Aah, Tecmo Koei. That name alone conjures up many a happy memory along with such stalwarts of gaming’s salad days such as Taito and Atari. But, whereas the last two of the trio are reduced to merely bit part players in todays videogame market with titles such as the handheld horrors of the ‘With Mama’ series for Taito, and as for the one time industry giant Atari? Well, the less said about their involvement in today’s gaming scene the better. No need to completely tear our childhoods to shreds by ripping through the designers of our digital dreams of the day.
But, there is still one member of the original trinity that holds its head up among todays designers and developers thanks to their dogged determination and production of one of the longest-serving franchises in videogame history. They are Tecmo Koei. The game is Dynasty Warriors.
If ever a studio has stuck to an original format like glue and steadfastly refused to budge, bow to opinion or concede to the changing face and tastes of todays videogamers then it has to be Tecmo with Dynasty Warriors. More of the same heaped in big healthy dollops of digital destruction, murder and mayhem has been the order of the day for the Tecmo title ever since is conception back in 1997. But, unfortunately the disappointing sales and harsh critique from the World’s gaming press for the eighth iteration of the long-running title may just have finally sounded the death knell for this one time flagship favourite.
So, then, where to now for the very obvious talents behind one of Japan’s longest running videogame series? What next? Well, enter stage right the next generation of the Dynasty Warrior titles: One Piece Pirate Warriors. The spin-off of the main franchise has already reached sequel stages, with the original game launch hardly making a more than a mere whimper in its day,.
Originally launched as more of an homage during the 15 Year Celebrations of the manga based anime series, OPPW, as we will call it from here on in, was well received by anime fans and followers of the animated TV series, but the main problem with being a target specific, single platform title these days is that you are niche even in a small audience of niche gamers. It’s all well and good quoting the figures of people who watch manga, anime, cartoons and who read anime comics as your potential customer base but the truth of the matter is that actual sales numbers more often than not prove that TV anime fans don’t necessarily by anime videogames.
The first game of this duo was more in keeping with the originators story, but the sequel, One Piece Pirate Warriors 2, has new ‘arcs’ that were either omitted from last years launch, or that have been written in to the story to follow on the adventures of Luffy, the games main character.
This moves us nicely into the games current plot which see’s the hero, teenage pirate captain, named Monkey D Luffy, accidentally eating the fruit of the ‘Gum Gum Tree’. From here on in, and pretty much for no reason whatsoever, Luffy decides to set off in search of fabled treasure with his band of bloodthirsty brigands and cut throats, better known to their victims as ‘The Straw Hats’: hence ‘Pirate Warriors’, although just where the ‘One Piece’ comes from is anyone’s guess? Maybe it denotes the rather fetching attire of some of the swashbuckling pirates? Or maybe it just concentrates on female NPC ‘Nami’ and the fact that after the ‘Gap’, ( an event which takes place early on in the One Piece tale ), this foxy lady begins to wear little more than one article of clothing at any given moment in time.
Of course, Luffy the Pirate does have a few more anime staples among his crew, the Caruso Killer who ticks the ‘token black’ box, as well as ‘Smoker’, a surly beefcake who is to be found living up to his name by constantly chewing on twin stogies, who also puts his mark in the ‘Angry White Man’ pigeon-hole. Next up comes a Japanese ever-present with a girl who controls lightning, ( enter any Square Enix title to date here ), and last but not least comes the pretty much everyday humdrum power of the girl who can makes limbs and appendages sprout forth from the ground at any designated time and place. Well, ‘everyday and humdrum’ if you inhabit the mad cap world of the anime fan on a regular basis.
Topping off all of that mix of manga mentalism comes Cap’n Jack Monkey who, thanks to his ‘accidental’ chomping down of the Gum Gum fruit now finds that he can mould, bend and stretch his body into pretty much any shape and length as he quite literally has turned his skin and bones into…er, well…‘gum’. But now that you consider the amount of times this newly acquired talent is required by Monkey-Beard in his quest for the lost treasure of the Generican’s, then you begin to question how ‘innocent’ and ‘accidental’ his fruit feast really was.
Moving along we come to the gameplay, which is, in all honesty, fairly standard anime fare with the usual blend of intensely over the top chock-sockey action and the odd gratuitous cleavage or VW shot thrown in to the mix just for good measure, not to mention to appease the spotty faced teenagers everywhere who are all clamouring for some Japanese Geisha action.
