Just shy of a year after bringing One Piece Grand Battle to the US, Namco Bandai delivers its follow-up, One Piece Grand Adventure, and you have to wonder what the developers spent that year doing. The additions of an adventure mode and support characters to the brawler gameplay model are somewhat notable, but the majority of Grand Adventure has literally been copied verbatim from Grand Battle. Even if you weren't disappointed by the shallow, repetitive nature of last year's model, Grand Adventure gives you little incentive to invest in this year's One Piece.
If you're not already familiar with the piratical exploits of Monkey D. Luffy and the rest of the Straw Hat Pirates, turn back now. One Piece Grand Adventure simply isn't for you. Fans, however, should have no problem leaping feetfirst into the grand adventure mode, which initially casts you as Luffy--though once you complete his grand adventure, you'll unlock new quests for other characters, like the clown pirate Buggy the Clown. The grand adventure is spread out across a series of isolated island chains, and each one features a number of conflicts that you'll have to resolve before you can move on. Unsurprisingly, that resolution usually involves you punching a bunch of guys in the face. There's a little variety to the action; sometimes you'll just be punching one guy in the face, sometimes you'll have to eliminate a field of guys with your face punching, and occasionally you'll be given odd, non-face-punching-related tasks like destroying a number of boxes, using your fighting prowess to clean all the snow off a building's roof, or racing another character while riding what appears to be some kind of Chocobo knockoff.
Succeeding in these challenges gives you experience points that you can invest in your main character or in any of the other fighters that join up during the course of your adventure, though there's little reason to switch your focus midstream once you've already invested experience points in a particular character. You can earn additional experience by meeting certain bonus conditions, which change from fight to fight and include finishing the fight with a special move, never jumping during the course of the fight, or beating your opponent within a certain time limit. The bonus conditions add a bit of novelty to the action, since it's easy enough to just mash your way through most fights. Still, the grand adventure mode is pretty thin, and even though each adventure is relatively short, the combat is simple and repetitive enough that you likely won't be inspired to play past the first few. Outside the grand adventure mode lays the grand battle mode, which is a handful of stock fighting modes, including a regular one-on-one versus mode, an arena mode where you have to fight your way through the ranks of increasingly challenging opponents, a custom tournament mode, and a training mode. If you want to play with a friend, this is where you'll do it, though the absence of any kind of four-way action seems like a pretty glaring omission.
Keeping with the One Piece feel, the combat in Grand Adventure is frantic and over-the-top, and different characters have unique suites of moves that suit them. Luffy's fighting style, for example, usually involves him testing the elasticity of his rubbery frame, while Zolo primarily fights using his array of swords. Each character has a good dozen different combos he or she can pull off, as well as a throw and a handful of special attacks that can be activated only when you have enough of your skill meter filled. You can also tap in to your skill meter to summon a support character for a short while. Depending on which support character you choose, they can attack your enemy up-close or with projectiles, restore your health, or even be ridden into battle. The support characters are a bit clumsy, and they're more effective at creating more onscreen chaos than they are at pitching the odds in your favor, a sentiment that applies pretty well to most of the combat. Each character's moves may be unique, but the button combos used to pull them off are all but identical, making it easy to switch from one character to another but eliminating the requirement of any modicum of skill. The decent variety of moves each character is equipped with seems like a bit of a waste, since you can best most enemies just by mashing on the main attack button repeatedly.
The only real motivation to change up your attacks is to avoid hearing the exact same canned battle cry over and over again, a problem that plagues the whole of the game's sound design. When you're not listening to a generic, synthesized orchestra, you're being punished with gratingly enthusiastic sound bites. The game's visuals are more compelling--the characters sport some solid cel-shading--but virtually everything you'll see in Grand Adventure was lifted from last year's Grand Battle. Top it all off with some stifling frame rate problems, and it's hard to get too excited about the game's presentation.
One Piece Grand Adventure is definitely a more fleshed-out game than its predecessor, but the game feels as though the developer just threw in the features it meant to include the first time around rather than develop a full-blown sequel. If you already invested in One Piece Grand Battle, you should save your money, because you've effectively already played One Piece Grand Adventure. Everyone else, aside from maybe the most devout One Piece fans, should avoid Grand Adventure because of its insubstantial story mode and shallow gameplay.