It’s amazing how many games the Dynasty Warriors series has pumped out, and how they still manage to be fun after all this time. Admittedly, if you tried to play every one it would snap your sanity like a twig, but if you pick and choose the ones set in a style that fits your mood, it’s a great way to grind some levels while mowing down endless hordes of popcorn enemies, a few thousand slightly-more-powerful powerful sub-bosses, and a couple dozen properly capable named enemies. Whether it’s the War of the Three Kingdoms, the Trojan War, Fist of the North Star, Gundam, or One Piece, the series is like good ramen- basic, comforting, and surprisingly versatile.
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 is the newest incarnation, and a slight divergence in style from the first Pirate Warriors. While the original game stuck to the rough plot of the manga, Pirate Warriors 2 is an all-new storyline set after a two-year gap in the storyline where all the characters went off for more training. It uses the new character designs but, for those who haven’t managed to read or watch that far into the series, is relatively light on the spoilers. (Unless you read the character descriptions in the Gallery, of course, which is pretty easy not to do.) The plot mixes and matches bits from past and present, grabbing characters at will and tossing them into a plot-blender to fit as many of Eiichiro Oda’s wonderfully bizarre creations as possible into the ensuing chaos.
Initially, though, you start with just a level 1 Luffy. Like the dozens (literally, dozens) of characters you’ll eventually be able to choose from he’s got three standard attacks and two types of powerful abilities that require beating down the enemy horde to charge. Square and Triangle are basic and range attacks, respectively, and the two can be chained together for multiple combos that manage the crowd in different ways. R2 lets loose a unique attack designed to fill in any offensive holes the first two standard attacks don’t cover, and all three can be charged for more power.
Once you’ve started clearing out some enemies, the Special gauge fills in enabling a single strong attack that’s great for taking out dozens of baddies in a single shot. The Style gauge, on the other hand, enables a charged-up state that uses the standard attacks but with more power behind them, and also enables the Crew support. At the start of the stage you can choose which unlocked character you want as backup, and unleashing a special attack with the Crew gauge filled during Style (it makes sense while playing, honest!) calls them in to fight in your place for a short while. It does a nice job of mixing up the combat, especially if you choose characters with divergent fighting styles.
As you run through the levels charging into the thick of things, sending enemies flying and creating as much pandemonium as possible, there’s also a bit of mild strategy to pay attention to. Various rooms on the map act as bases, and once cleared will weaken the enemy’s hold on the territory. There are also plot points where an ally might need protection as they walk from one area to another, or a strong enemy launches an offensive against your home base. You aren’t fighting alone on the field, and sometimes your allies need support. They’re usually fine, though, needing minimal babysitting, because the enemy doesn’t tend to do all that much.
Most of your opponents in Pirate Warriors 2 are the standard soldier-type enemy, and while they come in a variety of forms, they’re not any serious threat. They tend to stand around staring at things or running towards them threateningly, but only occasionally taking a half-hearted swipe in your direction. They’re there to be mown down, and while that’s fun to do, it doesn’t take long to start viewing them as little more than modeled and animated versions of the pellets in Pac-Man’s maze. They’re things to be harvested rather than any kind of potential threat.
The mid-range enemies are a bit more of a problem, and in later levels when they start attacking several at a time they can actually knock you around a bit if you’re not careful. Not enough to risk a Game Over, of course, but at least you need to pay a bit of attention. It’s only when the named characters show up that a real fight begins, and even then you’d need to stop playing for a bit to be defeated. Pirate Warriors 2 isn’t even slightly hard until you crank the difficulty up, but what it lacks in challenge it makes up for with spectacle. Attacks are big and flashy, enemies swarm the screen constantly, there’s movement everywhere, multiple objectives calling for attention, a number of different ways to power up between one level and the next, and several different gameplay modes. It’s a giant game loaded down with tons of content and many different ways to attack it.
It’s also desperately in need of a disc version (an 8GB download can take a while even with a good connection) and a bit of love from its publisher. There’s no manual included, and most of the instructions are in the confusingly-named Hints section found at the setup screen before loading a level. Hints are a very different thing from Basic Instructions, after all. Like the first One Piece: Pirate Warriors this is a $50 game, and for that price a bit of care in presentation is expected. During one cut scene when an attack was imminent, Nami said “Marines! Quick, everyone run from the door!” Because apparently, while the marines are troublesome, that door was utterly terrifying.
Despite the quick & dirty ultra-cheap translation, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 ends up being a ton of fun. It’s bright, loud and explosive, loaded with action and constantly dragging you forward with the promise of more characters, fights, skills, and power-ups. Every level offers a new take on the familiar faces and world of One Piece, and while the story is unquestionably non-canon, it’s good fun to see everyone get a 3D outing even if the modeling can’t quite capture the feel of Oda’s character design. One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 is an excellent take on the Dynasty Warriors formula, and easily the best One Piece game so far.
Platform: PlayStation 3 (PSN)