There are some inherent issues when making a fighting game based on a manga/anime franchise. Clearly you want to keep all the most outrageous attacks, signature moves and magic in there - stuff that fans will recognise, but how do you balance that out and make it a fighting game that feels rewarding and well balanced? The developers at Spike Chunsoft and their publisher Bandai Namco had some ideas on how to fix this for One Piece: Burning Blood, and as it turns out this will keep to the skills of the main characters pretty much dictated by the design of the game. In One Piece only certain characters have Devilfruit and Haki abilities, but by allowing players to select three characters in a tag team set-up, the idea is that you can always select a character that complements the others you select - and added on top of that is a system for support characters that sort of grants abilities to characters who would otherwise not have them.
"The character who has the Devilfruit skill cannot [easily] beat the character with Haki, so that's why a match-up one versus one isn't that good," explains producer Koji Nakajima. "But if you have the option even though this character cannot beat a certain character you can switch it out and try a different combination."
We alluded to it at the start; this is a fighting game designed for fans of One Piece, not one designed with fighting fans primarily in mind. That's not to say veteran fighting fans can't find enjoyment here, the guard break system and the tactical depth in picking three characters and supports, does suggest there's more here than just a rather straight forward anime game. However, there's no sense of the same depth here that you'd find in the genre giants. A great player has an advantage over an average one here, but knowledge of the characters and how their attacks can be chained together can potentially even out a skill gap between two players.
As players of the more button mashy variation we're quickly drawn to some of the larger more powerful, less skill-based characters like Whitebeard and Franky. Franky also has the ability to transform into a more powerful form (Shogun). It proved efficient against the AI, but against human opposition the more agile characters are likely just as potent, but we could see some of these characters being a bit unbalanced and this may be something that the developers may have to work on post-launch.
"In the process of development, even we have found that, okay, this is too strong, the combination of these three characters and support characters is just too strong so we have to kill it," says Nakajima. "We've actually killed several such combos. We have found some really good combinations, but what we expect is that after launch it will be the fans who will find out what combinations really work well."
In addition to the main 3vs3 tag team mode there's something called Paramount Wars - here you can follow four different characters - Ace, Whitebeard, Akainu and Luffy - during the Marineford battle. What's interesting here is that while it provides some narrative and single-player focus, it also offers more variation in terms of the battles themselves. In Paramount Wars there will not just be 3vs3 battles, but different variations like 1vs3, 1vs2, 1vs1, 2vs2, and so on - all depending on what makes sense in the story of course.
One Piece: Burning Blood is being developed with the new-gen consoles as lead platforms, but is also coming out on Steam and PS Vita. The latter was quite a challenge from the development team.
"The graphics were the most challenging part," admits game director Hiroyuki Kaneko. "We would like to keep the graphics the same as on PS4 and Xbox One for the PS Vita. That was a really hard time we spent to keep the same level of graphics. But we're pretty much confident in having achieved that part. The size of the data was also one of the biggest issues, finally we have solved this so we can somehow compress the size of the data. So you will definitely enjoy the Vita version."
Overall, One Piece: Burning Blood offers more fresh ideas and concepts than what you'd perhaps expect from a fighting game based on an anime or manga. The demo we tried offered 21 playable characters, and with 35 characters revealed so far the roster will likely swell even further. With three characters on each side, and additional support characters, there's a ton of variation here - something that's sure to delight fans of One Piece.