Every year, a variety of anime franchises and video game series seem to get action-oriented spinoffs rooted in the DNA of the long-running Dynasty Warriors series. Whether it’s a spinoff developed by the musou action powerhouse developers Koei Tecmo and Omega Force, or an ambitious developer like XSEED trying to put their own mark on the genre, fans of these kinds of games are rarely left hungry.
That fact is doubly true for enthusiasts of the One Piece manga and anime franchise, which has seen numerous Warriors-style releases through the One Piece Pirate Warriors series over the years. The third entry in the series came out in 2016, being heralded as one of the best musou action games on the market. Now, One Piece Pirate Warriors 4 is here to continue the action, and it does so in style.
The previous game in the same spread itself pretty thin when it came to the story, attempting to cover nearly 20 story arcs from the over 20-years-old manga in just as many missions. The result was a fun, if rushed, experience that prioritized memorable maps and battles over in-depth storytelling. One Piece Pirate Warriors 4 attempts to put a bigger focus on the narrative this time through, focusing on just eight story arcs from the manga and delivering them through 34 story missions. So where the iconic rivalry between Vivi and Crocodile in the Alabasta arc only got one battle and some brief cutscenes in the last game, One Piece Pirate Warriors 4 gives you over an hour of missions, boss battles and gripping cutscenes in the Alabasta arc, and others get just as much of a focus on the major moments of their stories.
Obviously dozens of manga chapters can’t be covered completely over the span of a handful of story missions, and while the story mode of the game does breeze through a lot of quieter moments of these arcs, it still does a great job of letting you live out the big battles and giving you gorgeously animated cutscenes of the most pivotal moments of the series.
For lapsed fans of One Piece who might have fallen overboard and want a breezy way to catch up with the story, the missions of One Piece Pirate Warriors 4 still cut a few corners too many. For fans looking to relive the memories of their favourite arcs, though, the game does every story it touches justice.
The game puts just as much heart and soul into the moves and abilities of the 40+ playable characters. Spanning both major eras of the franchise, it gives you a variety of characters from the early East Blue days up to the current New World saga. A lot of musou games are easy enough to just mash a couple buttons in and spam the same handful of combos for a few hours, but a handful of new combat elements in One Piece Pirate Warriors 4 add a wonderful amount of depth to the action.
For starters, alongside the standard and heavy attacks of each character, you have four separate special attacks that you can perform by holding down a shoulder button and pressing any of the face buttons. Each of these attacks has their own visible meter that needs to be filled before they’re usable, giving you something to think about and pay attention to as you lay waste to hundreds of paper-thin pirates and marines. Additionally, the Power Dash lets you speed through enemies to cover ground quickly or carry hordes of foes through an even lengthier combo, while jumping into the air or using launcher attacks lets you take the fight to the sky and dish out serious damage in mid-air.
All of these tools give you some interesting ways to connect attacks and flesh out plenty of unique combos, but what made me happiest was that these tools work just as well in giant multi-man brawls as they do in the one-on-one boss fights of the game. Jumping into the air to dish damage on the new giant-class enemies of the game is a satisfying feat, while flying across arenas as you jump and dash into lengthy combos on unsuspecting bosses adds a sense of kinetic action and weight to your abilities that I’ve rarely felt in a Warriors game.
The variety of the core gameplay is amplified by each character’s specific moveset. Luffy and Sanji can dash around the stage and dish out a flurry of swift attacks, while more slow and calculated fighters like Zoro and Big Mama deal heftier blows. Admittedly, some of the slower characters don’t translate into the high-speed combat of the newest game very well, feeling just a little too unwieldy to control properly. They’re very much a minority, though, and the rest of the cast is a blast to play as.
While the story mode will force you into the shoes of specific characters based on the events of each story, additional modes like Free Log and Treasure Log let you explore the entire cast at your leisure. Free Log gives you a way to revisit story missions as other characters who were heavily involved in the arc, while Treasure Log gives you a series of unique side-missions that task you with big battles at the promise of even bigger rewards.
Completing missions in One Piece Pirate Warriors 4 nets you money and upgrade coins that you can use to not only boost specific stats of your entire cast, but also amplify the abilities or skill selections of specific characters. Having ways to grind out and earn these coins outside of replaying story scenarios is a blessing.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the audio and visuals of One Piece Pirate Warriors 4, which are equally as impressive. Character models and environments are bright and vivid, with smooth animations for every attack and a solid framerate that never dips on base PS4, even with wild particle effects and destructible environments. A minor setback of these impressive visuals is sometimes lengthy load times. Audio, meanwhile, is an absolute treat. The iconic voice cast return to portray all your favorites, and the unique and wild music of the game matches the insane, cartoonish intensity of the action perfectly.