Shonen Jump’s and Eiichiro Oda’s pirate manga One Piece started in 1997, the One Piece anime followed in 1999. This means I was a teenager when One Piece began and, had I been a less responsible individual, could have fathered my own teenager about to be an adult as the series continues. Only roughly halfway through its story by some accounts One Piece has run longer than Aqua Teen Hunger Force, though not quite as long as The Simpsons. When I first started watching it I wore pentagrams and had black fingernails, a Ramune soda being the highlight of my day, now I own Calvin Klein suits and appreciate fine cinema with a glass of whiskey. To say I haven’t really kept up with One Piece is a bit of an understatement, so what better way to catch up on this beloved kids show than with a video game that takes the story and chops up, rearranges, truncates and retells it in the Dynasty Warriors format?
Your enjoyment of Bandai Namco’s One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3 really depends on your enjoyment of both One Piece and Dynasty Warriors. Warriors is a series where you sit back, watch what they put out annually, then select which title you’re going to give a shot based on themes you’re most interested in. A lot like Call of Duty, or Lego, or Assassin’s Cr – Or Lego. What I’m saying is “it doesn’t change much”, and Pirate Warriors may not be as exciting to you as say, Hyrule Warriors which was a bit fresher in concept. Even so Pirate Warriors 3 stands as a pretty strong overall experience that will appease long running fans of the series where you take on your favorite heroes and conquer territories in their name.
While I’ve skirted the Warriors series on and off for the past several years, and had to skip out on the one truly new and exciting Hyrule edition, the last Dynasty Warriors I owned was Samurai Warriors (roughly the era of Dynasty Warriors 3). This is where I go on a tangent and wax about a little restaurant hibachi in Stanford, Connecticut I frequented in my youth. When I was younger this restaurant was a spectacle, everything was big and exciting and fun. Returning in my later years, a wizened man, a lot of the spectacle is gone, sure it’s still fun but I notice all the little things wrong with my plate. Some of the meat is too tough. Some of the flavors are overpowered by heavy uses of vinegar and soy sauce. I realize the place is largely unchanged from my youth, but it was nostalgia that preserved it, not quite the quality.
Pirate Warriors 3 comes out of a franchise that’s changed little in the last decade. Dynasty Warriors 3 was perhaps the last major innovation, and from what I can tell the only in depth changes come from the graphics and bad guy count. It’s still fun as hell mind you, choosing your characters or “classes” of choice and charging through with super powered attacks as you traverse the lanes and fight bosses. But there’s this edge of old school-ness, two feet firmly planted in outdated design, that makes me want to smash my fists into the keyboard repeatedly.
The biggest fault is in mission failure. There is no checkpoint system. The game doesn’t care how many objectives, optional and linear you complete, it doesn’t care how little you’re at fault for failing any one goal. If you die, you die. No reward, not a single Beli for your hard work. It’s beyond crushing and frustrating. Where I was having a blast earlier the life is just as quickly sucked out of me and I want to go do something else. Thankfully Pirate Warriors 3 has a bit of its own “something else” for you to tackle, an optional “Dream Log” that mirrors old school Warriors maps of conquest and offers more traditional ‘smash and win’ gameplay. Whenever I lost one of the story mode’s at times overwhelming objectives, I’d chill out in the Dream Log for awhile and level up at my own pace.
So let me give you a more efficient breakdown. Pirate Warriors 3 offers up loads and loads of characters from the manga and television show, so many I don’t even know who several are (remember I skipped a few arcs). True to Warriors form, they generally fulfill a different “class” role so characters such as the red haired thief Nami act as more of a “Mage” with devastating area of effects that take a long bit of setup, while perverted sous chef Sanji is a glass cannon. There are other subtle differences in how characters handle. Another neat trick is character gameplay behavior and tactics changing slightly in tune to the story.
You level up your characters in three ways, first there’s actual combat, though the experience gain is so slow you’re lucky to even see one level per stage. There is ‘Beli Growth”, Beli growing as the game’s/world’s currency, this allows you to cheat and skip ahead several levels. Finally you get “Character Coins” that you use to grow stats on your individual of choice. Due to how easy it is to run through Beli, a resource you also need to unlock costumes, music and other options, and how hard it is to earn character coins you’re better off only focusing on leveling a handful of your favorites.
The new feature in Pirate Warriors 3 is the Kizuna Rush, where you can summon an ally to fight by your side. This attack simultaneously boosts your own powers and your monetary gain. Depending on who you pair with you might get additional bonuses. Finally you can end your rush prematurely with a super powered double team attack to quickly clear out the field in front of you. Timing is everything in an effective Kizuna Rush, but as the game gets on you can learn skills that gain you more frequent use of your double techs.
The Story Mode follows One Piece from the beginning all the way to the most recent Dressrosa arc, so if you’re using it to get a crash course on the manga and anime this ain’t a bad place to do it. That said the story is really more of an “abridged” version and condenses entire seasons to a single map of gameplay. Due to its hyphenated nature the story loses some of that emotional and comedic impact found in other One Piece media, but it does recreate a few of the series action sequences in pretty slick ways. Story Mode tends to offer more varied and challenging objectives, while Dream Log mode is for that traditional territory takeover gameplay.
There’s a little bit of a grind and a few content walls in Pirate Warriors 3. It was easy for a Story level to move beyond your recommended level, which is when it was time to grind a bit in the Dream Mode. It also takes its sweet time unlocking characters since it’s in tune to the story. There are yet more hidden characters in Dream Log. It all feels a bit like gameplay padding, but not so much it was an annoyance or detriment. I will say this, I wanted my 2 year time skip Nami and it took me awhile to access her. Pair this off with DLC costume packs and, well, no one could accuse Bandai Namco of being a forward thinking in terms of content.
The graphics look like a 3D version of the anime, and while cel shaded graphics are increasingly commonplace I do think many of the models stand as the best representations of Eiichiro Oda’s buccaneer creations yet. The environments on the other hand leave a bit to be desired. Sure some of the scenery is fun with unique uses of perspective and angles, but unless you take the time to stop and turn your camera you won’t see them, you’ll just be looking at mass barren fields with tons of enemies.
With One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3 I had a ton of fun until I didn’t. In fact I have several games competing for my attention these days, and Pirate Warriors 3 was my go to for some mindless old school fun. The same old design that hurt it also aided it in a sense, there’s something nice about not having to keep track of a whole bunch of menus and buttons and minigames and side options and complicated plot lines and just sit back and enjoy simple gameplay. At the same time addressing some of the other outdated issues, no checkpoints for example, would have majorly improved this title.