The One Piece franchise is truly something to behold. Nearly a thousand episodes of the anime have been produced and the manga – which has been running since 1997 – has nearly a billion copies in circulation. Despite series creator Eiichiro Oda’s initial wish for it to run for only five years, it feels like One Piece could go on indefinitely. Naturally, such a long-running and influential media franchise would have some video games produced to promote it further, and one of the most notable of these for One Piece is the Pirate Warriors series that’s been going since 2012, now on its fourth iteration. We’ll get one thing out of the way up front: One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is exactly the game you’d expect it to be. Nothing more, nothing less.
Omega Force’s Warriors games have basically made themselves into their own sub-genre at this point, with the main gimmick of each new release being that you can see your beloved characters from whatever media franchise beating the tar out of thousands of pathetic enemies. It’s the gaming equivalent of whipped cream; not a whole lot of substance, but boy is it sweet. One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is no different, then. What we have here is an exceedingly enjoyable action game that’s heavy on the spectacle and light on depth, while remaining laser-focused on sticking to well-established ideas and hectic combat.
Your initial experience with One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 will take place in the Dramatic Log, which teaches you the basics of combat and, most importantly, features the closest thing this game has to offer resembling a story. There are six arcs on offer here, each featuring a collection of cutscenes and missions that will restrict you to using certain characters that are relevant to the current plot, and while the cutscenes are fine, if unmemorable, the storytelling is a complete mess. It would be impossible for the developers to sum up these storylines in a way that was both compelling and compact, so it seems they opted to lean more towards the latter option. Arcs play out less like a cohesive story, then, and more like a blisteringly paced cliff notes version. Any story details or events that don’t directly centre around a battle are essentially force-fed to you in long expository cutscenes that bombard you with a bare minimum amount of information to give you context for what’s happening. Some of it sticks, most doesn’t, and if you’re not already a fan of One Piece, you will have almost no idea what’s going on.
This would be a damning drawback in many other action games, but for a Warriors game, we’re far more lenient in this regard. This is a series that has long since been infamous for contrived and hastily thrown together plots to hold together the gameplay elements, and that’s just the sort of thing you come to expect. The broad strokes are all in place to give you a very general overview of what’s going on, and that’s all that really matters. Perhaps it could be seen as a missed opportunity that the developers don’t take the chance on telling a more interesting tale, but this is a rare case where a greater focus on plot would really prove to be more of a hindrance than a boon.
Omega Force knows that people are going to be buying One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 for its gameplay, and in this regard, it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Most levels see you placed on a maze-like stage consisting of several ‘keeps’ interconnected by corridors. Some of the keeps belong to your team, while most are under the enemy’s rule. Winning each stage is a matter of finding and beating the other team’s commanders, usually interspersed with a series of other sub-objectives, like escorting a team member to a predetermined point on the map. Whether it belongs to your team or not, just about every corridor and keep on the map is positively crawling with hundreds of cannon fodder enemies that are basically just there for you to rip through en masse.
It’s quite the power trip to have your lone hero cleaving through screenfuls of enemies at once, and this is only furthered by the flashy combo moves that can be executed at any time. Every character shares the exact same combo moveset, all primarily focusing on mixing light and heavy attacks together, but the effects of each combo will be different depending on who you’re playing as. Characters are then further differentiated by how they can each have up to four equippable skills that function as super attacks, which are governed by relatively short charge times. A lot of the fun of One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is just figuring out the most efficient ways to chain together attacks and skills in flashy ways, blasting aside hundreds of foes and knocking down buildings in the process. Boss enemies put up a little more of a fight, of course; each foe has their own health bar and needs to be worn down a bit before you can start to really dish out the pain. Still, combat doesn’t really differ regardless of whether you’re fighting one foe or a thousand, and this can be both a blessing and a curse.
See, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is the sort of game that could best be described as being a mile wide, but only an inch deep. There are dozens of maps and missions to fight through, dozens of characters to fight with and progress, but it all ultimately boils down to doing the exact same thing ad infinitum. You’ll be doing the same thing in the second hour is you will in the tenth or twentieth hour, as much of the ‘variety’ on offer is kept to a mostly surface level. New enemy types are virtually nonexistent, you don’t need to do much to alter your tactics from mission to mission, and the action doesn’t have much of an ebb and flow. This isn’t entirely a bad thing, however. Sometimes, it’s nice to just play a game that lets you turn off your brain and get a consistently rewarding, if unsurprising, experience. And if there’s one thing One Piece Pirate Warriors 4 really seems to understand, it’s offering you a steady rate of minor rewards to keep you hooked.
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 streamlines character progression to cut down a bit on the tedium of management and menu navigation, while still offering up many of the same buffs that previous games would offer over time. The way it works here is that every character shares a single, universal skill tree, and can then further unlock two additional trees unique to them. Each tree consists of a series of ‘islands’ that link to each other in a non-linear fashion, with most offering up stat bumps and some offering up new skills or boosts to certain attacks. You’ll be rewarded with money upon completion of every stage and this is then used in tandem with coins you pick up from beating certain missions or enemies to unlock new islands. You usually have enough material to upgrade another four or five islands after a mission, leading to a relatively consistent sense of growing power across your roster. Filling out the global skill tree alone should take a substantial amount of time, and when you factor in that there are then two more maps per character, it’s safe to assume you’ll likely never reach 100% unless you’re extremely dedicated.
In some ways, it feels like One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 goes overboard in this regard, packing in so much samey content that you’ll likely never see the full extent of, but perhaps seeing it all isn’t the point. The story mode will likely only take fifteen or so hours to beat, and alongside that, you always have the cavernous “Treasure Log” mode that offers up dozens of scenarios and maps to be experienced individually. You’ll unlock characters at a pretty brisk pace if you blaze through the story and hit certain milestones in adventure log, allowing you early on to pick a few favourites and work on filling them out. Maybe the point isn’t to hit everything, but simply to set for yourself what your ‘end’ looks like and bow out there. Wherever you may stand, make no mistake that there is a lot to chew on in One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4, and if you’re looking for a game that offers a high hours-to-dollars ratio, this is about as good as it gets.
All of this content is presented in a rather disappointing light, however, which may hinder the experience for some. The anime-inspired visuals look good from a distance, but models appear chunky and choppy up close, especially in handheld mode. And though we didn’t detect any major frame drops, asset pop-in is quite heinous in most stages. Your character could be sprinting to the other end of the map in what appears to be an open stretch of land, only for it to quickly be filled in with barrels, builds, carts, and other such things. Still, steady performance is really the only thing of paramount importance in a title such as this. One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 doesn’t run in 60FPS, but it’s nonetheless steady, and though the visuals aren’t great, they’re good enough for what they need to achieve.
If you’ve played a Warriors game before, then you’ve basically played One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4. Thin story, okay graphics, and somewhat shallow but satisfying action gameplay are all par for the course here, not to mention a lion’s share of content to work through. If you’ve ever been curious what this sub-genre is all about, this is a great place to jump in with its easily approachable gameplay and that lovably goofy One Piece aesthetic. If you’re a long time fan, we’d encourage you to ask yourself how much you want more of the same and decide based on that. One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is the furthest thing from reinventing the wheel, but it sure has its unique and addictive gameplay loop down to a science.