Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Fanservice For The Pirate Manga At It's Best - The Take Your Time One Piece: Unlimited World Red Review

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Quick Note: For fans of One Piece, there isn't a better adaptation of the tone and feel of the characters and the world. The combat can get stale outside of boss fights, but between the all new story, the ability to play your favorite pirates, and the extra content there's plenty of game here. Never heard of One Piece? You probably should stay away.

Anime translations to games don't always work out the way fans want them to. You would think that taking the impossible battle sequences or outlandish powers and bringing them to a medium where players can interact with them would be simple, but often times the transition leaves behind something special, making the game feel like it's glossed with the anime inspired coat of paint, but missing the heart of the source material. One Piece: Unlimited World Red is the opposite: as an adaptation of the anime/manga, it feels and looks amazing; as a game, it leaves me wishing there was just a little bit more there.

Pato and Redfield fit right into One Piece's bizarre cast of characters.
So if you've never heard of One Piece, this story will be confusing and you can move on two paragraphs to save yourself the confusion. Good? Okay. One Piece: Unlimited World Red starts off with the introduction to the infamous pirate "Red Count" Redfield, a powerful pirate from the same time period as Whitebeard and Gold D. Rogers. Redfield escaped from Empel Down two years ago when Blackbeard unleashed his assault on the world and stole Whitebeard's powers and has been at large ever since. Flash forward to today, Luffy and the crew are taking themselves to the "Isle of Promises" at the request of a Tanuki, Pato, who is looking for his master. While on the island, Luffy loses his crew and must venture out onto the island, which is separated into sections that resemble famous locals of the Straw Hat Pirate's past, to find them.

The whole crew joins Luffy on this journey, and each one shows off their trademark fighting styles.
The premise is simple and lends itself well to providing fan service. Each area is detailed and beautiful, especially on the PS Vita OLED screen (which is the version I played). And Redfield and Pato are interesting characters that feel right at home in this zany universe of pirates and Devil Fruit Users. However, the fan service of visiting previous locals and fighting well known characters from the series gets in the way of the original tale. I'm a big fan of bringing the famous locals and characters from the manga/anime into the game, because it is done tastefully, but I do wish there could have been more time devoted original tale and characters created for the game to help make this feel like a very good, unique One Piece story. I often felt torn playing through these areas I knew so well from the manga and battling iconic characters from the source material because I wanted a story from Luffy and his crew I hadn't seen before. Instead, we take a jog down memory lane for 90 percent of the game before dealing with the game exclusive characters at the end.This story setup also makes it difficult for the uninitiated because many of the emotional beats are based on anime/manga storylines that are not fully explained in the game, making it even more exclusive to fans only.

Luffy's combat abilities look amazing, despite the fact that the combat is not very deep.
Much like the story, the game play often left me feeling split as well. The game is broken up into stages from previous areas that The Strawhat Pirates had visited and each stage includes iconic villains and characters from the source material. Players get to select three characters to take into battle (one to control, two as AI teammates) and must battle through waves of enemies to get to these iconic characters. These levels are excellently detailed, with gorgeous models and textures, fantastic music and tons of enemies to fight and items to acquire. However, the level design for traversal is absolutely boring. There's very little vertical movement to any of the levels and often times you'll run from one end of the level to another by simply moving forward. It's such a shame that these gorgeous levels are wasted on such boring level design, especially when you take into account how well put together the hub world, Transtown, is built (more on that in a minute).

The combat is just short of a musou, or Dynasty Warrirors style game. Each character has two attacks (fast and strong hits) that can be combined to create attacks with the visual flourish of the manga/anime. Each character also uses these attacks to charge a special meter to fuel one of four special attacks (three per character and one group attack). The special attacks are strong and really make you feel like you are these powerful characters, but there isn't much strategy required for the general enemies. Often times, spamming attacks to build a special and simply blow them away is easy and grows boring over time.

Lucci is one of the many foes that return from the manga/anime.
This changes once you get to the powerful characters and bosses. Comprised of all sorts of persona from the manga/anime, these fights are unique and require timing and precision to take on the enemies. It's amazing how night and day the levels are, because it seemed like such a slog to get to the main boss, spamming attacks in wave after wave of faceless enemies while every boss fight had me on the edge of my seat, avoiding attacks and pummeling the foe while I tried to build up my special to deal massive damage. It was a real challenge, and surprisingly fun. Each character you take on has different abilities from the last, so it's not as simple as memorizing one pattern and spamming it across all of them. For instance, Mr. Crocodile will use his sand blade to cut the battle ground in half, making it smaller for half the battle. Lucci will often jump in the air out of your reach and rain down cannon fire from behind him. Each character is a breath of fresh air, especially once you've run through the beautiful but boring level before it.

Beating levels nets you Strong Words, which are specific pieces of equipment that boost stats for characters, money to spend in town, and items that will help Luffy and crew build items or expand the town. 

Spider-Luffy!!! Oh I can dream...
Outside of these levels, you'll control Luffy as he journeys around Transtown. Transtown is the hub world where players can buy supplies, expand the town to get access to other facilities, such as restaurants and a garden to grow plants, and power up character Strong Words. There are also mini games and sidequests in town, giving a much needed reprieve from the monotony. Some of these sidequests, such as fishing and bug catching, can also be done within the levels, and are often required to find the more rare critters. The best part about Transtown though is the ability to utilize Luffy's rubber abilities to travel. Tapping triangle allows Luffy to grab the nearest highpoint and fling himself into the air. Getting from point A to point B of the town is as simple as slinging yourself across the rooftops. It has a feel of Spider-Man, swinging from building to building, and leaves me with the sense of being torn once more. Just think of the amazing level design that could have been made for EVERY level if this mechanic had been brought into the game. It would almost be an open world version of One Piece! But alas, that is not the case. 

Climbing to get to Doflamingo is entertaining, for a while...
Outside the story mode lies the Battle Coliseum. The Battle Coliseum tells the tale of Luffy and his crew, alongside Law, working their way through the ranks to get to Doflamingo. The story is simple, and emulates that of the current manga storyline, but it works well for that purpose. And the best part about the Coliseum: all boss fights! Sure there are modes that involve taking on waves upon waves of fodder, but that's not required. And fighting the bigger bosses in duels reveals even more characters that could not be found within the story mode. Each character you fight can also be unlocked by taking on specific challenges, such as landing two of Nami's special or defeating 500 enemies with Luffy. This mode keeps the re-playability of the game up, especially after feeling a little burnt out on the campaign, but due to the shallowness of the combat system, if you're not a hardcore One Piece fan this mode will also grow wearisome.

I mentioned the trouble of moving anime to video games, and ultimately, One Piece: Unlimited World Red falls victim to a lot of the same issues as other games do. It is a fantastic One Piece game, but it's not a very good game in general. The feeling of being able to utilize your favorite pirate's unique abilities and taking on the iconic characters from the source material is a lot of fun, but if you are not involved in One Piece outside of this game, it's probably better to move on to something else.

6.5 out of 10

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