Man, I love One Piece. I have been watching the anime since I was a little kid and with time it only has gotten better. The universe that Eiichiro Oda created and how it was brought to life by Toe Animation is one of the most interesting, imaginative and cool looking ever created. And as always if something is successful, they will make video games to capitalize on the success. As far as I know there has been a ton of One Piece games spread out on pretty much every platform out there. The latest of the One Piece games is in fact the beautiful One Piece Unlimited World Red.
Now I have to say that I have not played any of the previous One Piece games apart from a PS2 and an GBA games, so basically Unlimited World Red is my first One Piece gaming experience in a long while and I must say that I had a ton of fun with it. The game plays like a standard third person perspective action adventure beat 'em game, if you have played any of the more recent installations of One Piece like Pirate Warriors 1&2 games then you'll know what I mean.
But UWR is not the same game all over again. While the Pirate Warriors games kinda stayed true to the anime where you fought tons of pirates or fishmen or whatever at the same time adopting a Warriors Orochi style of gameplay, Unlimited World Red feels even closer to the source material. Sure you will get "ambushed" by marine corps or other pirates most of the times, but their number is way way smaller and their AI is way smarter that in Pirate Warriors, making each encounter kinda fun although by the end it gets a little repetitive.
Luckily Unlimted World Red offers many more "distractions" that kinda break up the repetitiveness. One of these "distractions" is the story itself and how it plays. As far as I know, it's a totally unique storyline with a totally original and new character specifically created for the game. This main bad guy that goes by the name of Patrick Redfield or "Aloof Red" along with his sidekick raccoon have the power to conjure things and beings by just writing on pieces of leaves. It might sound strange, but if you have ever seen at least one episode of One Piece, you'll know that the characters have unique and by that I mean totally crazy imaginative unique powers allowing them to do all sorts of cool stuff. Going back at the conjuring stuff up, he uses this power to mess with the Straw Hats recreating some of the previous scenarios we've seen in the anime. To me at first this seemed like a cheesy way of doing things, but the more I played the story and the missions, more details about why Red is doing all this emerged.
The story plays just like in the anime. Each mission is its own episode and in every one the Straw Hats discover more about Red's intentions. At the end of each mission, there's a boss fight which I'll get back to once I've talked about the story and structure of the game. If you've watched the 650 episodes of anime like I did, you'll perfectly understand what is happening and who is everybody. If you haven't well, the game does a fair job to try to explain everything that has happened. Anyway, you'll revisit some of the coolest islands and re-experience some of the most epic scenes in the anime. So you'll go back to the events of Enies Lobby with Nico Robin fighting Lucci, go to the Underwater Island fighting Hody Jones, Sky Island, some other cool places and you'll re-experience the epic battle of Marineford. I mean if you are fan of the series, this game is an epic example of fan service and if you're not a fan, it's still a blast to play through.
One things I should also mention is how surprised I was by the strong message that the story delivered in the end. Red had grown old and he believed that that made him weaker so he "messes up the world" just to be young once again ruling over the seas. But when this concept of his faces with the main character of the universe, Monkey D. Luffy, it implodes as Luffy delivers one of the best inspiring monologues ever regarding that specific topic that was just fantastic to experience.
Now let's talk a little about how the game actually works. I already said that it's a third person adventure game. After you start the game and the main antagonist is introduced, the scene changes to the Straw Hat Pirates aproaching an "Island of Promises" and this acts like a hub world of sorts. Once there you take control of Luffy and you can fully explore the island, collecting stuff, finding materials, talking to people, buying things, unlocking things etc. One other cool mechanic is the let's call it "island building" mechanic. During the missions, spread out the level you'll find different materials that you can use to expand the island and unlock new shops, buildings and other gameplay features. Sure, everything you do is mapped out, heavily scripted, but still you feel like you are helping these people much like the Straw Hats do in the anime, so there's that. Also in the island there are some other cool minigames to play which as far as I know don't really unlock anything in the game.
