Platform: Nintendo Wii
Developed by: Ganbarion
Players: 1-2 (local)
If you’re a fan of One Piece in america, my guess is that you aren’t exactly happy with the videogames based on Eichiiro Oda’s series, since most of them either didn’t receive an american release, received one but it was based on the craptastic cut version done by 4Kids, or were released as a digital download only.
Since i live in Europe (italy, to be precise), i didn’t have that problem, due to the series being more popular here, but that doesn’t mean we always received good stuff based on One Piece, despite the Pirate Warriors sub-series being pretty good if you like musou games (and i do).
So time to review both Unlimited Cruise games for the Nintendo Wiii, which ironically had a predecessor of sort (One Piece: Unlimited Adventure, also on the Wii) released in America but not here in Europe for issues with international rights (and legalese stuff like that), and were later ported to the 3DS as separate titles again, even though the japanese version had them bundled together.
Namco Bandai said it was made due to having to fit the various languases, i don’t buy it, since they marketed it as one game and just days before launch news reported of the game being split in two single, full priced games, and – most important – they felt like a title split in two separate games to begin with.
We’ll start from the first one (makes sense), One Piece Unlimited Cruise Episode 1: The Treasure Beneath The Waves, developed by Ganbarion and released by Namco Bandai in PAL territories in 2009.
TO THE NON-CANON ADVENTURE!
With long-running manga/anime series still going, it’s hard to make a videogame that will please fans, because you either recreate the story of the manga/anime (with varying degrees of fidelity and attention to canon) or you go with an original story and setting made for this occasion, and you’re pretty much garanteed to encounter the wrath of some fans, as some already know the series, so they want something never seen before, and others will begrudge you if you don’t include this or that scenario and narrative arc. You can’t win em all.
But since it’s not likely you will be able to make a sequel covering arcs not included in the first game (and again, you’re chasing a series that is far from over, basically trying to catch up with a train that finds new stations as it goes along), more often than not companies choose to make a game with an original story and characters made specifically to tag along the main cast, with some regards to the continuity of the main series , but nothing that does/can really effect the events in the canon.
In this case you have an original story, set somewhere after the Thriller Bark arc, where the Straw Hat crew stumbles upon a floating orb that promises them a gift if they win ordeals spread among 4 islands. Luffy is thrilled, as is the whole crew, so they accept. Frankly the rest of the story isn’t worth talking about, not just because it’s inconsequential, but because there is very little in the way of plot, and through some bullshit explanation and fanservice excuse, you’ll fight and see a lot of familiar faces that shouldn’t be there, like Moria, really minor background characters from the series (if you remember the Kung Fu Dugongs…. you have been following One Piece for some time).
And the islands themselves end up being so generic that i gotta admit, i would have preferred if they came up with a crappy, flimsy narrative reason to have you explore places from the series, like Water Seven, Alabasta, Enies Lobby, a lot more memorable and varied for sure. And being this Episode 1, it ends with a cliffhanger leading into Episode 2, so if you’re here for the story, don’t bother, you can get the same experience by reading it in wikis.
There is a new character, Gabri, but it does really feel like Oda did this because he had to, it looks derpy, he’s kinda annoying and is way too similar to Chopper, like he was already doodling the good ol’ reeinder doctor, Toei called and required a new character design, he throw something together from the doodles and called it a day. Not that it matters, because you will hate him for other reasons.
FIGHT, EXPLORE, FISH
Gameplay wise, it’s a pretty typical action-adventure: you explore islands, fight your way through enemies (and bosses taken from the series), and use tools to make your way through obstacles. That and you can fish, use a pick-axe to mine, and catch insects (and later you’ll be able to create traps for animals) with a net,all utilizing the Wiimote in ways you can expect, and work mostly well for what they are supposed to do.
Kinda sad that while you can control all 8 character of the Straw Hat crew, only thing that changes is their effectivity in combat, since the game doesn’t build anything around their powers and unique traits, so even character that could swim (remember, people that ate a Devil Fruit lose them in contact with water and basically sink like lead) in the series don’t swim, because you can’t swim, at all.
Speaking of the combat system, it used both regular buttons and swings of the Wiimote and stuff (nothing particolary irksome), it’s NOT the case of the game giving you different characters that ultimately play all the same, they do are different combat-wise, but the game also decides to make a potentially ok combat system into crap, as it uses a stamina meter that is used both to dodge and to execute special moves.
On that regard, while you have a lot of moves, you will probably use just the recommended strings that appear on screen, since executing them will also give you unblockable attack for a short time, and because the IA has the brainpower of a potato, so you’ll be damaged only because some enemies will just appear and attack out of nowhere, or use throwing weapons (bombs, spears, etc.), often from somewhere obscurated by the camera. Cheap shots all around.
