For One Piece: Unlimited World Red, being a piece of garbage is expected. To be halfway decent is rare. But to be great? That’s a damn miracle. While I can’t explain the circumstances that allowed Ganbarion (of Pandora’s Tower fame) to defy expectations, the end result manages to speak for itself. Unlimited World Red is a lot of fun, and best of all, you don’t need to be a card carrying One Piece maniac to enjoy it.
Set loose in Transtown, players take control of Monkey D. Luffy, captain of the Straw Hat pirates. Commanding a colourful cast of characters, Luffy sets out to rid the world of its evils, and claim any treasures along the way. While I’m positive fans of the anime and manga can appreciate the finer details of the plot, it doesn’t do much that someone like myself couldn’t grasp. You’re the good guys, they’re the bad guys, so let’s go beat them up.
Luffy’s claim to fame is his elastic appendages, which ingeniously double as a means of conveyance. Transtown serves as the game’s hubworld, one in which players can save their game, build shops, and play mini games. Luffy bounds around the environment, using his unique powers to fling through the air, grabbing onto rooftops and flagpoles to propel himself along. As fun as it is to zip around, the aesthetics of the town don’t give much of an impression of just where you’re heading. Flags generally mark the location of important stops, but the bottom screen’s map is the best way to understand just where you’re heading. The Vita version lacks this display, making navigation a little less enjoyable. Transtown opens up into two islands, with the upper half dedicated to shops, and the lower to mini games. But things don’t start out that way.
As your adventure begins Transtown is barren. But as you set out and explore the lands, various collectibles are gathered, which allow the town to flourish. As it turns out, some bits of rock and a bumblebee is all someone needed to finally open their own pharmacy. While absurd, these shops are anything but frivolous. The pharmacy crafts medicine, the factory can upgrade your fishing rod and bug net, and the museum houses your findings. Under normal circumstances, shops are hardly a thing to get excited about. But One Piece allows players to grow these businesses, with the products of each shop invariably benefitting the other. As I bounce from one shop to another, I am trading and crafting items that I can then take to another and benefit further. As luck would have it, Transtown is just a taste of One Piece‘s more RPG influenced mechanics.
When I’m not flying across the cityscape, I’m enjoying what the game excels at; combat. Upon boarding Luffy’s ship, I’m taken to distant lands to fight my way through hordes of enemies. Any three characters from the Straw Hat crew can be controlled, each bringing their distinct play styles with them. The combat is simple, providing players with two attacks as well as context sensitive dodges and counters. During battle, a meter builds, allowing for one of four special attacks to be unleashed. These attacks can do heavy damage, but isn’t the only way to strengthen your output. A move list will appear during these skirmishes, and should you perform each successfully, the character will go into Break Rush mode, becoming stronger. If that weren’t enough, buffs known as Item Words can be used to adjust your teams stats for a short period of time. These all come in handy, as the enemy’s numbers can greatly exceed your own. Despite how hectic things become, it’s important to keep a cool head, as the button prompts that flash onscreen to avoid an enemies attack can be missed should you attempt to button mash your way to victory.
While these fights are enjoyable, the fights reach greater heights against the game’s bosses. Here the game becomes quite cinematic, panning out for the bosses bigger combos, sometimes giving players a view from the enemy’s perspective. The battles are fierce, with bosses being far more capable than the grunts your used to. I was really impressed by the variety, as the developers crafted a story that allowed them to pull from the entirety of One Piece’s run.
With my quest complete, Unlimited World Red begins its spot-on gameplay cycle of battle, upgrade, battle, upgrade. Back in Transtown, I’m able to trade my bounty of herbs, rocks, and other goodies for character upgrades. Ganbarian nailed this aspect, and allows me to real feel a reason for fighting those angry mobs. I can upsize my town, move on over to the restaurant and increase my HP, see the lady on the bridge to build up the effectiveness of my abilities, collect the earnings from my museum displays, and use that money to buy the parts necessary for another upgrade to my garden. Once complete, I move onward to my next mission (more capable than before), and the pCollustarts over.
As if this all were not enough, Unlimited World Red tacks on Quests; little side missions that you can take on alone or with a friend (I was unable to test the multiplayer unfortunately, apologies). These are what you’d expect, asking Luffy to collect 10 doodads or beat a boss to a pulp. The rewards are good, and is a great way to test your party members outside of the main game.
The Battle Coliseum pits players against the game’s enemies as well, but also ranks your performance along the way. This mode encourages experimentation with crew mates you may be less familiar with, even forcing it at times. The Coliseum packs a little bit of story in too, but primarily serves as a boss rush. However, you can unlock some of the villains, and playing as them is a nice bit of change.
While Ganbarian’s pedigree is what brought me in, the overall product won me over, and I’ve since begun reading the One Piece manga. Namco Bandai and Ganbarian really did the property justice, not by appealing to their knowledge of the property with nods and winks to the past, but by putting together a fun game.