For the upcoming release of Pirate Warriors 4 (which i though wasn’t gonna happen until it was revealed in the summer of 2019), i’m gonna review all the previous Pirate Warriors titles before it reaches Europe on the 27th of March, so here we go!
Of course Pirate Warriors wasn’t the first time Tecmo Koei (still just Koei at the time) tried to crossbred the Warriors style of hack n slash with another established license, they already did Dynasty Warriors Gundam with success, as well as First of The North Star: Ken’s Rage (which was developed internally, NOT by Omega Force, lil’ reminder), which is a more fitting comparison, since Koei at the time was at least trying to do more with than just slap a “skin” of some franchise/brand on the Warriors gameplay style, and the first Pirate Warriors is borne of that philosophy.
It’s kinda pointless to introduce what One Piece is, so i won’t bother. Go read or watch it, it’s fucking great fun. Or read a wikia.
The game narrative starts off with the Straw Hat crew riunited at the Sabaody Archipelago, after the 2 year timeskip, but after that it’s basically a digest of the main story arcs from the manga, starting from the fight against Buggy The Clown in Orange Town until the showdown at Marineford, with a non-canoncal ending of sorts (the canonical one has to be obtained by completing some specific objectives in the final map/stage). It skips many story arcs, both minor and major (like Thriller Bark), but it does give you some very synthetic summaries of the various arcs, of the characters, just enough to make you understand why you’re doing and why.
And if you need it, there’s an in-game encyclopedia for the characters, terminology and story bits, in typical Warriors fashion. If you’re a fan, you ain’t gonna need it, but the story is still enjoyable, and it’s not badly narrated, using both in-game cutscenes and ones that replicate manga panels and pages being flipped. Ultimately it works better since it’s an action game, so you wanna be pummelling enemies as soon as possible without too many cutscenes.
Gameplay wise, it’s Samurai Warriors… not quite. First, it doesn’t use the typical Charge System of Dynasty Warriors (or pre-SW 4 entries in that series), but a more typical combo system that lets you chain together freely light and strong attacks to execute the many moves of Luffy and company, with transformations/advanced forms that change the movesets. You can also link with a near character to trigger a support attack or temporarly control them for a short amount of time. That said, it’s mostly based on Samurai Warriors, so you dodge/dodge-cancel /guard break (jumping is for chinese people, i guess), you can stock up many musou bars for advanced special attacks, and are given many missions/objectives during the fight.
The game is divided in Action stages, Musou stages and Boss stages. Musou stages are the typical melee of Warriors titles, with an Empires style base system, so you have to defeat enemies inside them to make the guardian (or guardians), and defeat them to conquer it, with enemy generals able to summon thunderstorms, carpet bombings and similar attacks that affect the entire battlefield, bases included. Boss stages are 1 vs 1 battles against baddies from the series like Crocodile, with their abilities factored into the gameplay so you’ll need to break charge them at the right time to make them vulnerable, the bosses are proactive and they release a shockwave when they get up or have their health lowered. Also there’s some QTEs that are worth doing well, as they net you extra exp.
What stands out the most are the Action stages, an oddity, actually more now than before. They work more like a more typical hack n slash stages, and make use of Luffy stretching abilities to traverse chasms, reach ledges, remove objects, and use them for very, very simple ambiental puzzles in order to proceed. These are also peppered with QTEs or “suggested prompts”, so much that they are hard to miss even if you’re paying much attention, but some can actually be failed with consequences, and are made to replicate the events in the original story, with a respectable degree of accuracy.
I can see most people don’t really caring for these and glad they weren’t brought back in the later installments, but i don’t mind, actually, i respect that Omega Force tried to do something different with it, where they could have just adapted verbatim the formula with some concessions or changes due to the license being used, like the first Dynasty Warriors Gundam, which tried less, but like this one suffers content wise due to being a “proof of concept” to see if more sequels/revisions could be milked out of it.
And it’s also made to attract fans of One Piece to a subgenre they otherwise wouldn’t have tried, so don’t expect particularly complex or big maps to fight in, it’s a basic musou, but it’s fun, with more varied normal enemies taken from the series, competent officials and mini-bosses, and ally IA that can need your help but can hold its own better than you might think, with a difficulty more akin to the older entries in the Warriors’ branch. A good title to start your foray into the musou “genre”, i’d say.
While the Story Mode has you controlling Luffy all the time, you also have Another Log, which serve as both Free Mode and a way to play as other characters, who have their own mini-story/episode mode. And i mean it, since each character has their own dedicated stages here, which is oddly organized and canon restricted, so if a character doesn’t appear until a certain story arc/event (or exists but wouldn’t be there anyway or unable to do anything), his “mini-campaign” could be really short, the worst example being Whitebeard, who has only one stage.
Of course you can play these stages with every character you unlocked, but you have to select other characters’ “mini-campaigns” (which have those stages) here in order to do so. It’s a bit more confusing than it should be, honestly. The stages themselves are mostly made from the Musou chapters in the story mode, now with modified map design, new objectives, the removal of QTE platforming and enviromental puzzles/gimmicks, but stages that weren’t Musou styled are basically brand new to the mode, and the characters are quite fun to play and feel more unique to play than in the main Warriors’ series.
There’s also a Challenge mode, but is barebones unless you pony up for the DLC challenges, which isn’t available anymore on PSN. Which bring me to the issue of content, not much here, the story mode is 8/9 hours, and there’s replayability to be found, but the game has 13 playable characters, and the decision to skip entire arcs seems to be made in order to avoid putting more maps and playable faces from the One Piece series, conserving them for eventual sequels.
Another Log provides a fair amount of replayability, but the game could have done more in terms of giving you reasons to come back to it, but instead made completition harder than it should. The main endgame drive is collecting all the coins, which can be equipped in order to buff stats or power up various abilities and combo strings, with certain combinations granting special buffs, as they represent relationships between characters, factions and ideals from One Piece, quite a nice touch for fans.
Problem is that the drop rate for the rarer coins can be insanely slim, and random, i’ve read many theories and “how to”, but there’s often no correlation between the stage you play and the coins you may actually get, it’s totally down to a cruel RNG, all done to keep you grinding, i guess that’s why you can’t level up character with in-game money like in the more recent Warriors titles. There’s also co-op, both local and online, i don’t know if the servers are still up, but who knows, maybe?
Looking back, the first title in the Pirate Warriors sub-series is exactly what you might expect from a Warriors crossover with an anime license, serving more as a foundation for future sequels, but like the first Dynasty Warriors Gundam, it’s a good musou title, a great gateway for fans of the series that are not familiar with Omega Force’s formula, if a bit bony on content (and grind heavy for completitionists), because Koei.. sorry, Tecmo Koei.
Despite this, it has a great presentation, a good – if trounched, for reasons that will be clear with Pirate Warriors 2 – synthetic recap of the One Piece story up to the Marineford arc, enough to not assault people unfamiliar with Eiichiro Oda’s pirate opus, but with many touches that will please fans. For better or worst, it also came out in that phase were Omega Force and Koei actually tried to do things a little differently with these Warriors spin-offs, the result isn’t perfect or something that makes it much better than regular Warriors experiences, but you can tell they tried, which is more than can be said of more recent ones, when they half-ass new systems and often can’t even be bothered to actually design some structured objectives on the maps.
I’m looking at you, Berserk and the Band Of the Hawk.
There’s not much reason to check it out today, especially with Pirate Warriors 3 existing, but if you are curious enough and live in Europe, you probably can find it for very cheap with ease pretty much anywhere, and there’s a double pack that includes this and Pirate Warriors 2.