Game Reviewby Dave Riley, Sep 19th 2013
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2
One Piece's second Dynasty Warriors-style outing, featuring a considerably expanded character roster and considerably more levels to play through.
You can't shake the feeling that these games would be better if they'd just make fewer of them.
When last we left One Piece: Pirate Warriors it was kind of a mess, trying to differentiate itself from the usual Dynasty Warriors experience by inserting platforming and cinematic boss battles. It was still mostly levels made out of featureless boxes (masquerading as forts, rooms, or islands), connected by isthmuses (in the form of bridges, alleyways, or catwalks), and filled with cannon fodder (pirates, or barbarians, or marines, all interchangeable, all attacking and dying in the exact same way), but at least it tried something a little different.
But different isn't enough. It's with good reason that Pirate Warriors 2 strips out everything new in Pirate Warriors 1, because the platforming was jumbled and unfun, and the boss battles were marred by imperfect mechanics, like the game's horribly inaccurate grab.
Pirate Warriors 2 is back to basics, back to boxes, isthmuses, and cannon fodder. Each level of throws your chosen pirate from box to box with ill-defined (sometimes, frustratingly, unstated) goals like "Protect Nami!" or "Hold the Fort!" Sometimes the objective is to kill an enemy with a life bar, a foe that receives equal fanfare whether they're a faceless marine captain or late-series bad guy Akainu. When enough enemies with life bars are killed you go on to the next level, which is nearly identical to the one you just played, except with a different coat of paint, so it looks like Impel Down instead of Restaurant Baratie. If your life bar is emptied (unlikely, given the nap-time difficulty) or if certain allies retreat from the battle (slightly more likely, given the garbage AI), you lose and repeat the stage from the start; there are no checkpoints.
The cast of playable characters has about tripled, now buffed out with series badasses like Aokiji and Bartholomew Kuma. Each character plays functionally the same, but in a wonderfully overpowered way where they all have dozens of moves, and most of those moves are primed to clear entire rooms at once. Certain characters are stronger than others, but all of them can drop a field of destruction with a few button presses, the only difference being whether it's in the form of a blizzard, or a sandstorm, or smoke, or fire, or ghosts, or giant, stomping feet. They all have cool, anime-authentic poses when they do their super moves, and the game's most charming nod to the show and manga is preserving character's strengths and weaknesses even when they would fly in the face of balance (whatever balance you could claim a Dynasty Warriors game has). Usopp is immune to Perona's ghosts, Luffy can't be turned to stone by Hancock, and so on.
The coin system still exists to buff stats in the same tiresome, generic way. Slotting in new and more powerful coins as they're collected feels required, otherwise a character's power suffers (a lack of strength rarely puts missions in jeopardy, but it does make them longer). There's nothing fun about it and there's no thought required in doing it, just manual labor. They've added skills, too, which are a little more interesting in that they have appreciable effects beyond "plus attack -- the ability to destroy shields, or to stay in "style" mode for longer. However, unlocking skills requires collecting unique coins, and, given the amount of coins collected in the average level, it would take playthroughs of all the difficulties, and ceaseless grinding after that, to unlock even a quarter of the skills. They've completely revamped the useless team attacks from the first game. Now your chosen teammate levels up with you, gains their own skins, and adds extra time and damage to your super meter. There is also a mechanical component to bringing them out, you need to inflict a certain amount of damage/KOs while in super mode, but saying it requires any sort of skill would be an overstatement. Generally, pointing any attack at any group of enemies larger than ten will provide enough charge to summon your teammate.
The multiplayer is slightly improved -- this is to be expected, since the game no longer has a regimented Luffy-only campaign -- but still fundamentally flawed, as if they released this game five, or even ten, years ago when stereotypical statements of "Japan doesn't understand online gaming" held even the tiniest bit of water. Couch co-op is available at any time, if you don't mind splitscreen. You have to clear levels before you can play them online with friends, but if you want to be dumped into a random lobby with the first person who passes by, you can do that whether you've cleared a level or not. Seeing as how the primary appeal of Dynasty Warriors games is clearing out gobs of generic grunts with your pals, this arbitrary restriction highlights how badly the designers have missed the point, and they've missed the point for two games in a row, now.
There's so much to do here, tons of side-missions, and collectables, and even a secret ending, the question is: who's sticking around to actually do it? Mechanically, Pirate Warriors 2 has improved on its predecessor by cutting out all the half-measures and reverting to Dynasty Warriors at its purest level; no jumping, no cutscenes, just bashing and brawling and leveling up to unlock better moves to bash and brawl with. But maybe the solution wasn't cutting out all of the half-assed stuff, maybe the solution was to take the half-done features of the original Pirate Warriors and actually try to make a whole game out of them.
Maybe it doesn't matter, though, because the people who will play Pirate Warriors are already playing it, and the people who won't play it never will; it just seems like there ought to be room for a One Piece game that captures the fun and fantasy of its source material, and the way to make it might be to spend a couple years working on a single game instead of crapping out a new version every twelve months on the dot and sandwiching it between releases of similarly generic Fist of the North Star and Warriors Orochi games.
Pirate Warriors 2 has plenty of fast-paced, overpowered punching and that sustains it for a while. The fighting here is inarguably more fun than the first Pirate Warriors, but the stapled-on character advancement and plot do nothing to keep the player's interest, and eventually (sooner rather than later, honestly, and certainly before the credits roll) killing fifteen hundred or two thousand enemies per level stops being novel and starts feeling mundane, and "mundane" is the last word you would use to describe One Piece.
Overall : C
Graphics : C+
Sound/Music : C-
Gameplay : C+
Presentation : C-
+ Maintains the overpowered, room-clearing style of the first game