One MORE Piece.
It can only be assumed that to most Americans, and most gamers at that, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 is one condensed power punch of culture shock. Is there anything else that's more representative of what Japanese people deem to be popular? It's based off Shonen Jump's One Piece, a Japanese animation that started 16 years ago and is still going strong in both manga and anime episodes. It's also based off the same engine that runs Dynasty Warriors, which has more installments than I care to list. Combine one of the most popular video game franchises in Japan with one of the most popular mangas in Japan (even more popular than Dragon Ball Z), and you can see why the original One Piece: Pirate Warriors did so well and why, thus, this sequel exists.
But even if that's answers how One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 came to be, that won't answer how bonkers the game will be to the uninitiated. Two friends of mine, fellow GR writer Jessica Vazquez included, walked passed my television screen while I played and stood mesmerized in confusion at what the hell was happening in front of them. I imagine that all the bright colors and overly enthusiastic Japanese voice-acting have something to do with it, but the world of One Piece is crazy enough to make people stare in dumbfounded awe. If I had not been introduced to One Piece by my cousin from Hong Kong when I was a teenager, I would have had my jaw agape too.
At its core, the animation follows a band of unlikely pirates, many gifted with powers by way of eating devil fruit, who must battle against marines and other buccaneers for the titular treasure One Piece. The main character Monkey D. Luffy has the power of being entirely stretchable like rubber (which helps in bed, I suppose), and the rest of his motley crew tends to have similar powers as well. Since the first Pirate Warriors title essentially covered the primary arcs of the manga, this sequel explores an original, what-if scenario involving the "Mad Dial," which emits poisonous purple fog that evilly turns anyone caught within it. As you might suspect, the story begins with nearly everyone in Monkey's crew turned by the fog and you spend the rest of the game beating them senseless out of sadistic pleasure to cure them.
One Piece fans will appreciate the audio-visual presentation, with the expressive Japanese voice-acting and the lush, vividly colored settings that put the usual Dynasty Warriors battlefields to shame. The soundtrack has an wildly upbeat, jazzy flavor that matches the animation well, which meant I turned it off for the sake of my sanity, but I'm sure other players will be able to tolerate, if not enjoy it.
Anyone familiar with the first title or the musuo genre in general will know what to expect: run around the wide environment, find the attack string that clears out the most enemies the fastest, follow the objectives whether it is to capture bases or defeat mini-bosses, and then finish off the final boss to end the stage. Just to mix up the combat, you can use a special attack and a character-specific attack when the opportunity presents itself, and if you're caught in a particularly tough fight, you can use your style attack to lay on the offense. That is to say that boss fights encourage the usual tactics, especially when bosses can sometimes only be hurt by special attacks. In other words, combat is fairly derivative, and if you start getting low on health or anything else, there's plenty of healing items inside treasure chests strewn about the field.
Luckily, Pirate Warriors 2 adds several elements to the combat that prevent it from becoming too boring. If you damage enough enemies after using the style gauge, you can call in a partner, much like an assist in Marvel vs. Capcom, and you can temporarily play as that character to extend the combo and throw in an additional super attack. Dashing will also cancel any attack chain so that you can recover instantly and start another chain, allowing you to attack continuously and generously.
Standard progression, by earning experience and leveling up your character's stats, is finely supported by both the style partner system and collectible coins. Partners will earn experience along with you, granting them better synergy bonuses, while coins collected on the battlefield can be placed in slots to increase the stats of your character. Coins are also used to fill spaces on Special Notes, or 3×3 bingo cards, where any bingo grants you perks that you can equip before heading into battle. There's an incredible amount of unlockable coins earned by satisfying secret objectives during missions, completing crew missions, and achieving the highest "S" rank on every stage, so the replay value will be there for fans to collect them all.
The multiplayer component, unlocked by completing the first two prologue section, is fairly enjoyable and makes completing stages that much easier. There's even an SOS system where you can call upon online players to play cooperatively with you before heading into a mission. Unfortunately, not all of the characters are available at the start and so your favorite character most likely will be unplayable until you sludge through the single-player campaign. It's also difficult to earn the highest 'S' rank in multiplayer since it splits the K.O. count between the two players.
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 could have been a cheap cash-in of a sequel, not far from the assumption one would make of a re-skinned promotional product, but it's actually better than the majority of titles in the main Dynasty Warriors series. Despite the repetitive nature of the combat, characteristic of the musuo genre, it adds enough improvements to the formula to make it passably digestible. (Now only if they could do the same thing with Sailor Moon…)