One Piece: Burning Blood PS4 Review
As far as North American exposure goes, One Piece shares a lot of similarities with Dragon Ball Z; both series went through a false start via syndication that resulted in heavily censored television adaptions and lukewarm audience receptions, until both series were given a second chance by Anime distributor Funimation and Cartoon Network.
Where Dragon Ball Z went on to become a mainstream success in the West, however, One Piece still has not been elevated beyond cult status, despite the fact that it shares DBZ’s status as a cultural phenomenon in Japan. Still, the OP fanbase remains alive and active, with many insisting that it remains the single greatest Shonen action series of all time (though there is a smaller but louder group who will claim that Hunter X Hunter is worthy of the title despite years of hiatuses from the author), which is why Namco Bandai is eager to bring out the frequent new videogame releases Westward, regardless of quality.
One Piece: Burning Blood is a unique take, in that it veers away from the Musou spin-offs that have served as the primary genre for the series. Instead, Burning Blood is a one-on-one fighting game that combines 3D movement with the over-the-top cast and powers that the Anime is known for. The closest comparison would be the Dragon Ball Z Budokai games released during the PS2 era, which on paper should be an intriguing match considering the popularity of the Budokai games.
Right off the bat, it becomes clear that Burning Blood is specifically tailored for One Piece fans; the visual aesthetic and near-uncountable number of characters perfectly encapsulates the unique, often bizarre world of One Piece, while the main story mode takes place during the series’ biggest storyline to date: The Paramount War. In an effort to rescue his brother Ace from execution, Luffy teams up with the world’s most notorious pirates (and former villains) in an all-out battle against the Navy, who represent the most powerful soldiers of the World Government.
Having Burning Blood’s story center around The Paramount War makes a lot of sense, since the arc features the largest number of characters at once, which means an already-huge cast of playable fighters to mess around with. No two characters are alike (minus variations of the same character, which for some reason also includes swimwear versions of the female characters taking up multiple slots rather than just being an alternate costume option), and each possesses a unique and visually impressive set of powers: main hero Luffy can stretch his body into rubber, Ace is able to manipulate fire, Buggy can separate his body into multiple floating parts…every character is an insane comic book-like amalgamation and a fighting game should be the perfect venue to let these characters loose.
It’s just too bad that Burning Blood takes bloody forever to unlock them all. The problem with adapting The Paramount War is that the arc features dozens of characters engaging in dozens of battles all at once…and developer Spike Chunsoft have made no attempts to abridge any of it. Most missions in the story mode consist of playing as one character fighting a specific number of other characters, and then playing as another character fighting those same characters, only in a different order. Rinse and repeat for hours on end, and even the most hardcore One Piece fans will get tired of facing off against the Marine Admirals and Seven Warlords for the umpteenth time (and as a weird localization quirk, the translation can’t seem to decide on whether to call them “Seven Warlords” or “Shichibukai”). Even more annoying is the sporadic difficulty, with story battles bouncing between “cakewalk” and “unforgiving” seemingly at random.
Fortunately, the controls are a lot more forgiving, as every character features the same inputs for their moves and can all do the same things; aside from the standard fighting game repertoire of normal attacks, medium attacks, dodges and guards, each character has three special moves which can be executed by simply holding two buttons down. There are also guard breaking attacks, switching between characters in the middle of a match, and even an ultimate attack achieved with a full meter. All of these moves can be performed effortlessly, but the tricky part is remembering all of the different button combinations, as well as when best to utilize them. This is another part where the game falters by not having a better tutorial system to help players learn the ins and outs of Burning Blood’s combat, or at least a practice mode or two.
Speaking of modes, the game does have a few interesting number of activities, such as being daily missions where players can take on Wanted Poster challenges, each having various degrees of difficulty. There is also the ability to create a custom team of fighters, which also includes support characters that are non-playable but still offer passive effects in battle (such as reduced damage, increased speed, etc). There is also an online versus mode, though it was not functioning at the time of this review. Combine this with the hefty roster of unlockable characters and a level-up system for each individual character, and One Piece fans could spend days if not weeks unlocking everything for their ultimate pirate crew.
In the end, however, it is still unfortunate how much grinding is required in order to truly appreciate all of the customization and characters of One Piece: Burning Blood. Most videogame adaptations tend to heavily condense Anime storylines, but Namco chose not to skip a single beat here, right down to key dialogue during fights (which of course leads to annoyance when having to restart a battle and hearing the talking heads chatter away over and over). For the most patient fans of the series, the number of callbacks and beautifully animated representations of their favorite characters will prove to be their greatest rewards as they struggle valiantly to unlock the actual rewards.