Wild Adventures On The Big Blue

HIGH Whitebeard is a BEAST to play as.

LOW The boss lock-on is a little sluggish when moving the camera.

WTF There’s a bad guy who transforms into a martial arts T-Rex!

The key to making the ideal musou game is to find a property that’s well suited to the gameplay — specifically, flamboyant characters doing elaborate special moves to wipe out hordes of generic enemies.

Entries into the musou genre are always essentially the same — capture bases, intercept couriers, defeat bosses, and wash, rinse, repeat. Whether the player is controlling ancient Chinese generals or Gundam pilots, gameplay is largely identical, but what matters is how well the setting fits the gameplay and whether the style elevates the experience. One Piece Pirate Warriors 4 does by offering a complex world full of colorful characters performing magnificently stylized martial arts. This is musou at its best.

Offering a broad survey of the manga storyline along with an original conclusion created for this game, OPPW4 takes players on a journey through main character Monkey D. Luffy’s career as a pirate. That the campaign manages to cover his journey in just six playable story arcs is something of an accomplishment, and there are hours of cutscenes and dialogue to establish it.

As someone coming to OPPW4 without any knowledge of the source material, I was pleasantly surprised at how much of the storyline I was able to grasp. The game doesn’t do a great job of explaining the world in which it’s set, but the characters are so lively and entertaining that I found myself invested in their journey despite the nonsense about various types of magical fruit going right over my head.

As far as gameplay goes, this is standard musou. The player controls a single warrior dropped into a field of swarming baddies that can be knocked around with just a couple of button taps. Objectives are always simple — defeat an area leader to call in reinforcements, get to a point within a certain amount of time, or win a boss fight. Anyone familiar with the genre will find no surprises here.

The only truly notable aspect in OPPW4’s play is that it’s unusually generous with special moves. Each character has a wide variety of unlockable combat techniques, and the player can equip four in each mission. These have a wide variety of ranges and effects, but crucially, they take almost no effort to charge up. After just a few seconds of hammering evil pirates, I found myself able to employ anything but an ultimate attack, and each has its own cooldown, so players are always charging up every attack at once, ensuring they’ll never have to make a tough decision about which move to prioritize.

Over the course of the campaign’s 30-odd missions, players will focus mostly on controlling Luffy but they’ll have ample opportunity to use most of his crew as well. All told, there are nearly three dozen characters to unlock and play as.

Ugrading is done via personalized ‘treasure maps’ for each character – there’s a generic map to unlock some common skills, but specials and significant power ups have to be bought individually. This is all handled with coins earned by playing levels.

Players will be able to easily power up the main cast, and if they want to max out underserved characters such as Ace or Whitebeard, they’ll have to play optional missions using them as much as possible. Fortunately, OPPW4 does a great job of encouraging this kind of grinding — not only can players replay completed levels, there’s an additional mode where preset character combinations battle on randomized maps without story scenes breaking the flow of combat.

This ‘Treasure Log’ mode is also where the co-op multiplayer happens. Any mission can be taken on by two players, with large-scale boss battles allowing up to four participants. While adding a second player to the campaign might have messed up the pace of the narrative, side missions having an extra set of hands makes perfect sense, especially given how quickly the difficulty ramps up in later levels.

Quite simply, One Piece Pirate Warriors 4 is as good as musou games get, and this one stands at the top of the pack thanks to a huge variety in characters, special techniques, and locations that make each level feel distinct from the last. The story is captivating and the combat is wonderfully smooth — I often found myself spending hours grinding just for the thrill of the fight. No self-respecting fan of the genre should let this one slip by.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Omega Force and published by Namco Bandai. It is currently available on PC, PS4, XBO. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 30 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 2 Hours were spend in multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game was rated T by the ESRB, it contains Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol, Use of Tobacco, and Violence. Those are a lot of warnings, but really it’s no big deal. There are a few ladies with overtly suggestive costumes, but beyond that it’s fairly tame. The language is so mild that I’m almost surprised to see it listed. The alcohol and smoking may be an issue, though — it’s about pirates, so a lot of people are drunk a lot of the time, and there’s a character who constantly smokes two cigars simultaneously. It’s all very cartoony, of course, but it’s not presented in a negative light.

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

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the majority of the game without sound and encountered no difficulties. All dialogue is subtitled, and missions objectives are provided with onscreen text. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

Daniel Weissenberger
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