Being relatively new to the One Piece franchise (my first experience of One Piece was when I reviewed Pirate Warriors 3 last September) and not being a massive fan of the fighting genre, you may think it strange that I am reviewing One Piece: Burning Blood. To be fair, I went into the game with a similar mentality. After playing for an hour or so, I was already writing it off – criticising it for being too repetitive and being rather simplistic.
I stuck with the game and after a few more hours I was hooked! For the past week I have spent every night glued to my Vita, beating up various odd-looking pirates on my quest to become the best!
When you play One Piece: Burning Blood for the first time, the only mode available to you will be the game’s story mode – titled Paramount War. Based on the anime’s 22nd story arc (which is also known as the ‘Marineford Arc’) this mode sees the same story told from the perspective of four different characters. Told via a mixture of comic panels and cutscenes, this whistle-stop tour of this period in One Piece lore will be enjoyed by fans of the series whilst leaving newcomers a little bewildered.
Now let’s be honest, you don’t play fighting games for the story – the combat is where it is all at! Luckily, One Piece: Burning Blood manages to be simple enough for you to be able to pick up and play, while offering enough depth and variation amongst the jam-packed roster of weirdo pirates to make you want to switch up your line-up as you play.
There are 40+ characters to choose from in the game, and you will use these in various tag-team skirmishes with battles that can range from one versus three to a mammoth three versus nine! You can switch between the characters in your team at will – with advanced tag abilities such as ‘Unity Chains’ and ‘Unity Assists’ available once you have landed enough attacks to build up the ‘Burning Gauge’. I found these tricky at first to pull off, but once I figured out exactly how these worked I was switching between characters like a pro!
Each character in One Piece: Burning Blood shares the same control scheme, meaning that there are no difficult combos as such to remember. At first, I felt a little disappointed about this – one of the triumphs you get from a fighting game is when you finally master a character and learn all of their combos – but I soon began to enjoy the simplicity of One Piece’s controls. Without all of the different combos to learn, I found myself jumping into battles with different characters just so I could see all of the crazy appearances and powers that each character has.
The battles play out on a fully 3D stage, so the left analogue stick will move you about the arena. You can block most incoming attacks with the guard button on Circle, dish out attacks with the Square button and perform unique character attacks with the Triangle button. You can perform special attacks using the left trigger and face buttons, and utilise a characters’ ‘Haki’ or ‘Logia’ ability using the right trigger. If you allow your ‘Burning Gauge’ to fill to the top, you can flick the right analogue stick to ‘Awaken’, changing your standard attacks to more powerful moves whilst enabling you to perform an Ultimate attack if you flick the right stick again.
When I first started playing One Piece I found myself using the same characters and moves in every battle I fought, but the more I progressed the more I switched things up – eventually learning which moves work best in certain situations and even picking characters depending on who I was to be facing off against.
Alongside the roster of main characters, there is also an equal number of support characters. This bunch of helpful ragamuffins will provide your fighters with perks during battle; from increasing your attack and defence, to giving you a much needed health top-up in some of the longer fights.
These battles look pretty good on the PlayStation Vita’s screen. The character models are great and definitely do justice to the anime, I couldn’t help but appreciate some of the weird looking fellows (and females) that I would be beating up. One Piece: Burning Blood looks and feels exactly like the source material, the 3D character models have a hand-drawn look about them and are the Japanese voiceovers further add to the similarities. Spike Chunsoft have done a great job with the game’s presentation, even the menus and loading screens are full of character and useful information for you to soak in between bouts.
Once you have progressed through the first chapter of the game’s story you will unlock the other modes available in One Piece: Burning Blood, these are where you will spend the majority of your time. The Paramount War story mode is rather short, but the WANTED Versus mode will keep you busy for a while! Here you will undertake battles with certain set criteria with a score given dependent on how well you performed. These missions start off relatively easy, but the difficulty is soon ramped up to ensure you are constantly challenged.
Alongside these two modes there is a Free Play mode, Online functionality for ranked/unranked fights and a mode called Pirate Flag Battle. This last mode sees you (and other players) pick a pirate crew and travel to destinations on a grid map, to battle with other users (or AI) in a scramble to claim as much of the map as possible in a set period of time. Completing a season in Pirate Battle Mode can prove to be quite rewarding, with massive payouts for the winning faction.
So, for someone who wasn’t overly keen on fighting games prior to this review, it sounds pretty positive right? Well, there were a few gripes I had with Burning Blood that detracted from my overall experience. First off, there are times in the story mode when the AI difficulty levels take an unwelcome spike to the point where it almost feels unfair. When this happened, I often moved to the WANTED Versus mode to fight and level up the characters that were involved in the particular story mission I was stuck on before attempting it again.
Another thing that got on my nerves after a while was the fact that after landing some of your combos, you would send your opponent flying across the map. This meant you were chasing your enemy around the arena and wasting seconds – especially when time is precious in battles that have a sixty second clear requirement. This was made worse when fighting characters such as Mihawk or Bartholomew Kuma, who would often just spam their long range attacks – making it difficult to gain ground on them.
Issues aside, my overall experience with One Piece: Burning Blood surprised me. As I mentioned earlier, I am not a particular fan of fighting games, yet I found myself unable to put this one down. I ended up playing for a few hours each night after work, even nabbing myself the game’s Platinum! Although the story mode is a little on the short side, there is plenty of longevity in the other modes to keep you playing for quite a while! If you are a One Piece fan, then this game will be right up your alley (if you don’t own it already)! For those who are on the fence or who are not so familiar with the series, you will find a fighting game that is both fun and enjoyable – even if the story makes no sense to you!