One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 PS4 Review
One Piece is one of the few Warriors (Musou) games which is not a mainline Koei Tecmo entry (Dynasty/Samurai) that has managed to produce multiple sequels. Most are either one off titles (Fire Emblem Warriors, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk) or gain a sequel then disappear (Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2) but Monkey D. Luffy and his pirate gang are now on their fourth entry, nearly five years after One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3 launched on PS4 back when the system was a fairly young console.
Seems like a long time to wait when the last ones were within a year or two apart. I mean, during that time the One Piece anime has jumped from over 700 episodes to now over 900. That is a lot of watching to do – I guess it’s a great time to watch it now, what with the COVID-19 lockdown in place. While knowing One Piece will help in having an connection to this , you do not need to know the series to enjoy. One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 follows in the same style as other Warriors titles, which by now people should know what that means. The template has been running for countless years, with this release introducing a few minor changes to give it something different over One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3.
Dramatic Log is classed as One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4‘s story mode where it takes players through over 30 missions across six chapters. For the well informed One Piece fans, this means taking part in the arcs of Alabasta, Enies Lobby, Marineford, Dressrosa, Whole Cake Island and the currently uncompleted final arc, Wano Country. The latter is actually more of an original story for the game, since only the author, Eiichiro Oda, knows how the final One Piece arc will end, so the developers created something on their own to give the game an ending, similar to the Dressrosa arc in One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3. Only so much can be covered, since these arcs have appeared at various points in the life of One Piece – Alabasta began in 2002, while something like Whole Cake Island was in 2017 – so the developers have gone for big key story beats to represent within the game’s Dramatic Log mode, missing out quite a bit of story. Fans will not have a problem knowing what is going on, but newcomers might feel things move at a rapid pace between chapters.
Most characters from the 43 available – covering a wide range from the start to the current arc – are unlocked through Dramatic Log, and so starting here is advised before jumping into the game’s other modes, Free Log and Treasure Log. The way Dramatic Log is presented means there are a limited selection of heroes for each mission, sometimes only one available, as it sticks to the scenario to give it a true representation of the story. Free Log is basically Dramatic Log without the story and cinematic cutscenes, so any of the stages beat in Dramatic Log can be played again in Free Log without any character limitations imposed by the story.
Mission and map design is standard Warriors affair – take a character, kill many minions and complete the mission tasks. This also means that the levels are crafted in a distinct format with walls based around the theme of the map (houses, trees, walkways, etc.) to make it easy to follow or get to objectives. Inside these environments are elements of destructibility, as objects can be smashed to pieces, such as some houses, but it is nothing all that exciting – it’s no Red Faction: Guerrilla. Some of the later stages do become more complex, as they begin to add layers on top, making them more maze-like than usual, but for the most part, stages are set on a fairly open playing field as a stage to perform all the action, with various themed environments from the One Piece arcs used as the background.
Objectives can be broken down to tasks such as taking over zones by killing enough basic enemies until a leader appears, then killing the leader to switch the zone to your control, protecting a character as they progress to a point, and killing bosses or specific targets, with all these also having time limit variants. Sometimes a mission is against a boss in a single room. These are rather short, since there is only a single target, and it is usually in a unexciting flat room. Some of these fights are also included in other missions, and so the single boss missions feel a wasted opportunity. More could have been done to these to make them more standout moments in the game’s story.
Titan battles are somewhat interesting. The idea in concept is cool, but the implementation of these tall enemies ends up upsetting the flow of combat. Their weakness is from the back to drop their defence, so you use Power Dash to dodge an attack and counter before the attack animation of the titan finishes. This is the only way to beat them, but this drags out the fight, and this is why I feel it upsets the flow of the game. While the mission objectives are elementary in design, they do have that One Piece characterisation on top to replicate scenes from the series, with animated cutscenes and dialogue adding a bit more polish to the overall vibe of the game.
Each character is given a category in one of four play styles – Speed, Power, Technique and the newly added Sky. Going through Dramatic Log allows to see each variation in action. Characters like Luffy, Captain Kid and Zoro, a character I rather enjoyed playing due to his sword gameplay, are classed as power characters and can literally power their way through mass groups of enemies with large attack hitboxes and damaging combos. Ace, Sabo and Katakuri are speed characters, meaning they attack and move faster, but also use less stamina (more on that later). The last two, Technique and Sky require a bit more work to get the most out of them. Technique means their specials are buffed up, so a character like Usopp with his slingshot doesn’t do much damage with basic attacks, but is great at special damage, placing barrels and gas to work with specials for huge explosive damage.
