I really didn’t know what to expect when I first booted up One Piece Unlimited World Red, which was probably a good thing because my expectations would have been confounded, no matter what. I discovered a window to the One Piece universe where you can take charge of one Monkey D. Luffy, leader of the Straw Hat Pirates who can extend his arms like Stretch Armstrong to attack enemies and zoom across the city after consuming a Devil Fruit, but as a consequence can no longer swim after being rejected by the sea. Sound confusing…? Then take a look at the crew roster of Straw Hat Pirates that Luffy leads (named for his hat, given to him by another pirate who saved his life as a boy) aboard the pirate ship ‘Thousand Sunny’: they consist of Luffy himself, Zoro the master swordsman, Usopp the sniper, Sanji the chef, Chopper the Devil Fruit eating reindeer and medic, Nami the navigator and thief (who is seldom seen wearing anything more than a bikini top), Robin the archaeologist, Franky the shipwright (and human tank), Brook the undead musician and Pato the raccoon who can create objects by drawing them on leaves… seriously, I’m not making this s**t up.
Now I know all of this because since being introduced to the world of One Piece, I’ve been doing my research as the game is not big on exposition for newcomers to the series; couple that with the fact that there is no English dub, only subtitles, and it’s fair to say that things get confusing very quickly.
At the start of the game Luffy’s crew are taken whilst out shopping and it’s up to him to rescue them, making them available as you form parties of three crew members in order to tackle each episode; these areas are based on places that will be familiar to fans of the series. The game itself is like a cross between a more traditional JRPG like Persona, and a hack ‘em and slash ‘em like Dynasty Warriors. Enemy encounters take the form of brawls against a greater number of enemies or longer, more strategic boss battles. Variety and depth in the combat system comes from prompts to dodge, counter, chase and even steal from enemies; and from special powers, unique and item words that you can learn as you progress through the game. Special powers can be enabled by filling your SP bar through combat and are activated with the right shoulder button in combination with another button, depending on whether it’s an attack or a buff. Words can be activated when the R symbol flashes and will provide buffs for you and/or other characters. The variety of the words you can swap in and out, combined with the 9 or so playable characters, makes good fodder for those that are strategically minded and the core hack and slash combat is simple and satisfying enough for more casual gamers to enjoy without much frustration.
There is some variety to be had outside of the story episodes too; areas are re-playable when you’ve finished the related section of the storyline and these can be farmed for materials to help expand the mission hub, named Transtown. Early in the game you’ll open up the Inn which enables you to save your progress, change outfits and store items that you’ve collected; it also allows you to expand the town, adding a tavern where you can access additional non-story related and DLC quests, a pharmacy where you can purchase potions and a factory where you can upgrade items in your possession and craft new materials. There are also a variety of mini-games, ranging from card games (a priori knowledge of the series is essential for some of these games, otherwise it’s pure luck), gardening, fishing and hunting insects; it’s even possble to upgrade your rod and net to help you catch bigger and better prey.
Alongside the Story Mode, there’s also another mode where Luffy and the Straw Hat crew come across a Battle Coliseum run by King Donquixote Dolflamingo, whilst they are searching for supplies. The lure of fame and riches is too strong for Straw Hat to resist and he swiftly defeats 30 enemies alongside his ally, Trafalgar Law, by way of an entry test. In Battle Coliseum Mode you can play one-on-one duels using a single character, scrambles where two characters team up against enemy hordes and battle royales where you take on either two boss characters or a boss and a horde simultaneously. The aim is to score points to improve your rank and within your current league; there are three leagues and when you reach number one rank in a given league, you have the opportunity to participate in a rank-up match to be admitted to the next league and unlock a new difficulty level. There are bonuses to be had for characters that win a battle on their first attempt and special matches, where a single battle meta-plot awards greater points. As you play you will unlock characters to play as in the coliseum, coliseum specific buffs and even boss quests for the main story (available from the tavern when you’ve built it) which allow you to control characters other than the Straw Hat Pirates in the story mode. These are unlocked by completing certain tasks in the reward list, adding some replay value to this mode, especially for us completionists.
The controls are easy enough to get to grips with, with standard and heavy attacks and context sensitive dodging and countering. My only complaint with the 3DS version we reviewed, was that it was possible to get a little disorientated during battles, as camera controls are shoved on to the second screen; this would presumably be better on the PS Vita version with its’ dual analog sticks. Other than that, the game looks good on the 3DS, and the Transtown portions and RPG elements including character selection during quests are well suited to the dual screens the system boasts. If you’ve gotten this far, you should really give One Piece Unlimited World Red a chance. It’s a confusing title to be sure, but if you can enjoy the JRPG lite style and are willing to go with the crazy, it’s actually a rather charming and enjoyable little title.
A 3DS review copy of One Piece Unlimited World Red was provided by the Bandai Namco PR team, and is available now on Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 3.