Game Review #486: One Piece Pirate Warriors 4 (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: John B
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Release Date: 3.27.2020
Watch the trailer
Buy One Piece Pirate Warriors 4 from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
It’s time to set sail for the Grand Line one more time! One Piece Pirate Warriors 4 for the Nintendo Switch is the latest adventure into the digital world for Captain Monkey D. Luffy and his crew of misfits, and their fourth alliance with Koei Tecmo’s classic Musou/Warriors series format. One of the biggest knocks against the Musou games is that there’s really not that much variation in the formula. While the game’s action is going to be fairly familiar to the series’ regular fans, there are some tweaks to the formula that I found fairly refreshing, not to mention a little new player friendly. But let’s stop being coy; Luffy’s getting confused by all these vague references. Let’s start the SBS! Er, I mean, the review.
I’m Gonna Be King of the Pirates!
For One Piece fans, there’s plenty here to keep us interested in the story. The game’s main story mode skips all the way to the Alabasta story arc, foregoing everything before the Straw Hat Pirates make it to the Grand Line. If you’re new to One Piece and that sentence means nothing to you, then the game’s story mode is likely going to be confusing and largely meaningless for you. Pretty much only the major story elements from each arc of the anime make it over to the game, meaning the story can feel a little disjointed and scatterbrained if you’re not familiar with the source material.
However, if you are a fan, the game’s missions play all the hits; you get to see and/or play all the best fights and hardest-hitting moments from the series. I guess what I’m saying is get ready to lose the Going Merry all over again, because after you finish the Alabasta arc you’re going to Water 7 and Enies Lobby. The rest of the game will have you playing through scenarios encompassing the Paramount War, the Dressrosa arc, fighting Big Mom’s Pirates on Totta Island, and ends with an original scenario speculating on what will happen at the end of the Kaido arc in the Land of Wano. The story sort of plays out like reading the Wikipedia summary of the One Piece story; it loses a lot of the nuance and character development you get if you read the manga or watch the anime. Still, it retains the sense of adventure and action that is the series’ hallmark, and even a little of the humor. There’s just enough story here to make me want to go back and experience the series all over again.
Surprising No One, Luffy Is Ready to Fight
The gameplay action in Pirate Warriors 4 is going to feel pretty familiar to anyone who has ever played a Musou game. The series knows its identity, and while that may bore some, even after all these years I still find Musou’s fast-paced button-mashing madness to be as engaging and just plain fun as ever. If you’re new to the series, it’s a 3D brawler on a massive scale. You have your character, and you can choose from a regular attack, power attack, jump, and dash to formulate dozens of different combos that you utilize to defeat wave after wave of common enemies and the occasional boss unit. The boss units are generally the antagonists from the One Piece series, and they tend to be way more difficult to defeat than your garden variety mob.
Bosses have shield emblems by their life bars that provide additional – sometimes frustrating – advantages, like preventing the boss from flinching when hit or reducing their incoming damage. Luckily, these shields can be disarmed for a time, meaning that is the time to unleash either your most devastating combo or one of your available super attacks. In one of the game’s innovations to the series formula, each character has four super attacks instead of one. Moreover, you can learn new special attacks as your character progresses and set them before the mission, allowing you to customize your moveset in ways not previously available in the Musou series.
There are a few other cool new introductions to the series’ gameplay, like destroyable buildings. This is largely an aesthetic addition, but knocking enemies into buildings not only damages the buildings, but your enemies as well. It didn’t factor much into my strategy (such as it was) during my playthrough, but it’s a cool touch that just makes the whole game feel more like an authentic One Piece experience. The other new combat element introduced is aerial combos; basically they work the same as regular combos, except you jump before doing them. Combining dashing and jumping allows players to more easily and effectively pursue enemies knocked into the air, and most crucially lets you land more hits on a stunned boss enemy before their guard replenishes. It also speeds up the tempo of the gameplay by eliminating the (admittedly already extremely short) periods of combat where you have to run after an enemy you knocked away.
Mapping Your Way To Success
In probably one of the coolest changes to the Musou formula, you no longer upgrade characters via a linear, static levelling system. At the end of every mission, you get berries (the series’ currency) as well as special coins. You take these coins to the characters’ maps and buy spaces on those maps to upgrade whichever stat you want to focus on. Each map has a few dozen islands which can be upgraded multiple times that will either grow one of your character’s major statistics, unlock a new combo type, unlock a new special attack, or unlock a new passive skill. Once unlocked, a skill can be equipped by any character – not just the character whose map unlocked the skill.
One of the cooler elements of the map is that there is one basic map that applies to all characters, in addition to each character having two individualized maps. One is unlocked by default, the other unlocks as you raise that character’s crew level by completing missions where you either play as them or they are allied to you. Having the one map common to all characters is especially helpful in story missions where you’re forced away from playing as Luffy or whoever your main Straw Hat is. It means that you’re not stuck having to tough it out with some level one wimp in the game’s later levels or going into another game mode to try and grind out levels before you can move the story along.
You Get All Four Gears, But Only Three Game Modes
I mentioned the game’s story mode, Dramatic Log, already, but there are a few other options available to extend the gameplay experience. Free Log lets you play any story mission, but with any character you want. Want to beat up Big Mom AS Big Mom? This is your mode. Treasure Log is the final choice, and consists of dozens of different scenarios that you can play out across three levels of difficulty. Every scenario is built around one or two different characters, so if you’re trying to grind out some crew level to 100% the game, this the way you can assure yourself of getting at least one character you need without having to play as a character you don’t like playing as. I mean look, I love Usopp as a character, but his play style in the game is just annoying. Give me a straightforward brawler like Luffy or Ace any day.
The View From The Crow’s Nest
The game’s 3D graphics are fairly sharp, but fall short of being truly top-of-the-line. Everything looks great for the most part when you’re playing docked, but the game’s edges start to look pretty rough when you go handheld. The graphics aren’t cel-shaded, which probably would have worked better at capturing the anime look of the characters, but they’re still fully recognizable as the One Piece cast. Overall, things look good enough that the graphics won’t be one of your complaints with the game. The audio uses a mix of tracks from the anime as well as some original songs for the game, and combined with the use of the series’ Japanese voice cast it really does create the feeling that you’re playing an episode of the anime.
Going Merry on a Thousand Sunny Days
One Piece Pirate Warriors 4 scratches a couple of my different geek itches. I’ve loved the One Piece manga for years – I’ve read it since the beginning, first in Shonen Jump (when Viz still published it physically) and then by keeping up with it in the tankobon (I switched to digital copies for these, though). I fell off with anime a while ago (didn’t move fast enough and way too much filler), but I still count myself a big fan of the series. I’ve been enjoying the Musou series since Dynasty Warriors 2 on the PS2, and I’ve only been loving it more as it branched out to the many properties they’ve adapted over the past few years. Combining the solid action mechanics of the Musou series with the world of One Piece is a match made in heaven. I honestly can’t think of anything I didn’t like about this game.
One Piece Pirate Warriors 4 from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
Follow Koei Tecmo
Follow Bandai Namco Entertainment
*A game code was provided for review purposes