In terms of sheer longevity, it’s hard to beat Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece. The long-running adventure started out as a manga in 1997 — still running today! — and along the way has picked up every form of cross-licensing known to humankind, with anime, video games, novels and even theme parks retelling the tale of Monkey D. Luffy and his loveable pirate crew. The seafaring series has also already seen action on Nintendo Switch with last year’s enjoyable One Piece Unlimited World Red - Deluxe Edition, but now Bandai Namco has brought one of the strongest adaptations yet to the portable powerhouse in One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3 Deluxe Edition, an expanded version of the 2015 PlayStation title. A mashup of Musou/Warriors-style gameplay and over-the-top shōen style, Pirate Warriors 3 is a brilliant beat-‘em-up for fans and series newbies alike.
Somewhat unexpectedly for a game with ‘3’ in the title, Pirate Warriors 3 actually starts way back at the beginning of the One Piece saga. We witness a young Luffy inspired to take to the seas to find the mysterious One Piece treasure, his ambitions to become the King of the Pirates, and the early days as he gathers his famous crew one-by-one, and then carry through a surprising amount of the saga until the Dressrosa arc. It’s a wonderful tale at the heart of it — this is the origin story of a legend, after all! — but it’s told at an interesting level of depth that only half works. It’s perfect for longtime fans, who will get just enough nostalgia to jog their treasured memories, but it’s a somewhat shallow introduction for players who have never cracked open a One Piece volume before.
It may not go into all the emotional backstories and character development that make people love One Piece so much, but we still hesitate to say that you need to already love the series to enjoy Pirate Warriors 3 — primarily because of its absolutely lovely gameplay. It follows the same template as Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition, Fire Emblem Warriors, and other Musou/Warriors games: playing as Luffy, Zoro, Nami or one of the other three-dozen-or-so (!) controllable characters, you’ll move swiftly around a battlefield, attacking huge groups of much-weaker foes, taking territory, defending allies and charging forts, fulfilling objectives as you edge closer to each stage’s impressive boss battle.
It’s furiously fast fun, and the signature scale of Warriors’ battles — where individual enemies are paper-thin but aggregate groups and commanders pose a real threat — is a perfect fit for One Piece’s superpowered source material. Maps are dynamic and engaging, with victory conditions constantly changing; in the course of a single level, you might have to fend off invasions in several separate sectors, deliver key items across the map, help allies survive until reinforcements arrive, or prevent key foes from reaching a base. These shifting orders lend an impressive urgency to the game, to the point where we were genuinely ready for a respite at the end of every 30-minute stage. It helps that your AI allies are remarkably helpful (notably more so than in Fate/EXTELLA, for instance), and being able to really count on our computer-controlled crew was a pleasant surprise.
In the nuts and bolts, combat in Pirate Warriors comes down to combo sequences of weak and strong attacks, along with character-specific special moves and the Kizuna Rush system, which lets you call in allies instantly — no matter where they are on the map — to team up for stylish tag-teamed screen-clearing attacks. It’s a great-feeling system, with plenty to do and lots of situationally useful combos that help elevate the combat beyond button mashing. This is especially true on higher difficulties and in the spectacular boss fights, which require fast reflexes, precision dodging, and well-timed assaults to best.
Most characters also play pleasantly differently from each other as well, which makes it fun to switch off, and gives real incentive to dip into the Free mode, which lets you replay levels with new fighters. Our only complaint with the combat is that — shockingly — there’s no jump button. While it’s standard for Musou games, it’s also hard to overestimate how weird it feels to be locked to the ground in a One Piece title, and we longed for access to high-flying attacks the series is known for.
Another Musou standard that Pirate Warriors 3 upholds is having a massive, almost silly amount of content. There’s the main story mode, the Free mode where you can revisit stages with new content, and the Dream mode, which acts as an alternate remix of the story. All that overlaps with the huge list of unlockable, playable, and level-up-able characters, gallery unlocks, and a smorgasbord of dress-up DLC, not to mention the two-player co-op mode. Co-op is a perfect fit for Switch’s break-away setup, with controls mapping neatly onto a single Joy-Con, and performance is impressively smooth — it’s a wonderful way to enjoy the game. We won’t say it’s all roses — Dream mode can get pretty grindy, and while there are bucketloads of stages to tackle, the basic gameplay can feel repetitive after a while — but it’s an excellent example of the genre.
That’s all well and good, but Pirate Warriors 3’s best asset might just be its gorgeously stylised presentation. The game goes above and beyond to maintain a manga-like feel — as distinct from the anime — through inspired use of shaders, digital screentone, bold lines and bright colours, and Japanese onomatopoeia emanating out of the screen at every whiz, bang, and wallop. Cutscenes cut into the action seamlessly through manga panel framing, as do Kizuna attacks, and dialogue bubbles and emotes feel like they popped right off the page. It’s technically impressive too, looking vibrant and running smoothly in both handheld and docked configurations.
The audio front is more of a mixed bag, unfortunately. The Japanese voice-acting is excellent, and helps set the stage throughout, but the music is less memorable than in past One Piece titles; we’d argue that the orchestral arrangements of Unlimited World Red suit the sea-shanty style of the series’ scores much better than Pirate Warrior’s cheesy electric guitar riffs.
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3 Deluxe Edition is a wonderful example of a licensed adaptation doing just about everything right; if you’ve ever read or watched One Piece and thought, "this would make a great video game!” this is that game. While it doesn’t spend nearly enough time on its story beats to fully immerse new players into its world, we’d still recommend it even if you’re new to the Straw Hat Crew — there’s plenty of rollicking fun to be had throwing elbows (and swords, and staves, and…) with Luffy and co., and longtime readers will have a blast revisiting their earliest days. A recommended romp for One Piece and Warriors fans alike.