In a set up that has been more or less directly lifted from Dynasty Warriors, players are once more given little else to do other than spam the action button as you blaze through an absolute shoulder-to-shoulder army of enemies before ultimately facing down the zones ‘Boss’. It is here that players will get to sample the benefits that they procured when they accidentally munched on the Gum Gum fruit, by which we mean that you will unleash the deadly arsenal of ‘Gum Gum’ Powers. These mystical maulers will allow ‘Long John Luffy’ to alter his form and take advantage of any visible weakness in his opponents armour, as well as morphing his body into everything from racing cars to comedy size fists and hammers.
Now, stereotypical anime affairs over, we come to the point where Pirates has made its greatest innovations. The combat. Although there are still the very familiar Dynasty Warriors undertones running right throughout the entire format, Pirates does have endearing qualities in its epic moves and abilities and the outrageously over the top ‘specials’ moments that anime fans have come to know and expect in their titles. Whether you are whipping the air with your rubberized arms and bringing an anvil sized fist down to the crush the skulls of opponents like egg shells, players are given an impressive arsenal of abilities with which to bring the pain to their foes.
The combat, much like much of the humour in Pirates, is eccentric and exaggerated, but it works perfectly. OPPW has far greater depth and much more range than its natural predecessor: Dynasty Warriors, and because of this the battles, ambush’s, raids and all out warfare is far more satisfying. Although it has to be said that the re-mapping of the more beneficial jump button to the mediocre ‘evade/roll’ manoeuvre, we feel, was a step backwards.
Players familiar with Tecmo’s earlier titles will notice that they also have a far greater assortment of attacking options than they ever did in Dynasty Warriors. Though the basics of Pirates combat are indeed the same: players have two standard attack buttons, which will instigate a devastating “rage” state when one bar is complete, and then unleash a powerful ‘Musou’ assault when the other meter is filled. It must be noted, also, that the NPC crew members are of far great use during moments of mayhem, and actually become beneficial in combat, more so than any other format of a similar nature in previous Tecmo, or indeed other anime styled titles.
So, what’s to do in the land of the One Piece Pirate Warrior? Well, when you first put to sea in Tecmo Koei’s latest vessel you will find that there is but a single course that your ship may follow, that being the Pirate Log. This is basically the ‘single player campaign’ of Pirates and, as such, is the mode you must conquer, in any one of the three difficulty settings, to unlock further features of the game. Pirate Log is made up of split level stories that meld into chapters to ultimately form the entire original plot of this latest One Piece tale. For fan’s of the anime favourite looking to see a rehashing of the TV series then they must understand that is a totally independent story to the one that they may be used to.
So, one you have taken on the might of the Marines, the main protagonists and one of just several rival ‘clans’ you must contend with, conquered and ‘conquested’ the Seven Sea’s and the monsters and terrors contained therein, you will then be able to assault such tasks as unlocking any one of the 27 NPC’s available. Thus allowing them to become fully-fledged characters in their own right, and who now become part of your selection process in the games pause menu, and at the start of missions.
After unlocking said ‘characters’ and removing them from the ranks of the NPC and adding them to your own playable roster, you may now also opt to play through a specially tailored ‘Tough As Nails’ setting, thoughtfully put together for the more experienced player. Alternatively there will also be online and local Co-oP Modes for players to delve into and enjoy.
Ultimately One Piece Pirate Warrior 2 will come over to gamers as a kind of ‘marmite’. You will either love it or hate it. The very same things that some may feel are just repetitive, run-of-the-mill affairs may be the exact same things why anime fan’s love it. There is no middle ground here. ‘Yes’, it looks and plays like another reskinning of Dynasty Warriors, but again, that’s why some players adore its format. And ‘yes’, ,one more you will be tasked with cutting through swathes of bad guys with mirrored powers and abilities in order to progress, much like any one of Tecmo’s titles from Fist of the North Star to Gundam Warriors, but again, this is just what devotee’s to the series are looking for.
This, we feel, is ultimately the bane and boon of anime styled action fighters the World over. Too niche to have mainstream appeal, and to specialized to ever break free of the niche pigeon-hole. It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that we have come to something of a first in GmP reviews history: an impasse. On one side of the room we have the staff members who are new to the franchise. Facing them, we have the disciples of anime, complete with Cos Play swords and menacing looks. The newcomers want to award the game no higher than a six, citing its standard format, repetitive gameplay and almost childlike Pokémon graphics, as opposed to the more adult anime that they were hoping for, as its main flaws. Whereas, we have the fans of the game who want to award One Piece Pirates 2 a whopping 9 for exactly the same reasons that the newcomers want to mark it down? What to do, dear readers, what to do? The answer is simple, we find the middle ground, the place we thought could not exist in any manga/anime game, and we award Pirates a completely correct 8 out of 10 for the reason put forward by both parties.
Developer: Tecmo Koei
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Version Tested: Playstation 3 ( PSN digital download )
Rating: 8 out of 10