You know what, it’s summer, so a good excuse as any for more One Piece videogame reviews, even more as a coda to the One Piece TV Specials retrospective!
This time we’ll focus on the more recent entry in the Unlimited sub-series of One Piece videogames, Unlimited World R/Red, specifically on its Deluxe Edition re-release/port for PS4, Switch and Steam. It was originally released for 3DS, but it proved popular enough to see a release on PS3, PS Vita and Wii U. I’ve actually played (and reviewed) the Wii U version back in the day, but it’s been a while, more than enough for the experience to feel fresh again and for review purposes.
While the original version had cross-save (3DS to Wii U and PS3 to PS Vita respectively), i feel i should point out right away this Deluxe version… doesn’t for the PS platforms. I didn’t really expect it, but since even the Dragon Crown’s Pro re-release had it, it wouldn’t be absurd to have it here.
As it often happens, Unlimited World R features an original storyline involving a brand new villain, the titular Red, and it’s lackey, Pato, both designed by Oda himself.
Despite being non-canonical and being in the very same vein as the previous Unlimited Cruise titles, there’s definitely more effort than usual to the storyline, as the narrative makes the Straw Hats meet up with a weird tanuki like creature named Pato, able to create things out of normal leaves, and in order to help him find his master, they reach an island bearing the small residential city of Transtown, where 2/3 of the crew is mysteriously kidnapped, and Luffy has to face a lot of familiar villain faces in familiar places that are somehow connected to Transtown.
The basic gist it’s pretty much the same as the Unlimited Cruise games, down to emphasis on “mystical clones of people and places seen before” as to give a narrative excuse to them revisiting places like Fish Man Island or Enies Lobby, but it’s all told in a more coheisive way, Pato is not as obnoxious looking (and sounding) as Gabri, and the villain, Red, is pretty good (even if he is another pirate that squirreled out of Impel Down after the Marineford Arc events) , not only because of his Devil Fruit ability, but because the writing is a lot better than in the previous Unlimited games, leading to some scenes that wouldn’t be amiss as part of the canon.
Pretty good for one of these videogame spin-offs, i’d say, even if – even by the end – you’ll wonder how exactly the villain’s machinations led to some of the events, it’s not contradictory or random, and it all makes sense (even though they never elaborate or properly explain Red’s power to recreate entire areas from people memories/hearts), but it could have been explained a little better.
Gameplay as well is in line with the other Unlimited games, but it has been refined and improved, so now the stages are more linear and don’t harass you into backtracking to farm and grind due to a deluge of roadblocks that requires a certain amounts of items, that in turn need you to grind a certain skill in order to even craft them, often without telling you what you need to get or where to go in order to even get these items that
Thankfully, no more of that bullshit, now the stages are fairly linear and have you explore and fight enemies, only requiring you find a certain “Powerful Shouts” to remove an obstacle, which often amounts to finding and defeating one or more enemies that drop a chest containing the required “key word”, after you get a clue on the word itself, so i’t not exactly a puzzle either.
Speaking of which, the “Shout system” is new, and it boils down to equipping some “power words” to get passive boosts, some as one use items during stages. You also obtain new abilities and moves from special “words” received as rewards-loot, and pressing one of the shoulder buttons when the prompt appears to shout back to what some characters said (visualized in a baloon since the voice acting is – as expected – the original japanese one and that’s it) and get some temporary or one use effects like a small health or SP regen, attack buffs, etc.
While mining has been removed and make a special ability for Chopper to use in some specific places, fishing and catchings animals are back as activities, but they have been reporpused as rhythm mini-games, with fishing having a combo system where you can try to use the last catch as bait for another and continue the streak, and catching animals having a roulette for either trying to get some last second bonus damage or magically make the insect-animal caught bigger.
Combat is nothing special, it’s a pretty basic but decent hack n slash style affair, but not too technical and more streamlined even compared to the Pirate Warriors games, as most complex manouvers like advanced dodging, counters and deflections are handled by contextual prompts usage of the dash-evade comand. The “Break System” from the previous Unlimited Cruise games is retained, so by executing all the combos listed on screen your attacks become temporarily stronger and able to break enemies’ guard.
On the upside, the enemies offer a decent enough challenge, even considering you always go into stages as a team of maximum three characters you can swap to at any time, and the IA controlled ones are surprisingly competent at fighting, not the usual hassle to babysit or constantly save. Surprising that they aren’t too good despite the IA controlled character being invulnerable
It’s not that hard, but it’s fairly satisfying and good enough for an action adventure title of this type, i would say, and there’s drop-in drop-out local co-op, which extends to the fishing and catching mini-games, always a plus. Speaking of difficulty, since the game doesn’t have multiple difficulties, this re-release added the Easy Switch feature, which can be toggled on and off at any time from the option menu, and basically it makes the enemies you face in story battles or locations easier.
Not the secondary missions you undertake from the tavern, as they have a fixed difficulty rating.
I’m specifying this because the tutorial doesn’t exactly explain properly what this feature does, just says to activate it if you have trouble progressing in the game, but also that it won’t make the missions easier, just missions, not “story missions” or “extra/side missions.” Better wording would have helped.
Also, you can play as all the Straw Hats characters after freeing them, and they each fight in a fairly distinct way, on top of some having (or being able to learn) unique abilities that let you access otherwise unreachable areas holding special items or materials, leave traps for insects, dig for materials, in order to make you revisit the stages and access previously closed area for items.
Speaking about the stages, you can tell this was originally released for a mobile console, or it clearly an older title, as the stages are split in sections, there are spots that let you turn back to the hub town immediatly, and since it was originally made for the 3DS, you bet that version used the second screen to showcase the levels map (in similar fashion to how the Wii U port handled the feature).
