Review: One Piece: Burning Blood
Released couple of months ago, Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 set the bar high when it comes to cell-shading and anime styled fighting game, nullifying any kind of previous release such as the Dragon Ball Z series (which has seen better days). Namco Bandai and Spike Chunsoft now turn their hand to another popular manga license: One Piece.
After the “Unlimited” series, and the musou styled spin-offs, One Piece turns to a category that suits the theme perfectly, and finally jumps on the new generation consoles including their first Xbox release, with a fighting game. Skipe Chunsoft are responsible for this task, known for titles like Danganronpa and their previous “shonen fight” games such as the Dragon Ball Z Tenkaichi series, but also the recent and very average J-Stars Victory Vs. Did all this expertise in the genre helped Spike Chunsoft mold One Piece: Burning Blood into the next big thing in manga fighting games?
While One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3 (the last musou in the license) covered a large part of the manga’s story, One Piece: Burning Blood lingers on a story arc known as the “Paramount Wars”. For the fans, that’s quite a surprising pick, since this part of the One Piece timeline extends on volumes 50-61 of the manga (chapters 491 to 597), which was published in the west around 2009-2010. Considering One Piece fans are reading the latest chapter (number 800+), it’s weird to go back to around the middle of the story timeline, even if it’s an important story arc.
But why not after all? This “Paramount War” is a key part in the One Piece saga, almost a spin-off in the story, which has Luffy put on hold his quest for the legendary pirate treasure, so he can go save his brother Ace, held prisoner on the Marineford island. Leaving aside his usual companions of adventure, our elastic pirate will conduct a joint attack with Whitebeard’s forces (Ace spiritual father), and attempt to breach the Navy headquarters. The end of this fight, abrupt and bitter, remains one of the most poignant moments of the manga, and marks a turning point in its evolution.
The game throws you from the start you in the thick of the battle, covering only a very small part of the arc, with Luffy entering this fight which is already well underway, and against Captain Crocodile. This choice may appeal to fans of the series, but beginners and newcomers are likely to be overwhelmed by the amount of backstory, and cutscenes that require a bit of knowledge on the series. It’s a shame, because Namco Bandai closes the door to a number of players who could have become potential One Piece fans, but instead are confused at what this whole series is about.
The story mode takes another questionable strategy in its narrative method: the different fights will be linked with storyline with animated storyboards (taken from the anime), accompanied by the narrator’s voice to explain the plot (in Japanese of course, with English subtitles), but sometimes in-game cutscenes that illustrate the key moments. This narrative choice is debatable, with stiff internal competition in place at Namco Bandai. As CyberConnect2 had set the bar high with the latest Naruto SUNS 4, but in the end, One Piece Burning Blood comes out with the secondary honors, but not as good as I wanted it to be.
The great battle of the Marineford front will help you unlock some of the 42 characters of the basic roster (with, I assure you, the fighters from the whole saga, not only the ones that star in the “Paramount War”). After 11 fights in the Luffy chapter completed, you can jump to the second episode, which is in fact a repetition of the original with another key character! You will experience the same events, but this time playing Whitebeard, Akainu and Ace in respectively chapter 2, 3 and 4 of the story mode. Yet another surprising choice, especially when we see that some fights are repeated several times against the sane character… Also, do not expect to have to play more than 5 or 6 hours to reach the end of the 4 chapters in this mode. It’s light, but you will make do with the rest of the content.
It is in “Wanted Versus” that you’ll spend most of your time in singleplayer (as with friends). This mode consists of countless trials presented in Western-style posters, where you have to chain together confrontations that often force certain conditions to be met or even limitations in power. This will help you unlock over 66 support characters to put the best chances on your side.
But that’s not all, in addition to this “ladder mode”, there’s your traditional versus on local, with split screen, training mode, but also a quite original “Pirate Flag Battle” mode. Similar to what we saw already on Mortal Kombat X, you must choose a faction and fight online to prove your allegiance. You will have a limited number of action points per day, which you need to use to move from island to another, defeat players and conquer more your pirate coalition. Points are recharged over time like a Free2play (or can be reset with in-game currency) to go and fight against another player or a powerful AI-powered character.
Another more classic online mode is also available, with ranked, friendly lobby room matches for up to 4 players. This online is a bit anecdotal, as your fighters throughout the game level up and become more powerful… A heresy in competitive gaming! Anyway, it’s not like One Piece Burning Blood was aiming to be the next EVO headliner or start its own tournament series.
Why? Well, because with the exception of Tekken, these Bandai Namco fighting games are more like a form of entertainment of buttered-down gameplay, which just wants you to have fun, and not take this too seriously. Like other Shonnen titles, One Piece: Burning Blood has your traditional combo button, a long-range attack, jump and blocking system. For special attacks, no need to get your brand new arcade stick, as it’s more a press of the trigger buttons LB/L1 accompanied by a simple X/Y/B or Square/Triangle/Circle depending on your console. The ultimate attack, or triggered power is even simpler: Just press down the thumb stick twice. Nevertheless, it will take a good bunch of games if you want to perfect it, in hope to defeat the difficult AI around the end of the story mode, which will not hesitate to exploit other gameplay subtleties such as the use of skills, the different kinds of guard, counters, team swap attack… and even mixtures of these techniques!
However, we must not delude ourselves: even fighting as 3 in teams, with a common sense of knowing how to balance the picks, some characters are still much stronger and / or devious than others. Just as some support characters have much higher powers which really limits (or even eliminates) any hint of competitive element, or fairness from the Spike Chunsoft team.
On its appearance, the first thing that strikes when you start the game is the relatively poor fluidity of the title. Without measured, it is clearly stabled or locked at the usual 60fps that is demanded in a fighting game. But when considering it’s not a serious fighting game, this framerate is forgotten pretty quickly as 3D models are well done, which play on colorful and lively arenas, with lots of destructible elements and the onomatopoeia words that appear on the screen form a neat combo!
But it is in cinematics that we will truly realize the potential of the title, certainly sublime with very successful raster effects. They give an authentic character to the game and undoubtedly resemble a digital brush of Eiichiro Oda. The only truly global criticism one could make on the technical part of the title would be its annoying camera, sometimes misplaced, locked behind your opponent or a piece of scenery.
One Piece: Burning Blood was reviewed using an Xbox One downloadable code of the game provided by Namco Bandai. The game is also available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita and will be coming this summer on PC. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• A rather correct story mode
• Insane One Piece fan service
• Good ol’ anime cell-shading graphics
• A simple gameplay, with its share of of complexity
• Original Japanese voices topped with subtitles
• Might be unappealing for newcommers
• That camera needs a leach
• Balancing in this game is needed