The first thing we need to address about One Piece Burning Blood is that it’s a fighting game. A personal struggle of mine in the process of this review has been to separate what I want a One Piece game to be and what this game actually is and intends to achieve. Whilst it doesn’t deliver what I personally want from the franchise, Spike Chunsoft make a competent fighter with a huge roster and some beautiful visuals. The unfortunate, occasional difficulty spike and tendency to re-use their cut-scenes during different story-lines hold it back from being a great game, but at its core is a surprisingly deep game that services the fans of One Piece but keeps any other audience at arm’s length. Read on for our full One Piece Burning Blood review.

Look and Feel

One Piece Burning Blood Review 1
I hear you Luffy. I’ve always feared death by falling pirate ship too.

The presentation of One Piece Burning Blood has its ups and downs. To speak positively, the actual in-game models, visual effects of the devil fruits and the cut-scenes they’re a part of all make for a beautiful game. Throw that in with the faithful backdrops of the giant snake on the Skypeia stage twitching around or blasting an opponent from the Thousand Sunny straight at another ship to end your fight is pleasing enough to behold.

It’s disappointing, then, to know that at least half of your time in the main story is spent with static manga panels that transition in the most basic form to the tone of a familiar narrator. The use of dialogue during fights, too, bothers me because, unless you understand Japanese, you might want to keep your eye on your opponent more-so than reading whatever Whitebeard’s yelling at you. It’s not that the dialogue shouldn’t be there, but that it could be more prominent, or should have been handled during the prior or following cut-scene. Granted, for their primary Japanese audience, this isn’t a problem. I guess it’s important to realise that the Western audience isn’t the target audience for these games.

That issue aside, the game in-motion looks great. What I personally appreciate about this particular One Piece game is that Spike Chunsoft took the time to model out characters that have been missing in the other games, or replaced by Generic Pirate No. 5 to stand in for important moments because the character didn’t have enough depth to warrant their inclusion. Given that this game only handles Marineford, it’s fair to say that any such exclusion would be ridiculous, so I’m glad to see how invested Spike Chunsoft seem to be in the various characters of One Piece and this particular arc.

Story

One Piece Burning Blood Review 3
Are Ace and Aokiji the true heroes of George R.R Martin’s books? No. But here’s their Logia forms engaged in battle.

WARNING: Major spoilers for One Piece will follow. Please skip to the Gameplay section if you’re yet to catch up. Also, don’t play this game, because it assumes that you know literally everything about the plot.

The plot, in particular, is where most of my misguided disappointment lies. The marketing, too, I would say has been misleading to an extent. A great deal of the content we’ve been exposed to has taken place in the Coliseum at Dressrosa, but the main plot doesn’t delve in to any of that. Instead, this game’s story mode (Paramount War) takes place during Marineford. I’ll admit that they were explicit in this, but I had hoped we’d go beyond that or perhaps visit some “What If” scenarios. This was not the case, but we do get the most immersive Marineford arc we’ve seen in any One Piece game, even if it’s not what I think it should be given that there’s nothing else to it.

You’ll play through four stories, each taking place during the war, from the perspectives of Luffy, Whitebeard, Akainu and Ace. They unlock in that order. Each of them has their own unique cut-scenes at certain points. They also re-use some cut-scenes which, though understandable as some of these character intermingle in that way, struck me as cheap and devalued the individual experiences.

Simply put, it’s a poor story mode with some positive pieces. It wouldn’t be as big of a deal if completing it weren’t the only way to unlock the more interesting modes in the game, but there you have it. It should be noted that, despite my criticism, it is almost certainly the best depiction of Marineford yet, but it’s still nowhere near as good as it could be and, unlike the Ultimate Ninja Storm series, is no reasonable substitute for the anime itself.

Gameplay

First and foremost, One Piece Burning Blood is a one on one fighting game. You can make up a team of three battle characters and compliment them with up to three support characters, but the actual action is always one on one. No matter what mode you play, you’ll be participating in fights and only fights, so don’t go in expecting any adventuring.

The focus on fighting does shine through, with the systems being surprisingly deep and each character being (mostly) diverse. All of them are grouped in to one of five styles: “All-Round”, “Speed”, “Power”, “Technical” and “Tricky”. Some are equipped with Haki, Devil Fruit abilities, both or none and this can impact the outcome a great deal. Whilst there are many good characters, some are just inherently more useful (perhaps that’s my own play-style though) due to their Devil Fruit and Haki abilities that can penetrate special defenses an ordinary character can’t easily push through.

Some fights will have you deplete the opponent’s life meter. Others will ask you to survive (usually for 60 seconds). Either way, the gameplay remains the same.

