If someone were to ask me to sum up Japanese anime in one sentence, I would have to read them the description of One Piece: "One Piece follows the adventures of Monkey, a boy whose body gains the properties of rubber from accidentally eating a supernatural fruit." That's all they would need to know to understand how creative, insane and utterly ridiculous Japanese culture is. One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 is an accurate representation of the manga and anime, yet is dulled down by being 'just another Dynasty Warriors clone'. This however does not mean you won't have some fun along the way.
It is quite difficult to fully explain the story of One Piece to someone on the outside, the series has some of the most outlandish and bizarre characters I have ever seen and, as I explained in the first sentence, the One Piece universe is completely ludicrous. Allow me to sum it up for you as best as possible. Monkey's friends are turned evil by a mysterious force and your aim is to bring them back to the good side. Along the way you must team up with your enemies and fight against your corrupt allies before you can reach your goal. The story is entertaining if not a bit too ridiculous; however we are dealing with anime here, so the game proves faithful to the source material. The story is mostly told through simple voiced text boxes with very little character animation, which is a shame because at the end of every chapter we are treated to some amazing looking cutscenes with fully 3D rendered models that look better than the anime itself. It would have been fantastic if the game used these at every opportunity and they really emphasize how simple and lazy the other parts seem.
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 is almost directly a Dynasty Warriors clone. The map layouts are almost identical, the repetitive hack-n-slash gameplay is still there and you even move from zone to zone capturing territories and defeating bosses, exactly like Dynasty Warriors. In fact, even the way the groups of enemies move feels extremely familiar. Speaking of enemies, there is a lot of cannon fodder in the game. It is not unusual for your combo meter to reach the thousands in One Piece, mashing your way through unimportant enemies just to reach the next zone or boss. It does get tiring and is not especially fun, even though the game does introduce a few different basic enemy types this doesn't ever change much. However, this does not mean that the game is bad, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all and fortunately the game does a few interesting things that stops it from becoming too tiring when compared to Dynasty Warriors. In fact I'd say that One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 improves on Dynasty Warriors in a number of key ways.
One major element in which One Piece improves on Dynasty Warriors is that each character is unique; there are over 30 playable characters in the game who have completely different play styles, attacks and moves. This keeps the game feeling fresh and encourages experimentation between stages. Thankfully it means that you never get bored of the character as there is always another one to try. Each character has different stats and special attacks. Combat is pretty straight forward, as during the game when you defeat enemies you earn EXP which builds your style meter. When you unleash this meter you deal lots of damage, a tactic best used when fighting the numerous bosses in each stage. During the special attack you can call upon a 'crew mate' who is another character that you have unlocked, which allows you to use that character for a few seconds to deal a massive amount of damage. These crew mates become vital in order to quickly defeat bosses.
After each stage you can level up your characters with the points gained, each level unlocks new combos for each character and increases their stats. You also get Beli after each stage, which is just One Piece’s equivalent to money. You can use Beli to buy stage music and other nice additional bonuses or you can use it to level up other characters that you haven't used yet. This means that if you want to use a new character on a later stage you can quickly boost its level using Beli to the required level.
One of the other primary reasons that brings One Piece out of the Dynasty Warrior shadow is the amount of stage variety and the visuals. The game contains 4 chapters with a total of 20 stages, yet each stage manages to feel unique and visually enthralling. If you can think of an environment, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 is almost certainly going to have a stage of it. There are stages with snow, forests, deserts, towns, castles, prisons and ships just to name a few. This is a pretty game and the characters look fantastic and every attack for each character looks like it is straight from the anime, albeit a 3D representation of it. Unfortunately the draw distance is very disappointing since you can only see the enemies when you are close which becomes frustrating when searching for a specific unit. Luckily, the game's radar provides enough information on your in-game objective to prevent this from becoming too much of a problem.
An interesting feature that the game has is the coin system. There are chests hidden in each level that contain special coins for unlocking stat boosts. Between levels you can apply a limited amount of stat boosts to your character and while these are normally simple things such as faster filling meters and extra attack power, the ability to mix and match these coins means that you can customize certain characters to play however you want. It gives you a lot of control over how you want to play the game.
An unfortunate downside of the game is the overall length and difficulty. In the end, the game is criminally easy and only contains around 20 stages. Most of these can easily be finished in 20 minutes and I finished the main quest in less than 8 hours. Although the game is easy, I must say that the repetitive button mashing element of the genre is quite therapeutic and it was nice to be able to finish levels without having to concentrate too much. There is more game to be played through side missions that allow you to unlock characters for the main game. However, they are completely separate from the main story mode. If you really wanted to get the most out of the game then there is plenty of value for you if you play all of the side missions, however the game does get monotonous quickly, even if the unique characters do mix things up a bit.
Overall I feel that One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 is a huge success for the genre. Namco Bandai have taken the Dynasty Warriors base and improved upon it in multiple ways, which is very commendable. Unfortunately, that base is extremely repetitive and very shallow and the button mashing and endless cannon fodder is mindless and lazy. The unique facets of the characters breathe fresh air into the hack-n-slash genre, but it still lacks excitement to begin with. One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 is a great game for fans of the series, but for everyone else, it will have little to offer other than a repetitive 8 hour experience with a glimmer of fun.
This review was based on a digital copy of One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 for the PlayStation 3 provided by Namco Bandai.