Game Reviewby Sam Leach,
One Piece: Unlimited World Red
An enemy said to be on the level of legendary pirates such as Whitebeard and Roger emerges, and his name is Redfield. Ever the adventurers, the Straw Hats have found themselves in a loop, revisiting old locations and enemies as a product of Redfield's mysterious powers.
Unlimited World Red Deluxe is a re-release of the 2013 game originally made for the 3DS, the most recent in a series of One Piece “Unlimited” games. At this point, Red is out for nearly all Sony and Nintendo consoles, as well as PC, making it probably the most available One Piece game you're going to find. As usual with modern One Piece games, it's available only with Japanese audio and English subtitles.
What Unlimited World Red has to offer is a myriad of gameplay modes wrapped up in a single package. Luffy has found himself in charge of expanding and maintaining the game's hub world, Transtown, in a money-spending and resource-managing experience that connects you to mini-games, quests, and story-driven levels full of your expected One Piece beat 'em up action.
The combat of the game, which you'll find yourself putting the most time into, is not a far cry from what you'd see in something like the Pirate Warriors franchise, but because of its handheld roots and the fact that's it's juggling a much wider range of gameplay styles means that said combat was never going to be as robust as those other games, and that stiffness combined with the amount of time it takes to fight off your average team of enemies ends up being the most frustrating part of the game. You'll want to grind your characters' levels up, not just to save yourself a challenge, but to shave off as much effort spent on each successive stage as possible.
Something that the game offers to lighten the load is the Break Rush system, where a list of combos is kept on the HUD, and if you can hit them all in the allotted time, you'll unlock a Rush mode that makes you momentarily stronger, an essential trick to nail down for the trickier boss fights.
Outside of Transtown, the primary locations of the game are pulled straight from the anime, so you get to see some of your favorite locations recreated for the Straw Hats to pummel their way through. The order at which these locations appear is determined by the in-game story—so you start with Punk Hazard, then go to Alabasta, etc. This isn't a recreation of the anime, it's a new plotline that involves the villain pulling old events from our heroes' memories. The story isn't much to speak of, but the villain has a cool charisma to him that I like. He would feel right at home in one of the theatrical movies.
Some of these places, such as Fishman Island and Skypiea, look fantastic, bringing forth fond memories of visiting them in the original story, but the layout of each stage is extremely simple, and the game incentivizes you to explore while only offering samey enemies and backtracking missions to fill the space. There are occasionally obstacles that only specific Straw Hats can overcome—you can pick a party of three at the beginning of each mission—but whether you encounter them with the right crew member in tow is a stroke of luck, and the spoils you earn for doing so don't often warrant retreading later. It's also painfully missing a mini-map on the HUD, forcing you to pause at every fork in the road to double-check that you're going in the right direction.
Beyond combat, the primary mechanic of the game rests in Transtown, where you'll reconvene between missions. The major point of levity here is that you play this part exclusively as Luffy, so you can use his rubber powers to zip around the town like Spider-Man and get to where you want quickly. This town is where you can spend your money and materials to open restaurants, pharmacies, and such, which will in turn give you a chance to to use even more of the materials and ingredients you find in the main story levels. So if you want to make a Sky Fish Sauté at the restaurant, you'll need to collect some All-Purpose Oil from Enies Lobby, some Sky Fish from Skypiea, etc. Throw in upgradeable fishing rods and bug nets, as well as the occasional rare or difficult to capture ingredient, and it becomes obvious that this is where the real meat of the game lies. If your goal is to plow your way through the story without taking these upgrades into consideration, you're risking a much more shallow experience.
Visually, Unlimited World Red absolutely has the environments going for it. They're easily the best looking part of the game with character models looking decent, though the game is astonishingly colorful and bright; I had to dim my TV just to keep looking at it for long periods of time. These are graphics originally intended for the 3DS, and the PS4 version has much smoother edges as expected, though it's still a 3DS game at heart. As a game selling for $40, it doesn't look bad.
A player coming into the game now might wonder where more recent arcs and locations like Dressrosa and Whole Cake Island are. The game was made before the latter ever appeared in the manga, but Dressrosa is relegated to its own Colosseum Mode as an alternative to the story. I was shocked to discover how much of the game's content is in this independent mode, with loads of playable non-Straw Hat characters like Trafalgar Law, Boa Hancock, Crocodile, and more available for 1-on-1 Duels, Scrambles, and so on.
Unlocking the various characters through these mode-specific challenges ended up being one of the most fun parts of the game, with very clear objectives that reward you for playing different characters in different ways. You unlock Robin by winning two fights with Nami. You unlock Crocodile by dodging 15 times with Hancock. It continues on like this, getting appropriately more complex as you go. You're still fighting the game's lackluster combat, but the context of trying to unlock your favorite character is a much more entertaining task. There are too many great characters here for them to leave locked out of the story mode, especially in such a ‘what-if’ heavy game.
Unlimited World Red has plenty going for it in spirit—I would absolutely love to play a good grindy, action-heavy One Piece collect-a-thon—but it's missing a lot in execution. It's full of different gameplay systems that it doesn't teach the player intuitively, and the incentive to actually explore, try different characters, and get the most out of what the game has to offer is extremely low. You put up with the mediocre combat so you can micro-manage a system that makes the mediocre combat easier, and that's kind of a shame.
Overall : C+
Graphics : B-
Sound/Music : B
Gameplay : C+
Presentation : C
+ Great-looking environments, cool villain, Colosseum Mode is a lot of fun
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