Disclaimer: i pre-ordered the Kaido Edition, which means i got the big ass statuines (and i mean big ass), and the pre-order bonuses, which consisted of Dynasty Warriors costumes for Trafalgar Law and Boa Hancock, as well as early unlocks of the Vinsmoke brothers, but for the sake of review i didn’t download their “early unlock DLC” (and played on Normal difficulty), so we’re just gonna talk about the base game, maybe i will do a review of the Kaido VS Luffy diorama, but later.
Strap in and get some rum, we’re gonna be at sea for a while!
I’M GONNA BE THE KING OF PIRATE WARRIORS!
After a 5 years break (for the series, definitely not for ol’ Omega Force), Pirate Warriors 4 brings back the Warriors X One Piece crossover series, and like the previous iteration, it covers from the beginning of the story until the last arc featured in the anime series, in this case the Wano arc (still in 2nd Act in the TV adaptation), featuring most of the main characters, but with an original story created for the game, like Pirate Warriors 3 did for the Dressrosa Arc for the same reason: to avoid accidental spoilers.
But the first problem lies in how the story basically brushes over entire early arcs and then goes into details from Alabasta onwards, often conflagrating connecting arcs like Water Seven and Enies Lobby (or Sabaody and the Paramount War/Marineford) into the same big chapter, but without skipping too many of the arcs or just condensing a single arc into a single battle… those arc they do wanna focus more on, that is, and some like Marineford felt streched to get more use of the new maps they made for it…because the story gave them plausible excuses to do so.
I understand that many things would have to be quickly explained, some minor events sponged all together or briefly mentioned in a throw away manner, since One Piece’s story is long and still on-going, there’s a lot of story, and i don’t envy anyone tasked with having to adapt so much material into a narrative for a videogame (it was gonna be a cyclopean task regardless). And of course, while some arcs aren’t made into playable battle maps because they really don’t translate well into a musou game (like Zou or Amazon Lily)…. some of the omissions are simply absurd, with no Fishman Island Arc, no Punk Hazard Arc, no Skypiea, no Thriller Bark, no Impel Down.
This on top of the arcs preceding Alabasta, which are are just mentioned in cutscenes (when not glossed over entirely), often using stock footage from older Pirate Warriors titles, like some cutscenes bits from PW 3, where Ceasar Clown was present in the story and also playable, but we’ll get to that later. About the original story for Wano/Wa, it’s a bit lazy, with a frankly embarassing ending; it has some interesting bits, but it mostly plays it as safe as possible, if satisfactory and made more for the sake of gameplay than story, all while retaining some events or scenes from the canon, but in different context. PW3 did a similar thing for Dressrosa, but it managed somehow to keep more things and important events from canon, and generally did it better, here some of the choices seem made to basically shorten the arc (no Orochi, for example).
Still, it’s not like the story presented here is short or the narrative bad, the presentation is great, it’s pretty loyal to the source material, some moments are indeed well recreated, you can tell they really care about One Piece, and while the decision to use in-game models for a good chunk of cutscene is more immersive and makes the transition to gameplay easier, it leads to some important scenes being less powerful, because Omega Force didn’t want to just modify a character’s clothing. So, when Rebecca has an emotional reunion with her long-lost father Kyros….she is still donning that ridiculous Deathstalker-style gold bikini-armor from the Coliseum tournament.
Overall, it’s a good way for fans to refresh themselves and relive some of the moments (post- East Blue saga, that is) of the series, to finally see Whole Cake Island and Wano adapted in videogame form, but it’s not a good introduction for players less learned of Eiichiro Oda’s shonen series, who will lack the context for the beginning arcs introducing the main protagonists, what they mean for One Piece as a whole, despite the game trying its best to make this abrigded retelling work. Even more when the narrative is loyal to a fault, which results in istances where cutscenes can go on so long to take you out of the fight. I found myself “ambushed” at the final Water 7-Enies Lobby map, i didn’t expect the stage to continued after the cutscene where Franky decides to join the Straw Hats, i was expecting it to end there, would have been perfect.
Like for any numbered entry in the Warriors series, Pirate Warriors 4 introduces new systems and tweaks to the heavily refined musou formula, alongside revised or revamped movesets for the returning characters. This one feels more like a regular Dynasty Warriors title (while the previous ones took more pages from the sister series Samurai Warriors), with the ability to jump and the combo system changed to the basic Charge System, so you have to insert heavy attack (now back to a move tied to the character’s gimmicks) on top of repeated normal attack strings.