Boss battles aren’t much better, as they pit against classic (and less classic) One Piece villains in circular arenas, and are mediocre at best, and mostly rifled with the typical recipe of cheap design choices: absurd amount of HP for the boss, nearly unavoidable attack that one-shot your character, two bosses in the same tiny arena, and bosses like Gekko Moria that have annoying pattern of attacks that nearly stunlock you before running away and doing the same thing again.
You can lock-on bosses, but it doesn’t really fix the even worse camera, and it doesn’t help at all when bosses are often backed up by many peons with long range weaponry, so stock up on curative items (yes, even more grinding and crafting for you to do), you’ll need every last of them.
That and the game has to make upgrading and acquiring moves more complex than it needs to be, just to try and make you believe there’s more depth to it, which is not the case (a recurring theme in this game, as you will see). You don’t unlock moves by using orbs/souls hack n slash style, you don’t get them by levelling up your character, neither: you must power up certain moves before you can unlock others.
Seems fair enough, since you even get notified when a move levels up, but you may be stuck using the same few moves you had from the beginning (some moves do require you to craft something before, but this is the gist) because this game is really inept at explaining itself, so you’ll have to guess, explore menus in search of some hidden clue, or go read a guide.
CRAFT TO FARM, GRIND TO CRAFT, FARM TO GRIND
What does make this terrible is the emphasis on crafting, which is odd since it wasn’t made in the days of every game “needing” some shoehorned crafting mechanic in it, but it is the main issue from which every other one stems. I’m not mad about people like Luffy and crew needing to build a ladder to progress (when you have a guy who can destroy a bastion with cola and a fart, literally), i’m mad because every goddamn area is littered with roadblocks that require you to have either some materials or some items, which you may NEED to build with more materials.
You may already guessed it, but yes, this one of those crappy moves born out of the need to inflate longevity, but you might not believe (or maybe you do, why not?) how this rooted is this issue. It’s not just that you need to go back to farm some items to progress over a chasm once in a while, you need to backtrack, grind and farm until you pass out of boredom, not that it matters because – either way – you’ll need to farm and then farm some more.
To explain, in each island there’s one or two “Gabri points”, where you need him to do something in order to to progress, but to do so you must convert items you own to fill the required number of colored bars. Vines add points in the green bar, gunpowder fill the red one, you get the gist of it. But the more you progress, the number of stuff you need to convert into energy gets higher to a ridiculous degree.
This is even more frustrating because the crafting system itself ain’t bad at all, it’s quite articulate and it branches into cooking, building and combining, and you craft more advanced weapons and items that way. You can fish and catch bugs, that can be used to make items, so it’s even worse how intertwined every system is, since it’s all for the sake of having you grind and farm, farm and grind, until the entropy or sheer sickening boredom consumes you. Whichever comes first.
And of course, it has to be astoningly obtuse, so you often get stuck because you need an item you don’t already have, and you have to plain guess what the fuck is it, if you need to backtrack to a previous island, if you need to craft some items before you can make what you need. And even if you manage to understand or guess your way to the required thing, i hope you remember where and from what enemy or plant you can get it as a random (often way too random) drop, because the game doesn’t keep track of any of that.
Navigation is abysmal, with no mini-map on screen, islands that are big but often full of confusing section that look the same as others before, and its made even worse by the fact that the map sometimes is just plain devoid of info, and just decides not to mark quest or activities that are obligatory to progress as such, so you wander about and either decide to do secondary quests in the hope they will give you something you need to progress in the main ones, or check a guide. I’ll make an example to make it more clear how asinine it is.
In the ice/snow island, you need to remove a poison wall to access the final boss of said island, and even if you guessed right and yes, that vacuum cleaner given to you at the beginning is what you need, you still won’t know that you have to upgrade it. Of course the game itself doesn’t tell you that to get the upgrade you need to build a ladder, an activity marked as secondary, and you’re not encouraged to do “optional” missions, quite the opposite, you’re basically punished if you dare do them, since they drain resources you will absolutely NEED for the “Gabri points”.
To double down on the insult, the game tells you that, yes, you can use the upgraded vacuum cleaner to remove the poison, after you did the unthinkable and illogical stuff needed to get the upgrade itself (suffocated rage). To be honest, you can unlock some fast travel options to make navigation easier and less backtrack heavy, but of course you need to craft them, and by that point you’ve already backtracked and farmed and grinded that it doesn’t matter.
This is kind of game that does try to vary the gameplay adding things like windy currents and such, but you ultimately dread and fear the introduction of something new, because it will ultimately lead to more nuisances to deal with. And you’re already full of boring busywork even without the game deciding that it doesn’t want to be stale, so here you go, more frustrating bullshit to push through.
This is One Piece, so of course you have a ship, and being this based along the Thriller Bark arc, you have the Thousand Sunny, but giving what i said before, you probably already guessed that you don’t control the ship and it’s a glorified sea taxi, and you’re right, sadly, 100% right.
