|System: PS Vita, PS3*|
|Dev: Tecmo Koei|
|Pub: Namco Bandai|
|Release: September 3, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Violence, Blood, Suggestive Themes, Alcohol Reference, Mild Language, Crude Humor, Use of Tobacco|
by Becky Cunningham
It's always a good idea to go into a licensed game with low expectations. If nothing else, expect some cut corners in the name of easy profitability and quick release. While some of these issues are evident in One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2, they don't stop the game from being more fun than it has any right to be, even for somebody who has no background with the One Piece anime or manga.
For those of you who are One Piece fans, this game contains an original “Dream” story set in the New World. It's not meant to be canon and is basically an excuse to throw a bunch of popular characters from the setting together, giving the Straw Hats a series of crazy battles to fight and unlikely allies to collect. In fact, the Straw Hats are separated early on, meaning that Monkey D Luffy and his navigator Nami will be fighting alongside a lot of unlikely allies before they manage to get the rest of the crew back together.
The story is secondary to the action, however, which is an entertaining mash-up of brawler gameplay with light real-time strategy elements. Each level has territory that the Straw Hats must capture and hold, all while taking out powerful enemies and meeting various goals as set out in the game. There's always one major goal for a level, but it's broken up into smaller, intermediate goals such as capturing specific areas, defeating certain enemies, or protecting AI-controlled allies. Things can change quickly on the battlefield, so players need to stay on their toes and always keep an eye on the current battlefield objective.
Combat itself involves simple combinations using the square and triangle buttons, with characters learning new combination attacks as they level up. The X button allows characters to dodge or charge enemies, and the circle button is used for special attacks, which have usage limited by a spell-power bar. Levels are packed to the gills with mobs of enemies, most of which can easily be mowed down by the player character's attacks. Different types of these basic enemies have different kinds of attacks, but they're so easy to defeat with the simplest of combos that it's hardly worth worrying about that.
Instead, the best way to beat levels is to rush through the little guys and concentrate on boss-level characters, which range from mid-boss pirate and Marine captains to dangerous named characters. This is where the game's “Style Action” mode comes into play. Beating up little guys fills the Style Gauge, and entering Style Mode allows Fighter characters to do devastating damage and Technical characters to slow down enemies while they attack at normal speed. It's best to use Style Mode carefully, as named bosses can enter a state in which they can only be successfully attacked by a character in Style Mode. There are usually a lot of little guys around to punch, though, so the Style Gauge is easy to fill.
If a character defeats enough enemies in Style Mode, a circle prompt will flash, and pressing that button allows the player character to execute a special attack, then summon in a crew member who can fight in the main character's stead for a few moments. With good timing, the player can get free special attacks out of both the main character and crew member, which can devastate even a room full of several mid-bosses and a main boss. Style Mode adds a bit of complexity and strategy to an otherwise simple combat system.
Another aspect of the game that adds complexity and entertainment value is the huge variety of characters available to play. Each of these characters feels unique and has its own array of combination and special attacks. The rubber warrior Monkey D Luffy is a great all-rounder, with attacks that excel at both close and medium range. The fish-man Jinbei is a huge bruiser who clops along slowly in his wooden sandals but unleashes devastating water-based attacks on foes. Marco the Phoenix, on the other hand, flies through the air at blazing speed. It's easy to avoid being damaged with him, but he's difficult to control. There's something here for every kind of player, and a nominal (in-game money) fee raises any character's level to the current maximum, so there's no need for tedious character leveling.
Each level is fairly fast, and the brawling action is fun. The only real downer is that AI-controlled allies are generally useless and must frequently be rescued by the player character. The game has a tendency to throw an army at the player's home-base territory directly after the player has defeated a big boss on the opposite side of the map, so a single player will spend a lot of time dashing from place to place. Thus, teaming up with another player not only makes the game more fun, but also it appears that the levels have been designed with two players in mind.
There are two multiplayer options available. Couch co-op provides a horizontal split-screen view that can make the action a bit more difficult to follow but allows for easy in-person communication. Players can also request a “rescue” online, becoming matched with whatever Internet stranger answers the call. The game is easy enough that playing with strangers shouldn't be an issue, and players gain bonuses for answering rescue calls. Still, couch co-op seems like the best way to play the game overall, and my spouse and I had a blast playing it together. There's a lot of button-mashing involved, so it's best to play in short sessions in order to maximize the fun factor, another aspect that lends the game well to co-op play.