With this change, some of the combos have been repurposed as special attacks you can map to a combination of R1 and the face buttons, alongside old and new musou attacks, and each have their own “musou bar” that fills by taking or inflicting damage. It’s a bit confusing how the stages do have a recommended minum level, but now characters don’t have levels per se, and instead need to have their stats levelled up via the new skill trees, called Maps, needed to unlock extra attack strings, stats upgrades, new equippable strings and special attacks, using money and coins, obtained as rewards and pretty much working as they did in previous titles..
Characters themselves are now split into 4 different types: Power, Speed, Technique and Sky. The first three are fairly self-explanatory, the new type, Sky, is made due to introduction of jumping and aerial combat, akin to a more realized Senran Kagura. While all characters can jump and cancel a charge combo to launch an enemy in mid-air and then dash to juggle them for extra damage, the Sky type characters have most of the combos reserved for mid-air combat, can keep on dashing non-stop until they have stamina, and even dash downward locked-on enemies.
Yeah, stamina management in a musou, sounds odd, but it’s actually a nice addition, since it’s not consumed by just running, has reasonable regen speed, and it’s meant to avoid complete abuse of the air juggling and evasive “power dashes”, working in tandem with the new “armor bar” system (which replaces the Kizuna and Hero systems from PW 3) to make gameplay a bit more balanced. Now mid-tier enemies and bosses have armor bars that need to be chipped away before you can make them flinch or outright stun them, and of course giant bosses are the tankiest of them all, with plenty of armor bar and brief moments when you can’t damage their armor at all..
Yeah, this is nothing new for the musou genre, nor it’s fixed here, but at least it leads the player to pay more attention at the health bar, as the enemies here are quite good at “sneaking” damage in, even more than before since the special moves (unless they work as/are the repurposed musou attacks) don’t automatically make you invicible while you’re doing them, which is kinda fair, if you can do it to enemies, it makes sense they should be able to do the same.
CHANGES (TURN AND FACE)
There’s a perk that gives you some seconds of invincibility after performing a special move, yes, but it doesn’t change the fact that constant assault is still the way to go, since you can chip away at the main health bar of enemies bosses (unless they are in Rogia state, like Kizaru or Smoker), and after some power ups, you can manage to wail on them and kill them before you can even consume all the armor bars. Which is a bit disappointing for some of the story mode battles, but also kinda necessary late in the post-game. Even if total balance is a chimera for a musou title, i feel something more could have been added, even just cribbed by other Warriors titles, like weapon clashes, unit weaknesses and strenghts, or the Critical Strike system from Hyrule Warriors.
Another touted feature is the destructible enviroment, and even when it was announced as a bullet point feature… i had my doubts, which were proven right. It’s nice you can destroy most buildings and stuff, but aside from some barricades or cranes to destroy in order to progress/complete a mission, the main reason for destructible enviroments is to smash enemies into the scenery for extra damage, and maybe obtain a much needed health pick-up in the ruins. While it’s nice and more scenic for this type of game, it’s never fully developed, as you can’t destroy enemy bases or create unorthodox pathways not accounted by the map design. In some stages parts of the scenery get destroyed to block passageways, but nothing that hasn’t happened before in similar titles.
Going back to the map design, Pirate Warriors 4 does away (kinda) with the Empires style base capture systems as the foundation, the maps are still divided in territories and captured the same way (kill enough enemy to make the Leader appear, then defeat it to capture the territory), but it’s less reliant on tight passageways connecting the various territories (now more free-form slices of the map, instead of the typical square/fortress), and while it’s useful, base capture it’s not usually the main goal of the stages, more linear and more basic in objectives, with some side missions, but nothing major.
The stages go from small-short to fairly lenghty, and the maps are huge (noticeably bigger than previous titles), some even span multiple plans, requiring more scrutiny of their form at times. The map design is usually good, but it’s overall more basic than previous titles, and less interested in using gimmicks. Outside of the usual carpet bombings that some characters can summon to affect the whole map, it really doesn’t try too much with stuff like obscured parts of the map, bases that get removed or map parts that disappear and such, or tries much to shake up the variety of mission objectives.