With heavy guard breaks, standard guard break transitions from normal combinations, Logia Guards that can only be affected by Haki strikes or slow, heavy guard breaks from normal characters, Unity Support attacks, special movements abilities and many more inclusions, it’s fair to say this game is easy to learn but difficult to master. Though I found myself able to exploit the majority of the story mode with very particular attacks, the competitive modes and Wanted Posters are a different story. If you’re going to get good and deep in to this game, you’re going to have to put in the work to learn your favourite characters. When to guard at just the right time to activate Flashguard or Flash Counter. What can break through your own defenses and what you can use to break the enemy’s. It’s definitely not just a “Build the Burning Meter and end it!” game. There’s a fair amount of strategy to the fights that can have them end anywhere between 10 seconds and two minutes.

Speaking of deep, the roster of Battle and Support characters is as vast as you could hope for. 42 main roster characters, with 24 downloadable content variations (who doesn’t want Swimsuit Nami? Let’s be real here) to actively control should keep you busy, and there are a whopping 65 support characters to choose from in order to enhance your abilities in battle. Some will offer healing on activation, others might boost your attack when the Burning Meter (the gauge that builds from taking and dealing damage) is full. You can save your favourite load-out in the Pirate Base and “Call Pirates” during the character select screen in other modes to use the characters of your choice at a quicker pace than piecing it all together every time. Keep in mind that most of these characters require spending in-game currency to unlock, which is fairly easy to obtain with every win and loss in battles, but it might take some grinding to get them all.

Speaking of the Burning Meter, when filled, you can Awaken. When Awakened, your abilities will be more powerful and you can activate your Ultimate Attack.

“But David; wherever will I be using all of these characters and mechanics?”. I hear you potential consumer, so get ready for this because, in a shocking twist, this game has a Moby Dick boat-load of content to play with. Along with the underwhelming Paramount War Mode, you can join a faction online and battle for the ownership of islands on behalf of your chosen crew in Pirate Flag Battle mode.

If you’re like me and prefer to keep yourself to yourself with a bunch of challenges, you can take on the WANTED Versus mode. This has wanted posters for you to undertake for Beli (the currency of One Piece) rewards and ranks you on your performance. Within this, you’ll find basic bounties as well as limited time events and special bounties. You can also train with Rayleigh to learn more of mastering your characters.

As expected of any fighting game, the Free Battle mode is back to give you quick and easy bouts with your own selection of characters and rules, as well as training that isn’t as guided as the training with Rayleigh. It’s more of a free-style to test your own combinations out. Here you’ll also see that there are 12 stages in total to fight on. This is the mode for those of you that just want a quick match between you and a local friend.

If you’d rather compete with people online outside of Pirate Flag mode, there’s a standard Online mode to jump in to. With Ranked Matches for the competitive and Player Matches for the more casual amongst you, it’s exactly what you’d expect. You can also track your Battle Records here and see your Player Ranking.

Characters also gain experience with every fight. The participants gain more, but the rest of the roster gains a subset of it. I, to this moment, still have no idea what leveling up actually does. It seems an arbitrary way of making it seem as if you’re progressing in this game. It’s possible that it has an impact, but the game doesn’t tell you whether or not that’s the case. I guess I’ll never know.

I’m pretty sure that’s covering everything. I could go more in-depth with the moment-to-moment gameplay, but it’s best for you to experience that yourself. Some of you might have noticed me stating that I exploited cheap moves to progress through the story mode. That is true, because there are some fights that are just straight up unfair in comparison to how easy it had been the fight before.

When fighting Blackbeard as Whitebeard in Paramount War, Blackbeard was able to K.O the great Edward Newgate in a single button-mash combo. Nothing complex about it. Just what’d happen if you pressed square 5 times. Then he’d throw a cheap kick out. Then his “Black Hole” would absorb my Devil Fruit abilities. Eventually I became so frustrated, I just had to spam a few cheap shots of my own to get through it. That said, I’m no expert, and the more proficient amongst you might not suffer such hardships, but I felt that some of those fights took a jump in difficulty.

Overall

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Don’t show this to Sanji.

One Piece Burning Blood is a good fighting game. If you love One Piece and 3D fighting, this is for you. You’ll have to slog through the Paramount War to get what you want, but you’ll be in fan service heaven afterwards. For anybody not familiar with One Piece, this game is spoiler central and you should avoid until you’re around 500-600 episodes deep. If you don’t care about the story, the fighting might still interest you, but there are better experiences to be had in this regard. I still feel that only doing Marineford was a poor choice, but given how bare-bones that mode is, maybe that’s for the best. Wanted Posters and Pirate Flag mode should keep those of you that enjoyed the experience busy for a while to come, but for me, I think I’ll carry on hoping for the One Piece game the franchise deserves.

About this One Piece Burning Blood Review.

Game: One Piece Burning Blood
Format: PS4
PEGI: 12

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Developers & Publishers: ,
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