I thought I would be bored by the time I beat up my 500,000th marine lackey, but to my surprise, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 never let the smile fall from my face – except for when it’s trying to make me cry with its many faithfully recreated scenes of One Piece’s most emotional moments.
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is an Omega Force musou game through and through, letting you satisfyingly steamroll hundreds of thousands of enemies single handedly as powerful hero (or villain) characters. But it comes with most of the typical baggage that goes along with that distinction: it’s not the prettiest looking game in the world, there are lots of reused assets from prior games, and outside of a few select boss fights, its hoards of baddies offer very little resistance.
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That said, Pirate Warriors 4 managed to surprise me with a well thought out combat system that has a ton of variety strewn across its selection of more than 40 playable characters, excellent cooperative support, and a highly respectable retelling of One Piece’s absolutely massive story.
Wealth, Fame, Power
Pirate Warriors 4’s main story mode, Dramatic Log, attempts to summarize nearly 900 episodes worth of One Piece plot into a single 15-hour campaign. It’s an impossible task, to be frank, but a lot of effort was made to make these storybook-esque recaps as entertaining and informative as they can possibly be. Everything is fully voiced by the original Japanese cast; there’s a good mix of narration, still imagery, and scenes from the show recreated in-engine to keep things visually interesting; and when they do decide to go all out and do a full-on CG version of One Piece’s biggest moments, they always look and sound stunning with Omega Force’s signature guitar riff-heavy soundtrack pumping in the background, though many of those moments are straight-up reused from prior Pirate Warriors games.
It’s also worth noting that if you’re coming into Pirate Warriors 4 as anything less than a gigantic One Piece fan who has watched everything up to the start of the currently airing Wano arc, you’re going to get spoiled big time. This definitely is not a replacement for actually watching the show.
Pirate Warriors 4 covers six main arcs: Alabasta, Enies Lobby, the Paramount War, Dressrosa, Whole Cake Island, and a shoddily thrown together original version of the Wano arc that exists solely to give Pirate Warriors 4 an actual ending since the real Wano arc isn’t finished yet. Those who played Pirate Warriors 3 may get a little bit of deja vu, as the only completely new arcs are Whole Cake Island and Wano, but Pirate Warriors 4 goes much deeper into each of them than its predecessor, with every arc consisting of at least six missions.
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Each chapter has its own selection of playable characters to choose from, with some levels restricting you to just the one character that’s relevant to the story, while others allow you to choose from a wide variety of heroes that are present in the scene. I always jumped at the opportunity to try out a new character, and fortunately, those opportunities presented themselves at just about every turn. It was this variety that kept Dramatic Log fun and interesting throughout its 15 hour length, despite the repetition inherent to Pirate Warriors 4’s gameplay.
Dramatic Log is the main course of Pirate Warriors 4, but there’s also the Treasure Log mode which is a series of mostly context-less levels that come with their own rewards and ready-made challenges. Just about everything in Pirate Warriors 4 can be played with two-players co-op in split-screen, but certain levels in Treasure Log can also be played with four players online, and have unique objectives as a result, which is great. Multiplayer is definitely a strong suit for Pirate Warriors 4, especially considering how easy it is to pick up, smash some buttons, and watch the fireworks fly.
Take it to the Sky(piea)
If you’ve played a musou game before, you know what to expect from Pirate Warriors 4 on a base level. This is a game all about simple button presses leading to impressive actions. One that treats enemies like they’re a million styrofoam peanuts and the player like they’re a leaf blower.
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Pirate Warriors 4 adds a few interesting wrinkles to the fold, mainly the ability for every character to utilize air combos, which actually does a lot to further differentiate its roster. By pressing the jump button in the middle of a combo, characters take everything around them up into the air where they have an all-new series of attacks. Some characters, like Sanji, absolutely thrive in the air where they can use multiple special moves to deal big damage or utilize a buff that gives them unlimited stamina, which allows them to continuously cancel and restart combos with an air dash to stay in the air for as long as they want. Other characters, like Jimbei, are hopeless in the air and basically need to be on the ground in order to do significant damage.
The gameplay is super fast. With the ability to connect a three to four-hit ground combo, then launch enemies up for another combo, then combo that into a special move, which can then be canceled into more air combos, there’s just a ton of frenetic movement that always keeps the action fluid and exciting.
Despite that though, the implementation of aerial combat is not perfect. Some characters are given the ability to fly freely, but the controls are messy. There’s no way to control your height, which can make it frustratingly difficult to actually hit enemies when you’re above them, and sometimes characters can move so fast that it can be hard to actually focus on a single enemy like a commander or boss if you need to take them down first.
Above all else though, Pirate Warriors 4 is a One Piece power trip, and it’s a really good one at that. Just about every character feels insanely strong in their own satisfying way. Luffy in particular feels nigh unstoppable when he transforms into either of his Gear Four forms, but especially when he’s in Bounce Man form and starts charging up a Kong Gun that ominously looms over the heads of hundreds of helpless enemies that are about to get sent flying.
Omega Force has done a great job with its progression mechanics as well. Not only does each character have their own skill trees that build upon their arsenal of unique moves and stats, but there’s also a universal skill tree that provides bonuses to all characters. It’s a nice system that forces you to make some interesting decisions when it comes to stats with regards to whether you spend resources making everyone a little bit stronger, or you focus in on making a single character stronger that you might only use for one level.
Between the 15-hour story mode, the many additional hours that it’ll take to complete Treasure Log, and unlockable characters that are tied to getting S ranks on missions, there’s a ton of worthwhile content in Pirate Warriors 4 that will keep me busy for quite some time.