Hands-On with One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2

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I had the chance yesterday to get some hands-on time with the PlayStation 3 version of One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2, courtesy of Namco Bandai. The demo was restricted to 10 minute bursts, featuring four characters in Luffy, Nami, Kuzan and Trafalgar Law.

The game has been out in Japan for a little over three weeks and is in the early stages of the full English localization treatment with its Western release planned for Q3 of this year on the PS3 and PS Vita. Thankfully, I was given an English fact sheet, which included the control scheme…or else I would have had to learn Japanese QUICK! There were two tutorial levels available for play: Sky Island and Punk Hazard – as well as one unnamed (or more accurately, untranslated) stage of the game’s first chapter.

Now, although each character had stats written underneath their name in the character selection screen, I understandably couldn’t make out exactly what each bar represented so my choice of character was quite random. Also, I am not the most familiar with One Piece, so imagine my amazement at discovering my first pick of Kuzan is pretty much a 9 foot giant! I chose Sky Island as my playground and jumped right in. All the enemies (pirates/navy clearly distinguished by their red clothing) looked like ants next to this guy!

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I quickly acclimated myself to the controls, which are largely what you’d expect from a Dynasty Warriors style action game; ‘square’ for your “normal” attack, ‘triangle’ for your “ranged attack”, ‘X’ to dodge/dash and ‘O’ to execute an “ultimate attack”. These are the basics, but then you also have a “style” and “special” attack at your disposal, executed by pressing ‘R1’ and ‘R2’ respectively. During gameplay, I honestly had no knowledge of the “special attack” functionality and so I didn’t end up using it. It is governed by a yellow gauge under the health bar, that fills up as your hit count rises.

Part of the reason why I didn’t discover that ability is because the “ultimate attacks” used up the same meter, and so I assumed that was its sole purpose. Kuzan’s “style attack”, or Haki, makes him much faster and allows for longer hit chains for a short period of time. This ability is made possible once a vertical gauge fills and the ‘R1’ prompt flashes on the screen, letting you know it is available. As for your base form of offense, different combinations of face button presses result in unique attacks and combos.

Kuzan’s special power revolves around ice, and so these combos involved manifesting a massive “ice block” (which it actually sounded like he said) that he drops on opponents, a radiant frost that freezes and damages all enemies within a certain radius, a bombardment of bullet-like icicles and more. His “ultimate attack” is a linear freeze blast that reaches out and forward all the way to the end of the screen, destroying all enemies in its path. Enemy opposition – despite their high numbers – was weak, doing barely any damage and rarely even hitting me. That’s not to say I’m amazing at the game…or maybe I am. Yeah, let’s settle on that as the truth.

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The mini-map on the top right displays your location, the zones under enemy control and where your comrades are fighting (A.I. partners in this instance). Having not played the first game, taking my first glance at the mini-map explained all I needed to know about the purpose of the game; wipe-out the pirates/navy in each area and overtake it. It’s pretty much a take on the “domination/zones” game type, except there’s no apparent threat of them being reclaimed. Almost every zone will hold/spawn a stronger general that you can lock onto by clicking in the right analog stick. Although they are more imposing physically, they pose little threat.

Strewn throughout the map are treasure chests that can be opened with a normal attack, and will hold items that boost either of your meters or coins, which you can later spend on upgrading your character’s attributes (these items are also sparsely dropped by the enemies). Short cinematic camera shots also play as you progress, alerting you to specific points of interest, such as a newly accessible area of the map. Soon enough, my ten minutes abruptly came to an end as an end-slate shows for a few seconds before returning me to the main menu. I hopped right back in though…

This time I chose Trafalgar Law on the 1st chapter stage. Objectives stay the same, as does the core gameplay. Stylistically, each character differs, but fundamentally they aren’t too different. What I did notice and utilise with both (and would probably be enabled for Nami too) was the ability to call upon Luffy by pressing ‘O’ after activating a Haki. I believe this is tied directly to the ‘special meter’ and effectively gives you momentary control over the lead character, who seemed much more powerful. It almost functioned like a tag-in, tag-out mechanic, but I didn’t see the ultimate advantages of it. After more of the same for the following 10 minutes, I decided that I got the gist of the game.

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Visually, it’s an exciting title as the action is fast and heavy (not Bayonetta fast, mind you). The worlds are colourful and I’m sure fans of the franchise will greatly appreciate it; surely much more than myself. It was fun, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t see it sustaining my interest in the long-run. I usually gravitate to more story-driven, clearly defined goal-oriented games rather than the simple “clear this area” gameplay exhibited here. There are hints of an underlying plot following a “New World” storyline crafted specifically for the game, but with the build being in Japanese I definitely wasn’t able to follow it.

I would love to see more of the game once it’s closer to being translated completely, but also because I’m intrigued to see if there will be any further polish. The game is made to reflect the show’s visual look and feel, but the overall visuals are not very detailed nonetheless. Home-grown, Japanese developed titles are known for having a decided focus on gameplay and a lack of one on graphical quality, with many current-gen games looking like PS2 titles. You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that of One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2, but those who care are not the target audience. It’s a niche product with a narrow appeal outside of Japan; if you love One Piece, you will undoubtedly want to give this a shot. It was made for you.

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I am a graduate of the Bachelor of Interactive Entertainment (w/ major in Games Design) course at Qantm College, Sydney.

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