And it’s not unfair to say that in some case you can tell that Omega Force couldn’t be arsed with some of the objectives or gimmicks, like units that can sneak and conquer a base if let unattended, transport units that can power up or replenish a boss lifebar.. at least for Story Mode. Some of this stuff is used better for Treasure Log battles, and most of the Dressrosa stages are clearly made by an Omega Force that didn’t really care much for it, steering almost – ALMOST – into Berserk and The Band Of Hawk territory in some cases. Yeah, the map design quality can be noticeably inconsistent, especially in the latter half of the Story Mode (here called Dramatic Log).
And yes, we stalled enough, let’s engage with the resident elephant. While the new characters are fun to use (and even the revamped old ones, some improved, like Ikankov) and have some interesting abilities making for interesting playstiles, some of the old ones were cut from the roster. Gone are Enel, Gekko Moria, Perona, Garp, Ceasar Clown, even Bartholomew Kuma, and there seems to be no reason for it. Sure, Ceasar Clown is completely absent (aside from re-purposed cutscenes) even as enemy, but Garp IS present as a boss (as is Kuma, as a mass produced Pacifista), and somehow Bagy, who doesn’t appear even as a boss in story mode, is playable.
So really, there’s no excuse for this culling. The 10 new characters are really fun to play, as i said before, Kaido and Big Mom are the absurd OP beast you’d think, even the Vinsmoke siblings have different movesets (despite being all of Sky type) and playstiles, but it’s simply inexcusable, and for some reason X Drake is not playable. You’d think he was since he is an important foe and heavily featured in marketing shots, and yes, i really wanted to play as a swordman T-Rex, but then again Jack (the one who can transform into a mammoth) isn’t playable as well. Bummer.
Still, with 43 playable characters, it’s the biggest roster in the series yet.
REINVENTION AND NECESSITIES
While i like the new additions made, i don’t find most of the changes and removed systems necessary for the improvements that have been made. There was no real reason to “regress” the combo system back to the Dynasty Warriors standard (even more because even the first PW had this “free form” combo input, not really copied by even SW 4), no reason to remove the Empires style foundation in order to make maps less reliant on base capture or more nuanced objectives, the aerial combat and the stamina could have been introduced regardless. There was no reason to skip so many narrative arcs, focus on some events that are usually skipped and aren’t easy to make into a musou battle, or to simply remove – seemingly at random – characters that were playable in previous entry. Especially when you see who made the cut.
What’s odder is that most of these changes aren’t made in the name of laziness, they would had less work to do if they didn’t try to needlessly reinvent the combo system with an added action rpg style special moves set-up, but some of the changes feel made just because they “had to”, since it’s a new Pirate Warriors… and some just to give you gratuitous frustation, like the penalty for losing (which will happen more than expected, both for some minor difficulty spikes and/or underleveled characters), you can’t just restart from a checkpoint, you either start the stage from scratch right away, or end it to keep the obtained money and coins.
Also, it’s not an improvement having to constantly choose what special attacks/abilities put in the 4 slots, maybe if they also another shoulder button for a second “special moves window” or to make characters transform (like Guts or Zodd did in the Berserk musou), but no, R2 is assigned to “Rescue”….. yeah, i guess this is for multiplayer purposes, but there was no reason to not just use the PS4 touchpad button (or a combination of inputs regardless).
I find this hilarious giving how the marketing talked about this one having 4 multiplayer modes made for 4 players co-op and competition…. but also kinda HID these in plain sight. There is no “multiplayer” section in the menus, you can host and recruit by pressing Triangle (or equivalent) in story or free mode, BUT the game doesn’t tell you can do the same for Treasure Log, the “grind mode” of this title, or that some of the battles with special rules are the types of multiplayer matches so sponsored, clearly made for 4 players (as indicated by the 4 player icons in the info box).
Yeah, there is co-op giant boss rush, a territory capture match against other 3 players, a timed cooperative territory defense mode, and a co-op bounty mode. But they aren’t spotlighted as such, or nor your told that you can go to the online matchmatching there in Treasure Log and play all the unlocked battles. Still, the question remains: why the fuck the game doesn’t even tell you that these modes are there? On the upside, due to the license you will probably still find someone on the servers a year from now, but these are musou titles, most of the people will be online on launch.
I red of some users complaining for connection issues, there was a patch for this issue (released earlier this week), but i literally can’t tell if it made the situation better, and when i tried to get into session i had back luck, and found out that the 4 players match won’t start unless they are 4 players, no bots as of now (and i guess as of never).
