If you still haven't heard of One Piece, and we're not talking about the clothing that makes you look like a Teletubby, the time has come for your enlightenment. After all, we're talking about the biggest comic book success in both Japan and the world in general, with over 320 million books sold worldwide. This means One Piece has long since passed the previous record holder, Dragonball, and despite the fact that the TV series began in 1999 and has surpassed over 700 episodes, there is still no end in sight.
The premise of One Piece is relatively easy to comprehend. It's set in the pirates' era, where most pirates search for the "One Piece" treasure, the legendary legacy that pirate king Gold Roger left behind to whoever was able to find it. In the series, we follow the protagonist Monkey D. Luffy and his crew in search of One Piece, in order to make Luffy the next Pirate King. Luffy is only one of many so-called devil fruit users in the series. A devil fruit gives you a set of unique characteristics and Luffy's trait is that he becomes a rubber man.
One Piece: Burning Blood is not the first game based on the series that we've seen on PS4. Previously Dynasty Warriors clone One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3 was released on the console, and Luffy was also a natural part of anniversary game J-Stars Victory VS +, which marked the 45th anniversary of the comic magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. One Piece: Burning Blood is, however, the first PS4 game with Luffy and the gang not released for the PS3, and moreover it's the first One Piece game to have ever launched on Xbox One.
If the formula in the Pirate Warriors games didn't appeal to you, we can assure you that One Piece: Burning Blood is very different. Where Pirate Warriors places you on battlefields where you have to beat up hundreds of weak AI characters (it was developed by Dynasty Warrior creators Omega Force), Burning Blood is a fighting game where characters battle each other one on one. One form teams consisting of three characters, and in between you can switch between them to fight in the ring, much like Tekken Tag Tournament 2. In addition, there are support characters you can summon in battle, for improved health, higher attack percentage, and so on. This, and the fact that the camera is placed behind Player 1, means it bears similarities with another fighting game released this year with lots of fan service, namely Pokkén Tournament.
One of Pokkén's weaknesses was a thin range of characters. The same can by no means be said of Burning Blood. As many as 40 characters are represented, and some of them also come in two versions: one version from the time before the show's timeskip, and one post timeskip. The game is also fairly up-to-date compared to the anime series' progression (you should be well into the Dress Rosa-story part if you want to avoid any spoilers), which means that the game is reasonably up-to-date when it comes to which characters are included.
The characters are otherwise divided into several subcategories, and are also divided by the kind of devil fruit ability they have (or may not have, if they haven't eaten a fruit). If the character is also a haki user (haki is One Piece's version of a kind of battle aura), this is also highlighted. All characters have a set of standard attacks, plus a set of special attacks that are far more representative of them. This makes sure that the different characters are recreated well, and with so many characters present it should be possible to find some of your favourites.
The pool of characters is therefore good, but unfortunately there are also several weaknesses here. Some of them are relatively minor, but the biggest problem is that the game struggles with its identity.
Pokkén was perceived as a game that was accessible to most people. Burning Blood is not. The threshold for people who have never followed the series is massive, as there are no introductions to the universe, its characters, or what has happened previously in the story. This is clearly a game intended for the fans. That's fine of course, although hardcore fans will probably find that the content here is a little lacklustre. There is not enough variation, there's too few arenas to fight in, and there is not enough story here to satisfy longtime fans. Moreover, the control system is overly complicated, the training is too rough, and the response time alarmingly high.
The single-player component actually has a story, beginning with the so-called Paramount War (the war that began in Marine Ford). Unfortunately, much of this boils down to: "See some photos that summarise the story in 30 seconds, fight an enemy and repeat". As part of the story is retold from a different character's point of view without adding any further depth, it quickly becomes boring, which the series definitely isn't. The main problem with the single-player, however, is the extreme changes in difficulty. One moment you'll laugh at how easy the game is, the next moment you can spend more than half an hour overcoming a single enemy. It's needlessly frustrating.
Visually the game comes across as uneven. There are some parts of the battle sequences that really look and feel like One Piece, but in between the sequences and in the other parts of the game the same authentic feeling isn't there. Figures appear as if made of plastic and they stand out from their surroundings, something that shouldn't be necessary with the current console generation.
Speaking of characters and appearance: One Piece is known for relatively busty and scantily clad female characters. That's all well and fine, but we found it difficult to accept that it's only the female characters who get their clothes torn and damaged the more they get beat up in the game. Men get away with getting dirty and sweating, while the women lose their clothing. This feels like unnecessary objectification.
One Piece: Burning Blood takes some important steps away from the Pirate Warriors games and give players and fans a more classic fighting game with some new ideas. Much of it works, but there are also some aspects which fail. The game will certainly please some fans, and even more if there are two of you who can play together, but far from everyone will be pleased with the end result.