Perhaps the greatest advantage of the move to digital is a reduction in risk costs associated with localization. Without production, shipping, and a reduced retail cut, releasing on a digital marketplace like Steam or PSN exclusively allows for various titles that we may otherwise have not seen in this era of explosively overzealous budgets. Fans of the anime and manga One Piece were certainly happy that we received the Dynasty Warriors adaptation of the series, dubbed One Piece: Pirate Warriors in the west. A year later we're getting the sequel, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2, and the game benefits from moving closer to the standard Dynasty Warrirors formula.
Unlike the first game, Pirate Warriors 2 doesn't follow the manga storyline at all. The game takes place in a fictional version of the world, following a hypothetical set of events. Characters who were dead are alive again, and while their relationship dynamics still seem appropriate to the series, the story isn't particularly coherent. There is a lot going on here, including the discovery of special black dials that turn the majority of the Straw Hat crew evil, and an alliance of major One Piece villains Blackbeard and Moria. The plot is serviceable at best, and while it's fun to see the characters interact with one another, it's not really what we're here for.
The reason we're here, of course, is to beat the crap out of hordes of enemies as your favorite heroes and villains, and the Dynasty Warriors formula remains excellent for that. Gone are the quick-time-events that plagued the pacing of the first game. Enemy numbers have been cranked up to 11, and maps stick to the pretty standard Dynasty Warriors territory system. Beat up a certain number of enemies, defeat the commander, and your side will control the territory and generate AI units to aid in your battle. Random events happen throughout the battle, including the generation of specific bosses that must be defeated, a certain territory to be captured, and hidden enemies who must be discovered.
If this all sounds repetitive, it is, but not necessarily in a bad way. Using different characters can add a lot of variety, even if the gameplay remains fairly simple. Square and Triangle perform attacks, while Circle activates a special, X dodges, and R1 activates “Style Change” mode, which powers up characters and blasts a radius of Haki outward for those who possess it. As characters level they become capable of chaining more and more attacks together, while the story mode also continually powers up the grunts to match. At higher levels characters feel like suitable destruction machines, and beli (money) can be spent to level up characters you haven't been using to make sure they don't get left behind when you do want them. This is nice, because the game features a pretty great cast of 27 playable characters.
Throughout the adventure you'll hit many of the iconic One Piece locations, filled with familiar landmarks and fun tributes. In general the maps can feel a bit repetitive despite this, which is perhaps a curse of the Dynasty Warriors stage design. Stages can get pretty tough, and I found my characters' levels weren't keeping up with the recommended levels as I approached the final chapter. Luckily you have an option other than grinding. Online multiplayer lets you send out a distress call to have another human player assist you in the stage. When you get stuck this ability can be your best friend. You'll also get a good amount of experience and money for helping other players similarly.
Outside of the main story mode, many important characters have their own sub-stories which you can complete. There are also a huge number of unlockables, including costumes, coins, and gallery items. Ultimately how much time you get out of the game depends on how much you enjoy the formula and characters. If you do then you'll find plenty of reason to replay. However, if you just want to power through the story and move on, it only takes 6-8 hours to complete, depending on how much you fail. Luckily, the game is sold at a nicely discounted $40 on PSN.
Sadly, Pirate Warriors 2 continues the sort of semi-realistic art style from the first game. While far from ugly, the visuals would benefit hugely from a switch to cel-shading to better match the style of the anime and manga. Cutscenes look solid and use the in-game engine, and the music is appropriate but forgettable. The voice actors are all present from the anime, and use the series' Japanese voices with subtitles. Purists won't find anything to complain about there.
It's easy to recommend One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 to its intended audience. The game was made for fans and it plays well for fans. It's full of fan-service moments and battles that many wish they could have seen in the series. For anyone else, it can be a solid mindless action game, but by this point you probably already know whether you enjoy Dynasty Warriors or not. Ultimately, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 is a nice improvement over the original title, and a no-brainer for those aching to mow through hordes of enemies as the series' famous rubber protagonist.
This review is based on a digital copy of One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 for the PS3, provided by the publisher.