But you can find people if you’re not too specific with the stage and rules, and as i said before, you don’t need to go online for some specific trophies, the stages can be done offline as well (with surprisingly competent IA bots, or 4 players, if the back of the box can be trusted), there’s co-op online for the Dramatic Log-Free Log, and offline co-op on the same couch is still there, which was to expected, but nowadays isn’t always part of the offer in musou games… by Omega Force and Koei, anyway.
THE BIG PIRATE FEAST
Story mode can be completed in 20 hours, maybe a couple more or less if you try to go underleveled in the later stages, but still, it’s a fairly beefy story mode, even if it’s more like 15 hours of actual gameplay and 5 of cutscenes, there are a lot of cutscenes, i wasn’t joking. And 15 hours for story mode in a musou are a lot, honestly, but then again some of the chapters drag on a little, and some people are insane to actually buy into that “money=hour” bullshit, so… you do you. If you must.
While it’s definitely not lacking in content, replayability is a bit worse than PW 3, as there isn’t the intricated web of unlocks made to incentivate replaying stages or doing the secondary missions, even more because here in PW 4 you have to choose between losing money and coins or starting the stage from scratch if you die. In PW 3 i really wanted to complete it 100 %, you were always given a reason or thing to unlock, and usually it was needed to uncap the character level limits, with all systems of abilities and coins to unlock working in tandem to be a completionist’s delight. Here not so much.
The main attraction is the already touched upon Treasure Log, which works pretty much like Dream Log in Pirate Warriors 3, just without the archipelago visualization and divided in 3 leagues of increasing difficulties, that require some key battles to be won in order to unlock other keys battles, and then the decisive battle for the league, unlocking the next one. I like this approach because it’s easier to go through in order to unlock some characters like Shanks or Bagy, and there are a ton of battles that rewards you with rare coins needed to fully power up your characters, unlock advanced abilities and trasformations, giving you plenty of content for the grind, often with some challenging battles that sport some more interesting design and put to better use the huge maps.
From a technical standpoint, PW 4 looks good, but not that good, and by that i mean that it isn’t that big of an update, because Omega Force set out to make stages noticeably bigger than before, put the camera a bit more distant than usual in order to enfatize this and display even more enemies on screen, and this means there’s is more pop-in of enemies, or some textures flickering. But it runs smooth all the times on my old “vanilla” PS4, even with tons of giant bosses and enemies starting a mess of special attacks, flames, thunder and shit, and the colorful art style makes the game a lot more pleasant, and due to the camera and the nature of the game, some texture of lower quality aren’t an issue.
They’re kind inevitable, but, oddly enough, the game puts focus on some very low quality textures during some of the cutscenes that use the in-game character models, like, why not just pretty them up for these cutscenes? It’s not like you’ll able to tell during normal gameplay anyway, you just won’t.
Of course, a lot of assets are being reused, but it’s clear Omega Force… yeah, let’s face it, HAD to remake most of stages,they didn’t just cut and pasted years old maps with a bit of saliva this time (hi WO4), and of course they’re bound to look a certain way regardless because of the license, but there are some new details and scenery bits, the re-use of assets is mostly kept in check ot just being a smart decision, some of old footage re-used for quick story digest doesn’t look strikingly taken and re-used as is (with some exceptions). Still, a bigger budget would help, but anime games aren’t known for looking pretty on a raw technical side, and it’s a Tecmo Koei production.
Music is great, there aresome old tracks reused, some great remixes, like Enies Lobby maps have the old theme, but it’s quite damn good, so i see why they kept it, and new tracks are pretty cool too, the japanese voice actors are the same of the show, and they knock it out of the park as you’d expect. There are some typos in the game , both in italian and english. While some of the character name are translated in a way you may not be familiar (depending of regional translation choices), i don’t think “Teech” was on the translator, not intentionally anyway, and it’s not a single case scenario when the typo shows up once in a cutscene , it’s everywhere, even on the character select screen. This appears to be specific of the english language setting, though.
On the DLC side, there are some free Wano/Wa themed costumes on offer, the Dynasty Warriors costumes for pre-orders (and included in the Season Pass)… and there is a Character Pass that sells for 30 bucks, that will add 9 more playable characters, and until the 9th of april, you won’t have had a clue what characters, just that the pass will unlock Charlotte Katakuri earlier, the pass itself being split in 3 packs, and that eventually you’ll be able to buy single characters instead of single packs or the whole pass. Now we know that the first DLC pack will arrive in “Summer 2020” (which implies others will arrive in autumn and winter) and include Charlotte Smoothie, the giant lady who can make juice out of giraffes, people and rocks.
