Review: One Piece: Unlimited World Red

One Piece: Unlimited World Red disappointed me. That may seem like an odd thing to say. This is a licensed game base on an anime, after all. We’re practically scraping the bottom of the proverbial barrel. But it comes to us from Bandai Namco, and they have a good track record with anime games, especially titles based on Shonen Jump hits. It clearly has some money behind it too, but sadly its impressive budget doesn’t seem to have been spent on gameplay.

The game starts off on a very promising note, with a cutscene depicting an intense, highly kinetic fight between two mighty pirates. With stellar cel-shaded visuals and slick, stretchy animations, it looks like something straight out of the One Piece anime. It’s bombastic, exciting fights like these that have made One Piece one of the most beloved shonen series of our day. You may think you know where I’m going with this, but you’re only half right.

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Unlimited World Red is a 3D brawler, and 3D brawlers are infamous for showing awesome fights in cutscenes and then severely limiting your abilities in combat. Though the combat system here is fairly simple (there are only two attack buttons) the gameplay manages to capture a great deal of the visual energy from that opening cutscene. Every attack you can throw, from simple autocombos to special finishers, feels as though it was ripped directly from the anime. At the end of each fight, you see a cool multi-angle freeze frame of the killing blow. It’s clear the team behind the game put a lot of effort into making sure every animation looks just right. That’s kind of the problem.

While all of the attacks in the game look fantastic, they feel very stiff and inaccurate. The animations are very authentic to each playable character and their unique fighting style, but they tend to be heavily overwrought. Even when you lock on to an enemy there’s a good chance your attack will whiff, especially with your AI allies knocking them around the second they get back to their feet. You also can’t aim attacks like throws, because they lock your character into a pre-set animation. If you do land a hit, you’ll find the game feels quite unresponsive, as the various attack animations tend to drag on for just a little too long. Certain moves can lock your controls for over a second, which feels like an eternity in the heat of battle.

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On the bright side, you do have a wide variety of characters at your disposal, including every member of the Straw Hat Crew and several of their most famous enemies and allies from throughout the series. Each character has their own unique fighting style, from the fast, elastic antics of series protagonist Monkey D. Luffy, to the methodical swordsmanship of Roronoa Zoro, to the bizarre hand-based magic of Nico Robin. The enemies, too, come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The bosses in particular are full of personality and have some interesting mechanics, though like many things in the game their fights tend to drag on.

The storyline of Unlimited World Red is as blatant an excuse plot as they come. The Straw Hat Pirates have arrived at a mysterious island under the guidance of an equally mysterious Tanuki, and in short order all but Luffy end up being kidnapped. In his quest to find his friends, Luffy discovers that the terrain on the island has been transformed into places from his memories, and old enemies lie waiting for him there. Predictably, what follows is a tour through the most famous lands and fights in One Piece history. It’s presented with stunning cel-shaded visuals and exciting cutscenes throughout, and set to some fantastic orchestral music, but the story is ultimately pointless.

Fortunately, the inimitable personality of the One Piece crew shines through, and while the plot is hardly earth shaking, the interactions between the game’s various characters are enjoyable to watch. All of the Japanese voice actors from the anime reprise their roles in the game, and they do as well as you’d expect of top talent from the biggest voiceover industry in the world. Two new characters join the cast – the aforementioned Tanuki and the sinister Captain Redfield – and they fit right in with the quirky Straw Hat Crew. If you found the show’s likeable cast helped you get through even the most pointless of filler arcs, you should have a good time here.

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Speaking of filler, outside combat, the game falls completely apart. There’s a hub town to explore, but it’s completely pointless – you’re going to find that’s a running theme here. At the start, very few locations in the town are unlocked, and of them only the inn where you save your progress has any use. You’re asked to help build up the town by gathering resources, but none of the expansions you make serve any purpose beyond helping you make more expansions. The resources required to complete new buildings are often inane and arbitrary – for instance, in order to build a pharmacy, you must first catch a butterfly. Such arbitrary bullshit is sadly the norm here, and in a few cases, you need to develop the town to a specific level before you’re allowed to continue.

Gathering resources is a giant pain in the ass. You can collect wood and the like by punching tree and hoping for a random drop, but getting fish and animals is trickier. To do so, you need to venture out into the world with a bug net and fishing hook, finding spots in the various levels where resources spawn. Both fishing and bug catching involve terrible rhythm mini games, but fishing is especially egregious. Your goal is essentially to hit enough correct inputs within an allotted time in order to whittle your prey’s stamina to zero. Unfortunately, some fish are too high level for your rod (which can be upgraded at one of the pointless expansions), and it’s literally impossible to hit enough inputs before time runs out. Whether you’ll run into such a fish is entirely random, which especially sucks when you lose the fish you’ve already caught due to a random roll. The realization that this is all pointless busywork makes that infuriating nonsense feel like a personal insult.

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If there’s one nice thing that can be said about the town, it’s that traversing it is a joy. Luffy can use his iconic Gum Gum Rocket to slingshot himself over buildings, which lets him get from one end of town to the other in an instant without touching the ground once. It’s an enjoyable movement mechanic that’s reminiscent of the web-swinging in the best Spider Man games. Unfortunately, for some reason Luffy refuses to use his rocket to get around the actual levels, which makes exploring feel inexorably slow compared to the town. To make matters worse, progressing through levels often involves backtracking to find keys for locked doors. Finding these keys is more busywork, and usually involves either breaking a specific unmarked object, or killing a specific unmarked enemy. This is the very worst kind of gameplay padding.

In addition to your first pass through levels, the game asks you to go back to them for side quests. Side quests mainly ask you to either collect specific resources, or fight bosses you’ve already defeated. The levels are tedious enough the first time through, and repeat visits don’t do them any favors. To make matters worse, the only reward for completing side quests is more side quests. These quests’ real purpose is to give you a place to grind up neglected characters so that they’re usable in later levels.

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Yes, like everyone and their grandma, Unlimited World Red has RPG mechanics. Unfortunately, they’re not all that well thought out. Characters level up over the course of the game, increasing their health and base stats. Of course, the levels scale to match your characters’ progression, so going in with an under-leveled character is a good way to get destroyed. You can only bring three characters into a level, and they don’t share EXP with teammates on the bench. So in order to play as the full cast, you HAVE to grind. Since side quests are so inane, though, that’s not really much of an option, and you’re more or less forced to stick with the same three characters for the duration of the story mode. It completely undermines the game’s large selection of characters.

You can use the full cast of characters with no restrictions in coliseum mode, but that’s just an endless string of repetitive fights. Still, compared to the tedious story mode, that bare-bones offering might be the most enjoyable part of the game.

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Closing Comments:

Though it has a triple-A presentation, everything about One Piece: Unlimited World Red feels c-grade at best. Combat feels stiff, unresponsive, and overwrought, though it captures the visual excitement of the anime nicely. If that were all there is to the game, it would be pretty average, but everything else just gets in the way. The side quests, minigames and crafting mechanics are all awful, and you’re forced to sit through far too much of them before you can get to the… well, not “fun,” but the game you paid for. Next to games like Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star BattleUnlimited World Red is a real disappointment.
score2.5
Version Reviewed: Wii U