If anything, it serves as the game hub, so you can you can explore the Thousand Sunny and fudge around and talk to your crewmates (and pick up items scattered about the decks) unlocking more sections as you progress in the game, like the kitchen where you can actually cook meals, the medical ward or a relax space with a tank where you can put the weird fishes you catch. There is something to enjoy, if you like One Piece at least.
I’ve been giving a considerable, egregious amount of whatsit to this game, but it isn’t completely devoid of fun, or at least of some well made things that get lost throught the whirlpools of grinding and horrendous level design. It’s fun to fish using the Wiimote (even if you can fish only in designated spots), to catch butterflies and to prepare traps for unsuspecting animals.
From a technical standpoint, it’s a decent looking Wii game, i would have said “good looking”, but there are really random framerate drops in some cases (really random, not even related of having much stuff happening on screen at once), and while the main character models are well done, enemies and locations have lesser textures. Add to that the “classic” invisible walls put in place where you’d think you could go, but the entrance feels drawn on a wall, like in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon.
Overall, it’s ok for a Wii game of this type.
The game isn’t dubbed, retaining the original japanese voice actors (the same ones from the anime series) with localized text in various european languages, and with some changes carried over from the dubbed anime series, at least the ones made in the italian dub, the most notable being Luffy renamed “Rubber” (for realsies) as they changed his name… to be redundand, i guess, it doesn’t come off a dirty joke in italian.
LONG LIVE THE PIRATE
If you’re a… let’s say “settler” that only cares about how many hours you can squeeze out of a game (willing to ignore frustrating wastes of time for the sake of it), One Piece Unlimited Cruise Episode 1 will do, as it takes roughly 18 hours to see the end. When (and most likely, IF) you beat the game, you will be able to explore the islands without having to deal with Gabri, making the post-game less tedious, and if the percentual of completion is any indication (it is), there’s still a lot to do on the islands.
If you’ll be willing to actually continue playing, that is another matter (yeah, you probably aren’t even gonna finish the game, and that is the right decision), and it’s an encyclopedical example of “too little, too late”, because deciding to reduce bullshit for the post-game doesn’t justify the hours spent dealing with tons of crappy design choices made just to artificially inflate the game longevity, with no regard of the effects on the gameplay itself.
Outside of the story mode, you have a VS mode, which consists in Survival or Duel, the latter between you and a friend (or the CPU) locally, and allowing you to select and uses characters like regular enemies and bosses as part of your team. Not the worst addition, but with a combat system like this, i doubt you’ll do more than a few matches in this mode, you’ll probably play them just out of curiosity, and forget that they were even here. So yeah, thank Ganbarion for a couple of useless modes, they probably took time that could have been spent refining the main game.
At least obtained abilities and moves will be carried over in Unlimited Cruise Episode 2, i guess that’s a way to reduce grinding (at least, i hope so).
If you’re an american fan of One Piece and resent Namco Bandai for not bringing this one to the States… you pretty much dodged a bullet. Ganbarion isn’t a bad developer (nor a great one, either), but they pulled all the stops to make a potentially interesting game an horrendously boring and dreadful experience. Sure, it has some decent or well done systems (like crafting, cooking, fishing and catching bugs like in Animal Crossing), but they are made to serve an obtuse central gimmick that basically creates a black hole of grinding, farming, crafting and backtracking, all in a failed effort to make it seems like there’s more depth, but it’s complexity for complexity’s sake, and for artificially inflating the game.
Kinda funny how the game reliance on crafting and gathering stuff predates the modern trend/obsession, but you still have a game that forces you to gather absurd amounts of anything, that forces backtracking to obtain and/or farm materials, and that punishes you if you decide to do a secondary quest, because it will require materials you may need to progress. Again and again it will.
But it’s also one of those obtuse and confusing as hell action adventure games, where you’ll get stuck often, because navigation (not that kind, you can’t control your ship) is crap, and more often than not the game wants to either guess what you need to or exhaust all options, without giving you any direction or keeping track of any useful info.
This is the kind of game where you’ll need a guide, because the stupid and obtuse shit the game wants from you doesn’t make any sense, and in any case will imply hours upon hours of boring as shit grinding. And being rewarded with boss battles that go from mediocre to bad, frustrating and cheap as hell (with a bad camera made worse by the lock-on feature)… is just adding more fuel to the dumpster fire, despite the combat system itself not being THAT bad.
If you play these games for the new stories and non-canon characters, well, there isn’t much there for you either, since the story is barely there after the prologue, what is there is generic as hell, it ends in a cliffhanger for Unlimited Cruise Episode 2 to continue, and the new character made for the game by Oda itsels feels like he modified a doodle of Chopper, called it a day, and made it annoying, even more because he as the center of most problems in the gameplay itself.
I’ve played worse, but it still subpar, boring, frustrating, cheap, so you didn’t miss much if you live in the US and didn’t see this one on the shelfs.
Since i’ve played and finished Unlimited Cruise Episode 2 as well, so expect a review of that soon.