Despite its astronomical success, standing as the highest selling manga of all time and the highest selling comic book series too, the One Piece series isn’t as established as a household name in Western territories as the likes of Dragon Ball or Naruto. That hasn’t stopped One Piece from having its fair share of video game adaptations. Unfortunately, depending on who you ask, One Piece hasn’t had as good a track record with tie-ins as the aforementioned series, not nearly. While last year’s One Piece: World Seeker was a step in the right direction, it was still full of bugs and felt ultimately far from finished. While Koei Tecmo’s Warriors-style crossover series, One Piece: Pirate Warriors, has received acclaim from fans, it’s quite a confusing franchise to adapt One Piece into, and while Pirate Warriors 4 does a lot to expand the series, it stumbles far more often than not.
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 follows the manga from the Alabasta arc to the current Wano arc in the anime and manga, but it opts to go for an original interpretation of the arc due to the arc still serialising. Pirate Warriors 3 did the same with the manga’s Dressrosa arc in 2015; however, it adapted the entire story from chapter 1, the Romance Dawn arc. What we’re left with is a game that feels disinterested in being a faithful adaptation of Oda’s manga and is instead more interested in just cutting to the most memorable moments without any of the context and build-up contributing to what made them so great. While many could see this as being a ‘greatest hits’ compilation, bringing together the greatest moments in the One Piece series, it instead seems like the developer cutting corners and trying to skip to the arcs they have yet to adapt, such as Dressrosa, Whole Cake Island and Wano (which isn’t even adapted faithfully).
Missions consist of your basic Dynasty Warriors-style maps with an incredible number of enemies rendering on-screen and parts of the map that the player must capture by defeating enough enemies to summon the leader and then defeating the leader. Even having played Pirate Warriors 3 already, the merging of these series’ still feels strange. As far as Shonen battle-manga go, the One Piece series isn’t as focused on its actual battles so much as it is the story, characters and world-building. While most of the environments are recognisable, none feel distinctive in the context of the gameplay, most of which is nothing but frantically button mashing until a certain objective is complete. None of the combat feels satisfying, despite each character having heavy and light attacks that can be upgraded and a variety of special attacks. This is because with such a vast number of enemies constantly on-screen, the variety of moves the player has at their disposal runs dry immediately. The game is also pathetically easy, with each mission practically bending over backwards to make sure the player never fails.
Each of the 40+ characters has a skill tree that can be upgraded by spending medals earned from defeating certain enemies, along with spending money. While this is your run-of-the-mill skill tree system, it’s made overwhelming by the game’s interface, which makes it obscure knowing what upgrading any element even does for a character’s growth. The entire game’s visual style is a complete mess, with the character models looking like uncanny caricatures of Eiichiro Oda’s designs and animating awfully, especially in cutscenes. Elements of the environments and textures frequently failed to load as I was playing on Nintendo Switch, such as certain buildings and water (reminder that this is a game about pirates), leaving elements like ships floating in mid air. While docked the game runs at an average looking 720p, but undocked it runs at a sub-HD resolution that looks more akin to how Pirate Warriors 3 ran on PlayStation Vita, with enemies and objects constantly popping in to a distracting degree and with a frame-rate that never hangs comfortably between 30 frames-per-second or 60 frames-per-second. This is especially underwhelming considering the impressive work Omega Force have done in the past on Switch with Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition and Fire Emblem Warriors.
Pirate Warriors 4 introduced giant playable characters to the series, like Kaido and Big Mom, despite the real lack of distinctive gameplay style between any of them, and the game also brings in 4-player co-op for certain missions, none of which I was able to find partners for (as they all have to be looking to play the exact same mission). Apart from Dramatic Log, the story mode, the game also features Free Log, where the Dramatic Log missions can be played with any character, and Treasure Log, where the player goes through a set number of challenges for bonuses. If you can stomach the insane repetition, there is a lot to pull out of One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4, enough that I imagine fans of the Dynasty Warriors and One Piece series will be able to find a lot of fan-service; it wasn’t enough to calm my migraine, however.
The biggest sin that One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 commits is that it feels irrelevant. Even five years after Pirate Warriors 3, the One Piece series hasn’t moved so far past Dressrosa that creating an entirely new game feels justified, especially since all this game achieves is faithfully adapting Dressrosa and Whole Cake Island. The game feels like disingenuous DLC for Pirate Warriors 3 that doesn’t do enough for returning fans and is completely incomprehensible for newcomers.
Developers: Omega Force, Koei Tecmo
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 27th March 2020