The Pirate Life Ain’t For Everyone – One Piece: Burning Blood Review

Posted June 13, 2016 by Jeremy Winslow in Video Games

Developer: Spike Chunsoft

Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment

Release Date: May 31st, 2016

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One (Reviewed)

Ace is about to be executed by the Marines when the Whitebeard Pirates (in cohorts with the Straw Hat Pirates) burst onto the scaffold to save his lethargic self. Incapacitated by his sullen demeanor, Ace kneels in acceptance of his demise by Sengoku and the Marines; Luffy pushes himself to the limit, risking life (not limb, since Luffy is made of rubber thanks to the Gum Gum Fruit) to save his brother, Ace. After several fights, Luffy and Whitebeard and Co. manage to save Ace, even if doing so cost thousands of Marine and Pirate lives. As Ace and Luffy attempt to escape the burgeoning war, the brothers are stopped by Marine heavyweights Aokiji, Akainu, and Kizaru. Fighting them one by one, Ace and Luffy manage to create enough distance; Akainu, adamant about ending the brothers’ lives, aggressively hunts them like a shark. Aokiji blocks their path once more, issuing another battle. After about fifteen tries—and an incessant desire to throw my controller through my damn TV—I finally beat Aokiji. By luck, not by skill. And, unfortunately, all of One Piece: Burning Blood feels more serendipitous than skill based.

As you may have gathered, the narrative of One Piece: Burning Blood is the series’ most impressive and emotional storyline, The Paramount War (or The Marineford Arc). Following Luffy’s failed attempt to save his brother, Ace, you play through a variety of battles that take place during this pivotal time in Luffy’s life. Through four episodes or perspectives of the war—Luffy, Whitebeard, Akainu, and Ace—you see how each crucial fight happened through that person’s eyes. This means you end up replaying battles, just on the other side. For example, during Luffy’s episode, you fight Akainu a handful of times, in one particular location; during Akainu’s episode, you fight Luffy a handful of times, in the same location as Luffy’s episode. This can become repetitive, as you’ll redo battles not by choice, but because you’re simply playing another episode. Furthermore, the narrative itself is incoherent—unless you’re a One Piece fan. Because The Paramount War doesn’t happen until about 500 episodes into the anime—and Burning Blood doesn’t fill in any gaps—the narrative becomes lost, devoid of any emotional attachment or interest. And since it’s concise at approximately four hours long, the game’s narrative is far too simplified to be as engaging as its anime counterpart. In short, the Campaign Mode is too convoluted for non-One Piece fans and too dumbed-down for One Piece fans.

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The combat doesn’t fair much better. Taking cues from games like the lackluster J Stars Victory + and the ever-popular Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm series (going so far as to use the same three-quarters camera view), One Piece: Burning Blood takes it’s commendable and unique rooster of characters and throws them in an arena in 1v1 all the way up to 9v9 bouts to battle each other (for pirate supremacy). Sadly, while the game boasts an impressive rooster of 44+ playable characters, the fighting mechanics are far too clunky for the otherwise different and remarkable characters. Each character retains their signature style, but the controls hinder the abilities of the Logia and Haki users; some characters are more conducive to combos than other characters, and some characters are completely incapable of doing any damage to other characters. Though there are combos, Burning Blood divulges to a button-masher, as you rely on pressing a single button to complete combos; any attempt to create combos a la Tekken or a Platinum game will leave you disappointed, as there is no amalgam of light and heavy attacks. Furthermore, specials moves require two or three buttons to be pressed at a time, which is awkward and difficult to pull off in almost all instances. As glorious as it is to control one of the many One Piece characters, doing so in such a restrictive manner is reductive, simplifying them down to mere brawlers rather than the powerful entities that they are.

Burning Blood takes you to a handful of familiar One Piece locations. Regrettably, these locations are far too expansive for the confined area where the fights initially take place; rarely do you ever use the entire area. As you finish a combo with either the combo’s dedicated finisher or interrupt the combo with a special move—which is difficult to pull off because each character has their own way of doing this, and some can’t do it at all—the opponent will be launched across the arena. This causes you to saunter after your opponent like some game of tag. Because there is no sprint, this meager plodding feels like it takes forever (though it’s really only a few seconds), disrupting the flow of the battle. Each character has a special dash ability they can perform, allowing you to get closer to the opponent, but not every character’s is as effective as others, resulting in this imbalance in design. This imbalance is further exacerbated by damage output, easier combo execution, and longer combo strings and special move integration.

