what Warriors games know best – frantic action against waves upon waves of enemies while looking stylishly true to source material to please fans of the show.One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 still has some issues to overcome, but at least it has figured out its identity and can keep crafting that to perfection in the upcoming sequels. For now, we have a better sequel that has more rewarding gameplay than the predecessor, plus character driven diversity that outshines other Warriors games in that department. Fans of both One Piece and Warriors games should be happy about that.