While a lot of Japanese animation can be pretty off the wall, One Piece has always stood out as a particularly characterful series, with some of the barmiest creations ever to grace the small screen. Of course, that simply makes it all the better for translating into a computer game, and Burning Blood follows a long line of One Piece flavoured tie-ins.
In recent years they’ve all focussed around combat, but with Burning Blood they’ve moved into the realm of arena brawling, with battles ranging from 1v1 to 3v3. Given the anime’s storied history of brawling pirates and zany characters it should be a perfect fit, but then nothing’s perfect.
The main story mode can be found in the Paramount War mode, and follows the Marineford storyline that began in the 457th episode of the anime. As the twenty-second story arc of the series, it’s safe to say that this isn’t particularly welcoming for newcomers, drawing on a great deal of previous knowledge about who’s who, and what their motivations are for being there.
Of course, for fans of the franchise there’s the opportunity to dive into an era that’s not been told before, and do so from four different viewpoints – those of Luffy, Whitebeard, Ace and Akainu. It definitely limits the game’s appeal, but even with four perspectives, it’s sadly too slight.
What Burning Blood does get right are the visuals. The cel-shaded renditions of each character really capture the look and feel of the anime, though the pencil-stroke manga effect can occasionally be a touch too heavy. All of the in-engine cutscenes look fantastic though, and do a great job of mirroring the original animation.
All this serves to do though is emphasise how poor a lot of the storytelling is, with small, still images taken from the anime, and reams of text to read through. The jump between the two is incredibly jarring, and as with many other similar games such as the most recent Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm title, I fail to understand why they don’t simply include snippets from the original show, especially when it includes the original Japanese audio.
In terms of combat, One Piece Burning Blood does a good job of empowering you with spectacular fighting skills, no matter which character you opt for. In the same vein as the aforementioned Naruto games or the recent Saint Seiya brawlers, you take your chosen character(s) into battle, and attempt to put together a successful series of attacks.
With Square and Triangle as your main attacks, things feel pretty comfortable within moments, but the addition of ranged attacks, special moves, guard-breaks, tag moves called Unity Assists and Breaks, and the powerful Awakened state add extra depth that could easily have been missing. It’s never going to trouble any of the more technical 3D fighters, but there’s still a lot to grasp. There’s also plenty of variety within the characters appearances, even if they can sometimes feel quite similar given the shared control scheme.
There are intense difficulty spikes at points in the campaign, which often rob proceedings of their fun, and I wasn’t sure whether the fact that every character levels up with use – they’ll still advance slowly without it – meant that I was simply at a disadvantage from the off.
Either way, meeting characters that can dispatch you within a few seconds isn’t a great feeling, especially when you’ve held your own for the previous three or four encounters, and it can sometimes all feel a bit too much like luck. That should immediately render any fighting game null and void, but Burning Blood pulls itself through with enjoyable action, fantastic aesthetics and the great leveller of the online mode.
Online features the usual Ranked and Player match types, and the chaotic combat really comes alive against a human opponent. If you’re a fan of the series, it’s a genuine delight to take control of characters such as Franky and Usopp, and the action is often so close as to have you on the edge of your seat. It may not be the most technical fighter in the world, but it is definitely a lot of fun.
So it’s disappointing when the game already has DLC for sale on day one that adds extra characters and costumes. If you’re paying the £49.99 RRP asking price, it grates that it’s already not the complete package, and you’ll have to shell out more for the increased roster. I realise that it’s commonplace in the industry now, but if this content appeared just a month later it would perhaps seem like something extra as opposed to feeling like something that’s been taken out.
That’s not to say that it isn’t a generous package. Along with the 44 unlockable characters, Pirate Flag Battle changes things up a bit as you join the force of your choice and fight in a season for the honour of being named best force. A season lasts for one week, and you make your way from island to island attempting to win them for your side.
The encounters are a mixture between online opponents and the computer, and it’s a nice addition to feel like your victories are contributing to your side’s success. It’s still not given the clearest explanation in the world, but I was too busy having fun to particularly notice.
There’s also Wanted Versus where you can hone your skills while taking on a series of wanted posters, earning yourself in-game currency that you can use elsewhere, Free Battle and, of course, the Online mode. Despite the slim campaign, there should be enough here to keep One Piece fans engaged for a good length of time, and have fun while doing so.
One Piece: Burning Blood is a great example of a licensed videogame, and it gets so much right, bringing the characters of One Piece to life in spectacular fashion. It’s a shame that the limited and unwelcoming narrative scope and unnecessary difficulty spikes take away from what is otherwise a great arena brawler.
Version Tested: PS4