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The varied locations themselves, though, are stunning. In fact, Burning Blood is gorgeous. Delivered in a cel-shaded art style, Burning Blood effectively recreates iconic scenes from the anime. Everything is vibrant and richly detailed, popping with vivid colors. Scenes look dense and chaotic, just as they would in the anime. Characters are designed accurately to represent its source material. Animations—such as flames and explosions and the like—look as if they’ve been lifted directly from the anime’s scenes. Again, the locations are varied, with each arena bearing its own idiosyncrasies. Furthermore, the locations are destructible, adding a bit of depth to the fight: sending an opponent crashing through a few buildings has a certain satisfaction to it thanks to the camera angle, the smoke (or dirt) trailing, and the loud crash that follows. Burning Blood absolutely stays true to its source material, ensuring to capture that frenetic energy and crazed appeal One Piece is known for.

Unfortunately, AI is inconsistent. See, during battles, you control your party while the opponent is controlled by AI. (As you may have imagined.) Some enemies during the campaign are incompetent, allowing you to spam the same moves without them either blocking, dodging, or attempting to disrupt your ferocious onslaught. This is fine, until a difficulty spike unexpectedly occurs. This sees AI not only skillful, but masterful at combat. The challenge is welcomed, until you realize that more than half of your health is gone in one, unblockable hit. Challenge is one thing, but cheap, unblockable hits that deal more than half health is another. These difficulty spikes show themselves at random, with a majority of the game on what seems to be “super-mega-ultra easy mode,” and select fights being almost impossible. It is in these seemingly impossible fights do you win by serendipity, not skill. Regardless of how well you play, you just wind up getting lucky: perhaps you were able to execute enough combos before you were hit; perhaps the enemy decided not to block the entire round; perhaps you were able to counter their move just before you were finished. Whatever the case, winning fights never feels truly rewarding. And the game does a poor job at ingraining mechanics; sure, text prompts and basic tutorials run the gamut of how to operate the game, but the moves list doesn’t convey its information effectively, and there isn’t a dedicated Training Mode.

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Since it’s a fighting game, there is an Online Mode. This online mode, though, is atrocious. Plagued with connectivity issues, long wait times, and too frequent frame rate drops, playing online is truthfully horrendous. Selecting from Ranked or Unranked matches, you are then thrown into a 3v3 (or whatever you queue up for) fight against another player. Assembling your badass pirate team is titillating, but waiting to find a match takes far too long, and waiting for the connection to be good enough after selecting your team takes even longer. Once you do manage to connect, playing the match is terrible: incessant interruptions by “Connecting…” messages, severe lag and poor latency, dips in frame rate, and a sense of lacking control inhibits the experience. Eventually, the match with disconnect, and you’ll be thankful it did, whether you were doing good or not. There is also a Free Mode and a Waned Versus Mode. Free Mode is exactly what it sounds like: Versus Mode where you get to set the rules, select the stage, pick your team, and go against the AI or a friend in local multiplayer. (Par for the course.) Wanted Versus Mode is a challenge mode that sees you fighting specific people for bounties. (The higher the grade, the higher the score, the higher the bounty awarded.) Neither of these modes, however, are worth playing after you’ve experienced the Campaign Mode; there isn’t enough diversity to elicit playing through it.

And, unfortunately, that sums up One Piece: Burning Blood. After the Campaign has been completed, there’s no real reason to go back and play the other modes. Wanted Versus Mode is an enticing idea, but with the limited number of maps and the difficult spikes happening at random, convincing yourself to beat your score is difficult to do. Unless you have a friend over, Free Mode is far too insipid to play alone. And while Campaign Mode has a few extra battles—providing you complete the additional battle objective, which isn’t always explicitly stated—there’s no reason to play through it again. Although it takes inspiration from what the Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm games have done, Burning Blood neither commits enough to its premise nor offers enough differing ideas. They say a captain should go down with their. Well, this ship is sinking (maybe it’s already sunk?) and I wonder where the captain is.

About the Author

Jeremy Winslow

Just a word smithing, coffee loving, vinyl collecting, anime watching, film viewing, video game playing Black guy.