One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 Review

April 9, 2020
Also on: PS4, Xbox One, Switch

In all the years I’ve spent on the internet, the only two things I’ve never looked at are anime and Dynasty Warriors. I’ve never been opposed to trying either of these things, but every time I’ve been ready to delve into either of them, something else grabs my attention. However, with the COVID-19 outbreak keeping me inside and my bank account empty, I accepted a review code for One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 and set out on my first anime-action adventure.

Action is the operative word in the previous sentence. Although there’s plenty of anime and adventure to be had, the emphasis of One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is undoubtedly on the combat. The game models itself on other mass-beat-em-ups, which means that almost every mission has players doing little more than punching thousands of enemies while listening to dialogue. Occasionally players will be forced to escort an NPC through a battle or will defend a specific point, but outside of that there isn’t much complexity to be had in the gameplay.

That’s not a bad thing, though. There’s a strange catharsis to playing One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4. The gameplay is just engaging enough to make players not want to keep Netflix open in another tab, but simple enough that it’s still enjoyable to play when their minds aren’t fully dedicated to the game. This is something that few games are able to pull off, which makes overlooking some of the game’s shortcomings easier to do.

Even when you’re a demi-god, there’s still a certain satisfaction to be had from getting an A ranking on a level.

Another thing allows players to overlook some of the game’s shortcomings is its replayability. Although the game itself is fairly short — about ten hours — there’s a ton of content for players to enjoy after the credits roll. There’s a surprisingly extensive upgrade system, two challenge type modes and over ten characters to level up. All of these things give players plenty of reasons to keep coming back to the game after their first playthrough, and more importantly, helps the game justify its relatively heft price tag.

Both the gameplay and the replayability only just make up for the game’s terrible levels, however. When a game has gameplay as simplistic as One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 does, it’s important that each levels flows well. Sadly in this game, they do not. Between the poorly translated objectives, confusing map markers and levels with bad layouts, gameplay in between combat is a slog. It’s possible to spend twenty minutes searching for an objective, which ruins the pacing of a game that’s otherwise packed with non-stop action. 

Why does everyone sit when I beat up their boss?

This issue is compounded by gameplay objectives that require players to understand the story. Multiple times throughout the game, players are forced to escort characters that are spread throughout each level, but who don’t have clear markers placed on them. This means that players need to know what each character looks like, which if they aren’t familiar with the One Piece universe, makes these objectives uncompletable without a guide. In a game that sells itself on its fast pace, looking at a guide makes already unenjoyable levels feel frustrating at best.

None of this is helped by a story that’s difficult to understand, either. Although the game is branded as a One Piece game, it does little to help non-fans (like myself) understand anything that’s going on. If players aren’t familiar with the lore of One Piece, the most that they’ll get out of the story is that there’s something going on that requires people to fight. In other words, there’s nothing that allows non-fans to understand why a dude in a straw hat is fighting not-Solid Snake except for vague dialogue and things the player can guess.

Guesses do help with the characters, though. Something has to be said about how stereotypical everybody is in the game. The dude with a cigar is a bad ass, the pervert looks a lot like David Wooderson and the nerdy middle schooler wields a slingshot. For as confusing as the story is, the simplicity and hilarity of the characters make the often serious story enjoyable to non-fans and makes the exclusively English subtitled dialogue worth scrolling through.

I have no clue why a sun has a creepy smile, but I already know what kind of character he’s supposed to be

The story is worth paying attention to for another reason. One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 features some of the nicest artwork that players will see this year. There’s something that’s simply visually appealing about it, like the developers took all of the grit out of Borderlands but kept its ability to convey a strangely dark theme. The graphics make the game significantly more enjoyable, especially during cutscenes and battles when the battlefield isn’t overly cluttered.

The graphics are helped by the game’s solid technical performance. The game was reviewed on a dated gaming computer, yet despite this it never dropped below 60 FPS or crashed. For a game that constantly has hundreds of enemies on screen at once, this is something that’s impressive, even despite the cartoony graphics.

The in-game music is also impressive. Much like a lot of the game, for people who aren’t fans of anime, the music in One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is enjoyable and catchy. It manages to keep pace with the gameplay and is unique enough that players will remember it. It also helps that players can freely change the music at will in the menu, which is something that few games allow.

So this is where the game’s level design budget went

On a final note, something has to be said for the voice acting of the game. Although many players don’t speak Japanese, there’s something weirdly enjoyable about hearing voice actors dramatically shout out lines about pirates with straw hats. It’s not the best voice acting in a game this year, but it probably is the most overly dramatic.

With everything in mind, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is a game that’s decidedly OK. It has a lot of strong elements, namely its gameplay, but also suffers from weak level design and a bad story. It’s enjoyable enough, but not so enjoyable to get a recommendation when there are other games —such as Shadow of War  that will let players have the same experience without having to deal with some of the issues of One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4.

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A solid enough entry into the beat-em-up genre, but one that is only really enjoyable if you’re invested in the One Piece universe.
Derek Johnson

Somebody once told me the world was going to roll me, and they were right. I love games that let me take good-looking screenshots and ones that make me depressed, so long as the game doesn't overstay its welcome.