After you accept a mission in the island's Inn, you have to reach the Thousand Sunny, the crew ship, to reach the destination. Once you reach the ship, you have to choose three of the pirates you want to take on your mission. And once that is completed, the mission loads and you have to pretty much reach the end of the level fighting hoards of enemies culminating in a cool boss fight. Going back to the character select screen, all of the 9 main characters are available to choose from. So you've got: Luffy who has the power of rubber, basically elastic man; Zoro, Sanji, Chopper, Franky, Brook, Nami, Usopp and Nico Robin. Luffy can perform his unique Gum Gum Jet Bazooka, Giant Pistol etc. Zoro can slash the enemies using his haki powered swords and send them flying 50 feet in the air; Sanji can pretty much devastate everyone using his flaming leg technique and so on. Each of the characters has its unique set of powers and skillsets and mix and matching them is part of the fun, otherwise the combat would get really boring really quickly. I say this because the combat system is very simple. You can execute normal and heavy attacks, jump, the occasional dodge or counter and the special attacks where you have to press R1 and one of the face buttons to execute. As I said if it weren't for the many characters and their unique powers, the combat would get extremely repetitive really quickly.
The game also tries something like an RPG leveling up system where the more you use a character the better he/she becomes, but in my time with the game, I didn't really see any change whatsoever. There is also a "Words" mechanic where you can equip all the Straw Hats with words or phrases which boost their stats. The words themselves are common lines by various Straw Hats, so Luffy can equip "My left arm is a giant's arm" to increase his attack damage or Sanji can equip "I am a slave to love" to increase his attack damage for every female in the group. But again, I didn't see any clear difference while equipping them.
Apart from the main story line which also can be played in couch co-op along with a friend, there's also Battle Coliseum. Battle Coliseum is a think, an arena mode, but with a twists. What I mean by that is that it has its own contained storyline. The Straw Hats along with Trafalgar Law reach the Battle Coliseum in order to confront with the man behind it, Donquixote Doflamingo, one of the main bad guys on the anime. There are some different modes within this mode like Boss Rush, where you fight 5 bosses survival style; Scramble, where you fight 50-150 normal to heavy enemies; Battle Royal, where you fight against bosses and random enemies and the occasional Special Match. Once you beat enough of these battles or challenges, you climb the divisions ladder from C to B to A and between them you have to complete the Special Matches which offer story bits to this overall story arc. What's best about this mode is that apart from the 9 main characters, you can play as pretty much every other major ally or foe in the One Piece universe. You can play as Ace, Whitebeard, Boa Hancock, Trafalgar Law or Shanks, but you can also play as Admiral Aokiji, Admiral Akainu and the list goes on. Each of the characters is totally unique and some are crazy OP which is what makes Battle Coliseum a blast to play through. Also completing the different tasks or challenges to unlock these hidden characters is part of the fun.
So that's about all regarding the gameplay and modes available, now I am gonna focus on the presentation. Visually the game looks stunning with vibrant colors, creative looking environments pulled straight out the anime and beautiful character models. The special attacks look amazing and how the camera moves around to display the perfect angle to see the destruction you unleashed is extremely cool. The small explosions, the specks of debris, the fire or ice bits that the characters emit while attacking feels and looks like it's pulled out from the anime. However it would have been even better if these environments were more open ended and not feel like a bunch of hallways stuck together around a theme. One Piece, as I said, is one of the most creative animes out there with fantastical looking environments that are a character themselves and I was kinda disappointed to not find that present in the game. Or if the animations of the characters were more organic, if the combat would just flow like it does in the anime, it would have been 10x better.
Bottom Line: No matter what, One Piece Unlimited World Red is a beautiful game with a cool and interesting story and even better cast of characters. Sure, some things could have been better like the levels could have been more open with more exploration and cool secrets to find and more gameplay elements such as let's say naval combat would have been perfect for a game with pirates. Luckily the Battle Coliseum makes up for these "shortcomings". Still in the end One Piece Unlimited World Red is an extremely enjoyable experience that has been crafted with extreme love by the developers that stays true to the source material. Heck, now I want an open world One Piece game with naval combat and exploration Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag style on the next gen. Ganbarion/Bandai Namco, please make that happen!
Thanks for reading!