I'll admit right off the bat that this review will be written from a position of complete ignorance with regards to the One Piece franchise. I have never read the manga or watched the anime and as such, I won't be able to tell you how well Pirate Warriors 2 ties into the series canon or how well it represents its characters. If you would like to know how well the game holds up for a One Piece newcomer, however, then read on.
The most significant point to make about this game is that it feels like it was made specifically for One Piece fans. Familiarity with its characters is assumed right from the start, as none of them are introduced or fleshed out in any way and we're expected to know and understand their personalities. This could be seen as both a good and bad thing; fans will no doubt appreciate the more direct approach but newcomers will likely feel alienated.
The plot itself is similarly unforgiving to those unfamiliar with the series. I tried my absolute best to keep up with the story but I found myself losing track on a near-constant basis, wondering what was happening. Again, this will not be a problem for fans, who will most likely follow the events easily, but it's near impenetrable for newbies like myself.
Further fostering the feeling of alienation is the fact that there is no option for English voices, with the story told solely in Japanese with English subtitles. This is likely to be a positive for many anime fans, but for someone like myself, who likes watching both dubbed and subbed anime, the choice would have have been appreciated. This would have been especially helpful during fast-paced battles, during which it is quite difficult to play and pay attention to subtitles.
Luckily, the gameplay is far more inviting, if not entirely successful. Taking the form of an almost point-for-point Dynasty Warriors clone, players choose from a variety of One Piece characters, who are then tasked with charging around a battlefield, taking out large groups of enemy soldiers and fighting powerful bosses.
The similarities with the Dynasty Warriors series are striking; from the Musou-esque charged special attacks, to the focus on capturing territories, to the collectibles scattered around each level. Even the camera controls and mini-map feel copy-and-pasted, and as such the game feels more like a re-skinned Dynasty Warriors game than something that's unique and striking, in its own right.
There are several areas in which Pirate Warriors 2 differs from its source of inspiration, mostly for the worse. Challenge is perhaps the most notable; this is an incredibly easy game for the most part. Hordes of enemies will often simply hesitate to attack the player; it's very possible to stand still for 10 seconds or longer while enemies stand still and wait to be defeated.
Even on the highest difficulty, opposing forces put up very little resistance. Perhaps this is understandable, given the younger audience the game is likely to attract, but the option for a slightly more challenging experience would have been much appreciated.
Pirate Warriors 2 only becomes challenging when facing off against certain enemy generals. A good portion of them are simply larger versions of regular enemies, but every now and then the game pulls out a ridiculously tough enemy that can kill you in two or three hits, requiring the use of a very fiddly Charge Attack to weaken them. This creates a very jarring difficulty curve; rather than naturally escalating in challenge, the difficulty stays incredibly low with the occasional massive spike, stopping the player from settling into any kind of natural groove while playing.
Despite all of my complaints, however, the combat does contain at least some of the mindless hack-and-slash fun to be found in Dynasty Warriors, even if it is an inferior experience, overall. Running around and bashing away at large groups of soldiers will always be at least somewhat fun, regardless of context.
Complementing the combat is a rudimentary levelling system; players can spend Beli, a form of currency, to boost the stats of each character. In reality, this adds very little to the experience, as you'll almost always have enough Beli to level up all of your characters to their maximum level, which is defined by the level of your most powerful character, so levelling up becomes a matter of routine rather than any kind of strategic choice.
You also collect coins along the way, which are assigned pre-battle to each character to adjust their stats, similar to equippable skills in Dynasty Warriors. Although the effects of these coins aren't always hugely noticeable, it does help to add some element of strategy into the game.
As well as the main campaign, there are Crew Episodes. These play very similarly to the campaign missions and allow the player to unlock extra companions, who can occasionally be substituted into battle temporarily with the use of a special attack. I never found them to be particularly useful but those wishing to unlock their favourite character will no doubt appreciate this option.
In addition, there is a Free Mode, allowing players to revisit any episode at their leisure, a very convenient feature for those who may want to see a certain part of the story without having to play the entire game again. There is also a Challenge Mode, which offers a variety of challenges at varying difficulty levels, and an Online mode, which allows players to join others online and fight with them.
The Main Story is extremely robust, offering 12 hours of play at a bare minimum. Couple this with all of the extra modes detailed above and you have a very long-lasting and high value-for-money game, for those who enjoy it.
Visually, Pirate Warriors 2 is fairly faithful to the style of the anime, from what I can tell. The style is vibrant and bright and should appeal to anime fans, as well as fans of colourful cartoon visuals in general. Graphically, the game is not all that impressive, in fact it's pretty sub-par for current generation consoles, but the eye-catching art style goes some way to compensating for this.
The music is also commendable; I couldn't tell you if any themes or motifs from the anime are utilised but the soundtrack is catchy, upbeat and almost always fitting to the light-hearted tone that the game exudes, if not entirely memorable or exceptional in any way.
Technically, however, the game is less than satisfactory. Loading times aren't too long, but the in-game slowdown is frankly terrible. At least half of my playtime was spent with the game almost running in slow-motion as the engine struggled to keep up, running particularly badly after the use of any special attack, for example.
These problems are at their worst when the screen is filled with enemies, but aren't unheard of when the screen is almost devoid of activity. These problems almost single-handedly drag down the experience, and it's a shame that such problems detract from an otherwise competent experience.
Overall, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 is an enjoyable if unexceptional game. Although I would recommend Dynasty Warriors 8 much more highly, fans of the One Piece franchise should get some enjoyment from Pirate Warriors 2.
One Piece: Pirate Warrirors 2 (Reviewed on PlayStation 3)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
I'll admit right off the bat that this review will be written from a position of complete ignorance with regards to the One Piece franchise. I have never read the manga or watched the anime and as such, I won't be able to tell you how well Pirate Warriors 2 ties into the series canon or how well it represents its characters.