Ye’ve been plundered.
As I am the resident ninja here, you might expect me to loathe pirates – and you would be half-right. I’ve never been fond of snarling, swashbuckling, smelly seamen, but then again, I was brought up watching the animated Peter Pan and the Robin Williams powwow, Hook. Consider my youth Disney-fied: “Me think-a pirate is bads-guy.” Of course, being brought on board by the self-proclaimed captain of the ol’-mighty and merciless ship known as GR, I have come to learn the more admirable ways of the funnier, haughtier, and drunker pirate. Yeah, this is a ninja-friendly pirate ship… who knew?
[image1]Which brings me to One Piece: Unlimited Adventure. I was caught off guard – not good for a ninja. Out of all the animé that I watch, One Piece is one of the spare few that I know little about, apart from that my Hong Kong cousin has watched every episode so far, and it’s solidly in the top five (if not currently the most popular) animé in Japan of all time. So go ahead and call me oblivious. I just gravitate towards animé that don’t go longer than
26 50 150 300 episodes.
As if to match the length of its original source, One Piece: Unlimited Adventure expands its predecessor, a 3D side-view fighter aptly named One Piece: Grand Adventure, into a full-blown beat-‘em-up island adventure. Fans of brawlers galore, don’t fret; there’s a Vs. mode just for you scallywags – but be assured, most of the time you will be slapping (how-did-they-get-here?) navy brats from one end of the island to the other.
Captain Monkey D. Luffy, the leader of the Straw Hat Pirates, finds yet another strange trinket, a dark crystal orb, which suddenly capsizes his ship (oh no’s!) and strands him and his seven crewmates on an island that rises from the ocean depths (oh yes?). The lurking mystery of the orb’s origins aside, the ever-present prospect of hidden treasure beckons Luffy to scour the island for adventure.
At first glance, the art style sets itself apart from the cel-shaded graphics normally inspired by anime. Like a cross between Rurouni Kenshin and Dragonball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi, Eiichiro Oda’s characters have exaggerated features and thin bodies, allowing their personalities to rest on their sleeves – and none of that is lost here. Detailed and colorful environments, whether they are a rocky seashore, a leafy jungle, or ruins covered in autumn leaves, invite you to explore them and are complemented by an equally fine orchestral score.
[image2]Reminiscent of Dragon Quest VIII, each level is open-ended, at least at the beginning. Luffy begins by landing in the center of the island, which acts as the camping ground, where health and stamina can be recovered and where new items and weapons can be forged, as well as a hub to every other zone. From there, he has to search high and low for his friends – which all happens in the first two hours or so – but not before he realizes that the mysterious orb is the key in unlocking each new area. Round things that glow and sparkle do that.
Battling is also a butt-kickin’ blast. At specific places on the map, a gaggle of rogue pirates and marines pop out, surround you, and helplessly swing their swords about Luffy – or whoever you choose on the fly from the other seven characters in the gang. Nothing can really save them, though, from becoming screaming punching bags from your white-knuckle attacks. The only severe flaw that undercuts the frantic in-your-face brawling is that though you can dodge, you can’t block. It’s not much of an issue, given all the healing items and having eight characters at your disposal. But as the difficulty ramps up and especially during boss battles, you can often be knocked down and have no choice but to take extra damage just because you can’t get out of the way in time.
Oh, and just a word about Roronoa Zoro: Any swordsman who can wield a katana in each hand and a third katana in his mouth and can conjure reality-defying illusions spirited from the deities of Hinduism is so badass that it needed to be bolded and italicized.
Starting at square one, all of your characters start only with one simple strike and must continually use their attacks to learn new ones, which progressively utilize the Wii-mote and nunchuk. Maxing out each of your characters is purely a matter of gruntwork and building a safety net, as getting through the majority of the game only needs about three strong characters. In fact, some characters have weak movelists that have either low strength or an incredibly short range.
[image3]Unfortunately, the free-roaming adventure quickly descends into a linear and repetitive scavenger hunt, mainly stemming from one egregious flaw: item requirements. Feeding energy into the orb by sacrificing items is not enough; certain checkpoints require you to hold specific items in your possession before advancing to the next area. You can have a party that can annihilate the boss right beyond the checkpoint in one fell swoop, but for want of two antidote potions, you can’t get there.
This is when backtracking becomes your worst enemy. Let’s just take these two antidote potions as an example. First off, the checkpoint doesn’t reveal to you want you need to advance. Your only hint is a cryptic clue, if just the silhouette of the blacked-out item itself. Hmm… a test tube? Then you have to walk through the entire level – even through the ones you’ve already completed – just to make sure you didn’t miss something… like a bug. I’m not kidding. It’s one thing to make fishing and bug-hunting an optional side-quest, but it’s quite another to turn an otherwise epic treasure hunt into a tedious, drawn-out search for a needle in a haystack – and you don’t even know where the haystack is.
On top of that, some items require you to have assembled some forging equipment and acquired the ingredients to form them, which forces you to run through each level yet again. Where’s that clay? So if you happen to miss one little ‘X’ on the ground, you’re likely to be as screwed as Marion Jones’s career. Saving, of all things, can also only be done in camp, which means backtracking some more and having to trek back to the checkpoint if you ever die.
[image4]Worse yet, as you’re dragging your feet back and forth, you begin to see how linear and preset everything is. Where that’s damn clay?! Enemy groups always appear at exact locations and with the same number and type of enemy units. Items and materials always reappear in the same place, and there are usually only two paths you can take through every map. Not being able to recover stamina, even when you’re standing still, also prevents you from dashing across places you’ve been to more times than a porn site.
Oh, and water kills you. Yes, it makes sense in the anime, as the characters who have eaten the Devil Fruit for its power (Luffy gains the Mr. Fantastic ability to stretch his body) also reap the unusual curse of not being able to swim. Still, not only are there characters in your group that haven’t eaten the Devil Fruit, but this makes platforming on lilly pads absurdly difficult. I guess you really shouldn’t swim right after you eat.
Like most anime-based titles, One Piece: Unlimited Adventure is the case of the ifs. If you’re a One Piece fan through and through, and if you don’t mind the slow grind of finding items as long as the action is fast and furious, then this is booty in your video game treasure trove. But as much as there is enough swashbuckling to make you a badass pirate, there is just as much to make you a grubby landlubber.