Frantically Fluid Pirate Punching


HIGH Visuals are smoother than the dulcet tones of Peabo Bryson. (Look him up, young’uns…)

LOW The narrative is threadbare, which is odd for a popular anime series.

WTF The story and dialogue made me question my sobriety. Twice.

Anime is a strange beast. While the expansive genre and its fantastic characters often teeter on the edge of lunacy, there’s usually a narrative spine that allows newcomers to become familiar with the universe. One Piece is not that anime … at least not via this game.

Immediately after booting up, Bandai Namco makes it clear that this title is designed almost exclusively for fans of the One Piece series, offering only bare minimum background info, and giving gamers nary a clue as to why they’re about to throw down with pirates. What I could gather indicated that my character (Luffy) is off to save his brother from execution at the hands of the Navy Marines—I assume we’ll fight the “Army Air Coast Guard Force” in the DLC. Several hundred other NPCs seem to be there with similar intentions.

Within seconds of this threadbare information, I was in tutorial mode learning the tight and accessible control scheme. Despite the absolutely bonkers storyline and dearth of newbie hand-holding, Burning Blood is surprisingly playable from the start, with very little confusion about controls and a modest learning curve. If only the game’s characters and dialogue were as logical.

The story mode never evolves past a cut-scene/fight/cut-scene structure, nor does it become any less bizarre throughout the journey, but there is a genuine sense of achievement as time goes by. New skills are acquired in a reasonable fashion, and remembering these specials is crucial for success later in the game when things become more challenging.

In contrast to its lack of storytelling prowess, I’m happy to say that One Piece: Burning Blood should be able to be enjoyed by most types of game enthusiasts.

Fans of the IP who aren’t great digital pugilists will find it easy to mash buttons and move the story along, thanks to a ‘simple controls’ setting. This option doesn’t dumb the game down and allows newcomers to get their feet wet without getting too frustrated along the way. Likewise, the game’s generous retry option allows players to restart a fight without penalty, and allows them to learn and grow into the surprisingly deep controls.

Experienced fighters will find a lot to love once they master the standard controls and begin to whip up effortless combo strings with fast, fluid action. Burning Blood rewards players with monstrous combo and finishing move cinematics, and encourages them to experiment with new abilities, long-range attacks and more. It’s a thorough experience that belies the otherwise manic tone.

As players advance, the game becomes much more difficult—so difficult, in fact, that it wouldn’t be surprising to see players drop off the story progression to explore other modes which unlock as the campaign trudges along. These modes include Pirate Base, Versus, Collector, Free Battle, Pirate Flag Battle, and online head-to-head. This is a game whose main attraction needs variety, so kudos to Bandai Namco for offering a wide range of options.Once the player has full access, these modes enhance the experience thanks to a gargantuan list of playable characters with diverse, unique moves and abilities. Add in swappable costumes, and special “assist” characters to call on, and players will rarely have the chance to be bored.

However, keeping all this content gated from the outset seems a little unnecessary—if I pay $60 for a title, let me decide for myself when I’m ready for a new mode to try. Forcing players to endure a lengthy campaign might educate them on the IP, but it could also lead them to abandon the title before they get to see everything it offers.

Visually, the game is on par with most current anime titles, offering bright, bold character models, and a framerate that rarely dips even when onscreen action becomes frantic and explosive. And thank god for that, because when the screen begins to fill with eye candy, it can become near impossible to keep track of everything going on. This is one case where those warnings about flashing lights and seizures should be heeded—One Piece: Burning Blood is one of the games they’re talking about.

In the end, is the game a good time? Absolutely. Fans of the series will find lots to love, but fighting fans who don’t know anything about One Piece shouldn’t shy away from checking out the wonderfully balanced action. By the time players reach upper tiers the opposition is formidable, but smart play is rewarded and it always feels fair no matter how weird the pirate plotline gets. Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Spike Chunsoft and published by Bandai Namco. It is currently available on PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox One. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. 5 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Teen and contains blood, violence, suggestive themes and tobacco use. This is a fighting game, with copious amounts of airborne bludgeoning to be had, all of it exaggerated and cartoonish. I was most offended by the lack of a coherent storyline, which is much more damaging than a cigar-smoking pirate.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Subtitles are available throughout all modes and cut-scenes. Sound effects, while prominent, simply mirror the action onscreen, and are not required to enjoy the gameplay.

Remappable Controls: I was not aware of any remappable control options within the game menu.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Brad Bortone
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