And of course this Character Pass it’s not included in the bigass and pricey Kaido Edition, despite early news strongly implicating so. Wonderful, Koei, but yes, it was never advertised as having it, so i can’t sue them for it, and i’ve already ranted about the AOT 2 and WO4 horrendous DLC practices, so i’m not gonna rant more on that. I’m just gonna say that despite PW 3 having a season pass, it was 12 bucks for some extra battles for an already huge Dream Log mode, old costumes (and some Dynasty Warriors ones too), it didn’t include characters, they were all in the base game.
Of course, the first fear is that they cut some of the old characters to sell them back to you, wouldn’t be the first time (hi, Fire Emblem Warriors), but i doubt it. And i’m not saying that because the official site for the game has this footnote “Note that some characters from OPPW3 (both playable and non) will not be returning”, and because it would be such an obvious PR autogol. I’m saying that we’ll see mostly new characters, maybe some requested by fans for years, and because Koei is Koei, i’ll do both, maybe re-selling 2 of the cut characters along new ones, not in the same DLC pack, of course,. Because “fuck you gimme money”.
Personally, i’m gonna wait and see what it’s actually gonna be in the pass.
I don’t think it’s fair to look at Pirate Warriors 4 with the idea of Omega Force working just on it for 5 years, day and night, in a crunch-happy workplace fashion. But since this Warriors sub-series took a 5 years hiatus, fans were reasonibly excited, even more because this wasn’t pumped out right after the beloved Pirate Warriors 3, arguably one of the best musou spin-off games, and it’s One Piece, so it was easy to be disappointed out of sheer hype, because nobody learns from the mistakes of the past, clearly.
But yeah, while Pirate Warriors 4 does have some improvements and changes to keep the basic musou formula fresh (like a new emphasis on aerial combat and transformations), it give fans reasons to revisit beloved stories and events from the One Piece series, new characters to play as and new narrative arcs featured in playable form, some of the changes vary from unnecessary to kinda regressive, and some features just feel cut “just because”, not because they were at odds with the new mechanics. Just changes made for their own sake, along with the baffling decisions to have the story gloss over entire narrative arcs, for the sake of covering some sagas in more detail, at times even stretching some bits in order to get more use out of some maps, with a map design that’s usually good (if a bit more basic), but wildly inconsistent at times.
While this makes for a fairly big story mode (with great presentation), the narrative at times suffers from both congestion and shrinkage, somehow, and i would have taken less but better done, exchanged some stages used for a single arc in order to also have many of the skipped arcs, like Fishman Island or Skypiea, even for a single level. It wouldn’t have been less drastic than just summing entire arcs in 2 minutes, or just removing the Empires style base capture foundation, with some of the more advanced tricks and gimmicks reserved (and even so, not as good as before) for the huge Dream Log mode, where to find some of the new multiplayer modes, disguised – for reasons – as normal stages with special rules.
Sadly, you won’t find there some of the characters previously playable and now absent, some totally vanished, some present as boss enemy, but all unplayable despite the movesets already being there from previous titles (hence not requiring much effort to adapt in the revamped combo systems), and apparently not even carved out to be resold back in 30 bucks Season Pass, who will most likely have new characters altogether.
Despite this, it’s a good musou, definitely much better that some of the recent output by Omega Force, it’s clear that they care about One Piece (or feel like they have to do better, at the very least), but it almost seems like a stepback from Pirate Warriors 3, instead of a clear-cut improvement, due to some of the design choices that seems more made because they have to change things up for a number entry in a Warriors sequel. And after years of endless musou titles cranked up on yearly bases, the Koei subsidiary has reached the point where it doesn’t need or can find a way to actually reinvigorate the formula they’re responsible and known for. Without making obvious bad ideas into flesh, horrid, rotten flesh, like Dynasty Warriors 9 (i’ll eventually get to it).
It’s a bit disappointing, and some fans will definitely like more the previous titles in every way (and i do feel that Pirate Warriors 3 is better), but it’s worth picking up for fans of both musou games and One Piece. Just.. wait for a sale and wait until we know what the hell the 30 bucks Season Pass will include.