One thing i would have expected is them integrating a mini-map in the hud, just for convenience, the stages aren’t that big nor are confusing to navigate, but it’s such an obvious quality of life improvement to make since you re-releasing the game to platforms without a second screen, and the camera can be annoying at times, but nothing major.
And while it’s not obligatory to harvest items, materials and enemy drops to progress in the story, collecting and catching what you can becomes useful in order to expand the facilities available in Transtown, which acts as the main, small hub world. You can talk to people, use your stretching powers to launch yourself in the air and reach some of the collectables baloons spreaded around the hub, compete in some mini-games, and as you progress in the game you can take on requests from the inhabitants, eventually expand the town a bit and build more facilities, like a pharmacy for creating potions, a restaurant to create dishes that improve characters indivual stats, a small farming lot and even a museum to donate various creatures you obtain by fishing, bug catching, etc.
In fact halfway through the campain you will have to expand the hub town in order to progress, which means going back to previous levels to get the item needed to built or expand, but even that isn’t really an obstacle, since you can revisit specific parts of each level, it just a quick bit to make the game a bit longer and let you sample the town building portion of the game, but you might alread have the items needed, need just a couple, and some of the shops let you buy some items you’ve already obtained if you pay, in limited quantities.
It’s a good compromise since most of the more useful items you just will need to find directly by revisiting stages, and it’s heaven compared to the shithole of blind guessing and grinding tedium the previous Unlimited games put me through.
You can also accept various missions from the tavern, often being timed but still amounting to either defeating one or more boss characters, obtain a certain number of items or animals, or defeating a certain number of enemies, with increasing difficulty and rewards. The base game already had a good amount of these missions, but there’s also the DLC ones already included in this edition, so even if they aren’t great, they’re ok side missions and there are plenty to keep you busy.
Even more considering the campaign isn’t exactly extensive, if you just focus on the main story missions (and maybe fuck about a bit) it can be finished in 8/9 hours, but i’m fine with it, i’ll gladly take this over the inflated and endless boring crapload the Unlimited Cruise games made you go through, since i actually wanna play more of this, and it last exactly as long as it needs to, without throwing a wench in the plot only to elongate itself, it starts and ends when it should.
Alongside the various side missions and post-game stuff (like an “Extreme” version of the story mode, guessing it being way harder), there’s also an Arena mode, completely separated from the main campaign, but still worth doing since it has its own little storyline (taking place in the Dressrosa Coliseum), the combat itself is decent, there are various types of matches/challenges, you can play as many of the boss characters here, play in local co-op here as well, and you can unlock stuff for use in Story mode.
On the technical side it’s notable how you can’t exactly tell this was originally a 3DS title, at least if you don’t notice how the character have barely or none lyp synch in the many cutscenes using in-game engine (or they have much in they way of expressivity outside of the modeled cel shade face), you can tell by looking a bit more closely than the textures are not that greatly rendered, the item drops are just non-3D images of a “lootbag” standing still.
Regardless, it’s a pleasant looking and colorful title with a good presentation, it already sported a good cel shaded style graphic on 3DS, and the previous ports on PS3, Vita and Wii U did improve on that, so this deluxe edition did just polish the cel shading and improved performance, so it runs smooth as butter and loading times are shorter.
Since this is not a remaster, it wasn’t exactly sensible to expect them to remake the whole game from scratch when it’s clearly labeled as a re-release with the main selling point it including all the DLC and optimization.
One thing that could have been improved is the co-op, especially if you don’t wanna add online co-op, because the feature is nice to have, it is, but the execution is kinda shit.
I didn’t expect to get a 3 player co-op option, i didn’t, but you’re not gonna enjoy yourself if you act as second player, as the 2P is basically limited in a lot of stuff, like, you don’t even participate directly in the fishing and catching minigames, just act as support, and if you die as a 2P, you basically get cannibalized by the first player.
It’s still nice to have local co-op, but the second player is often penalized for existing, so it can be a bit frustrating. And it’s still obvious done via split-screen, for sure on the PS4 version it is, and i would guess the PC or Switch versions are the same.
While sporting a decent-to-good original plot and being a massive improvement over the Unlimited Cruise games, i can’t deny that Unlimited World Red isn’t THAT great of a game if you don’t happen to be a One Piece fan already invested in the series.
It’s definitely a decent game in itself that fans of the series will enjoy more, but from a more neutral, “outsider” prospective, it’s another anime game, a fun one, but definitely not pushing any boundaries in terms of quality or story, and that might come across as a bit too simplistic or repetitive to more navigated players. Doesn’t help you can tell this was an “old game” by some of its designs choice, and despite the good presentation and the technical improvements, one can see traces of it being designed initially for handhelds, and then later ported to PC and home consoles.
But honestly it’s a fun romp, and it makes sense for Namco Bandai to re-re-lease the best title (sure as shit one of the better received One Piece games by most of the gaming press outlets) in the Unlimited sub-series on new consoles, even if you can feel it’s a bit old fashioned of a game in terms of mechanics and set-up. It was fun when it was ported to most home consoles in the Wii U-PS3-Vita generation, and it’s fun to revisit it today as well, especially since it comes with more polish, better performance and all the previously released DLCs, making for a pretty good package.
If you never played it before and like (or love) One Piece, i heartly recommend grabbing it, especially if you wanna a lot of elements you could have expected Ganbarion (also responsable for developing previous One Piece Unlimited titles and other anime games) to iterate and expand on when they later worked on the kinda disappointing One Piece World Seeker.
But we’ll elaborate on that particular note when time for a review of that will come. Someday.