Sky is an aerial category that is rather unique for Warriors, as it has a focus on moving in the air and abusing the Power Dash to scoop up enemies. It is rather hilarious seeing all these minions sucked in and carried across the stage, such as during Crocodile or Yonji’s huge air combos The series is used to seeing hundreds of enemies on the ground, but now it’s all over the screen in a ridiculously manner. I do find that Sky characters are awkward to control when not fighting, since the only way I could figure to lower their height was by dashing. There does not seem to be a button to adjust heights while in a Sky character’s powered up flying state, which lasts around a minute or so initially, but can be upgraded for longer periods.
Combat follows the staple Warriors combinations between tapping the square and triangle buttons to mix up various combos between the light and heavy variants. cross is now a jump, which can be used to launch enemies into the air to perform aerial hits. The biggest change for One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 comes with the circle button that performs the Power Dash. This is a move that uses a stamina metre to rush forward at speed to travel some distance while carrying enemies that get hit by it. It reminds me of the hyper dash from Samurai Warriors 4, so any weaker cannon fodder that get stuck in the dash and will often die after some combos during the air. Power Dash also resets the combo string, meaning stupidly long combos that can carry some length.
Switching it up is how the musou button, the once trusty circle attack to performed a character’s ultimate move, has been exchanged for a skill button located to R1. Up to four skills can be added, with each one having a charge time before ready to use. Skills are activated with the assigned face button + R1. Characters start with a selection of skills that are usually either a powered up state or some sort of flashy special attack, with the higher rated moves acting like the classic field clearing musou finishes.
I feel that One Piece Pirate Warriors 4 begins to delivery some of the best Warriors action when characters level up and earn additional stills and extensions to their stamina metre. Characters become combo machines, having no issue eradicating groups of minions in the hundreds with extended combos and specials. There is something badass about the speed and insanity that comes from what is enabled from the tools the game gives the player at this point in the game. The variety of characters helps as well, since they come with their own unique sets. Kid is rather fun, since some of his combos and specials attach metal to his arms, giving him more reach to hit his foes. It is not equal across the cast, some feel too slow and awkward with the combat that I avoided them after sampling my first session.
Beating any mission rewards cash and coins that are used to unlock permanent stat boosts, skills, new combos and skill slots through the map system, a sort of skill tree map which is separated into two groups, one for all characters and one personalised for a specific character. This streamline approach enables people to a abuse their favourite characters to gain the coins and cash required to improve others that they might not favour as much, scrubbing away some of the grind that is often required to attempt the missions on the harder difficulty.
Finishing the story might take around 20 hours, but there are many more hours of content to work through the 100 or so episodes featured in Treasure Log. This mode is basically what-if and non-canon situations that get more difficult the further you get into them. The episodes randomise the map and characters that fight with the player’s character to offer a twist on the Dream Log from One Piece Pirate Warriors 3. This is really the bulk of the game, as eventually difficulty is increased to the highest level, requiring some help from other players, which can be done through online cooperative play, up to four players in Treasure Log and two in Dramatic Log. Two player split screen is also available.
Omega Force has become experts in developing Warriors games for the fans, and there is plenty to enjoy with the presentation of the game’s character models, soundtrack, the Japanese voice cast and computer generated cinematics. It has become a sort of standard to expect these games to offer standardized visuals, and this is the same here when moving away from the character models. Environments are rather bland texture wise. Frame rate, while not as bad as some other Warriors games, does occasional hiccup when so many models and special effects are happening in view. Lastly, the camera has an habit of getting objects in the view between itself and the player’s model. This is something not often an issue when the environments in these games are empty, but due to the inclusion of destructible buildings, these begin to clutter the view.
Unless a Warriors game ends up being on the poor end of the spectrum (Looking at you, Dynasty Warriors 9), summarising them is often the same across each themed release. One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 includes plenty of content, a lot of similar content where enjoyment is based on how well people gel with the mindlessly over the top, flashy, fun, combo system that is enhanced through the vast unique character move sets, skill selection and Power Rush mechanics. There are some genuine nice additions to the Warriors combat that gets to shine when characters are levelled up, and I hope these get carried to other entries and built upon. As it stands, this is the best Pirate Warriors to date, once it gets going, but it suffers from the repetitive issues and performance that this series is known for, while taking small, incremental steps to improve with each release.