I’ve never been a huge fan of the One Piece franchise, but that’s actually been beneficial in some ways. For example, when I booted up One Piece: Burning Blood for the first time and checked out its character selection, I was struck by just how utterly hilarious and bizarre some of the character designs really are. That kind of weird “What did I just get myself into?” feeling is fun in its own way, and so I was looking forward to trying out some of these wacky personalities in battle (where I fully expected to have no idea what was going on, as is the case with many licensed games based on anime/manga/light novels). The end result, I’m pleased to say, is that I think Burning Blood should be good fun for most people who pick up the controller. There are certainly quite a few things that will confuse non-fans of the franchise — and to be fair, I think One Piece diehards will naturally get the most value out of it — but the chaotic, stylish action pulled me in a lot more than I expected it to, and I don’t think I’m the only one who will have that experience.
Hey, Hey, Hey, What’s Going On???
The first mode most players will attempt, Paramount War, seems to be a sort of “CliffsNotes” retelling of the series’ narrative. I say “seems to be” because, as someone who tried and failed to understand what exactly was going on, I don’t want to make any assuredly false claims. Though I watched the cutscenes diligently, I found that I had to make frequent trips to the One Piece wiki to figure out just who all these characters were. The game introduces them at such breakneck speed that just when you think you’ve got an understanding of your current group, a deluge of more wacky weirdos comes flooding in. I’m sure fans of the show will appreciate this story-in-miniature recap a lot more than I did; the cutscenes feature some really well-choreographed action, and the “sketchy” art style is a stellar mask for what are ultimately last-gen visuals. But my limited exposure to One Piece left me scratching my head through a lot of these sections, and to be honest, left my finger itching to press the “skip” button.
But like I said before, exposure to the series really isn’t a prerequisite to enjoying the game’s central conceit, chaotic 3D fighting similar to what we got earlier this year in Naruto Shippuden: UItimate Ninja Storm 4. I don’t think this game is as polished or cinematic as that one was, but the commitment to making it look like a playable cartoon is extremely evident, and it comes through in the execution for the most part. While I struggled to understand the story in Paramount War, I’d still recommend newcomers give it a spin, if only for the helpful tutorials scattered throughout Luffy’s portion of the mode. Without them, the amount of different controls can be a bit overwhelming — but after a bit of practice, I was able to remember the button combinations for a lot of the game’s more “advanced” moves. In that regard, I have to compliment developer Spike Chunsoft for keeping things appealingly simple; since there aren’t any huge button combos to master, this is one fighting game you can play with those less-experienced friends.
Once you’ve got the hang of things, Burning Blood really hits its stride. Beyond the aforementioned Paramount War, there are a number of other modes to get your pirate-punching on: Wanted Versus lets you take out “hits” against characters in specially-designed scenarios; Pirate Flag Battle lets you show your stuff in an online turf war; and, naturally, you’ve got Free Play alongside Online Ranked and Player Matches that do exactly what they say on the tin. I had a good deal of fun racking up cash to unlock both playable and support characters, then testing them out to see which ones I liked. I think my favorite parts of the fighting here are the little cinematic touches; when your brawler pulls off certain moves, the camera angle will change for emphasis, which can make them fun to watch even if you’re not playing. My favorite example of this has to be the way your character can knock foes clear into the background, shattering pirate ships and other objects. And there’s plenty of replay value, too — since even losses net you a small amount of dough, I had no problem trying again when I got stuck on certain battles.
Face to Face (With the Man Who Shakes the World)
Well, for the most part, anyway. Beyond my narrative complaints about the Paramount War mode, I’ve got a couple more nits to pick. I’ve got to be honest — on the list of pet peeves I have across pretty much every game genre, difficulty spikes are right up there in the top five. Burning Blood has a couple doozies across its single player modes, but at least Wanted Versus gives you some warning with its star rating system. A handful of brutal battles in the story mode — including one particularly nasty fight with lone Whitebeard up against three relentless opponents — made me want to snap my controller in two and give up. Thankfully, I found my path to victory in the form of the game’s often-idiotic AI, which seems to have no way to deal with ranged moves at all (see here and here for evidence). These things might be deal-breakers to some people, but I found myself able to get past them with a little patience.
One Piece: Burning Blood Review - Pummeling Pirates (PS4)
As far as licensed anime fighting games go, this is one that your friends probably won’t refuse to play with you. Despite an incomprehensible retelling of the story, the majority of One Piece: Burning Blood is accessible enough to be picked up and learned in a few minutes. The chaotic action really pops with sketchy cartoon visuals — I especially loved the visceral satisfaction of knocking my opponents into background objects and watching the debris fall. This isn’t as tight or polished as some of the other stuff out there (Naruto Shippuden’s latest installment comes to mind), but it’s well-worth a look if you’re a One Piece junkie or just a fighting game fan looking for a little anarchic fun.
Review code for One Piece: Burning Blood provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.