The Japanese mega-hit anime/manga One Piece once again lands on Playstation 3, this time with the latest installment in the Unlimited series. Unlike the pure brawling action of the Pirate Warriors series, Unlimited World Red emphasizes the beloved adventuring of the source material, featuring the Straw Hat pirate crew exploring distant lands and collecting materials and crafts alongside combat. With new characters designed by series creator Eiichiro Oda, Unlimited World Red’s resume is off to a great start…but alas, some head scratching flaws and downgrades render the game appealing only to hardcore One Piece fans.
As if the World Government didn’t have enough on their hands, the legendary pirate Redfield has resurfaced! He wastes no time in attacking Marine forces, but why do his companions sport some familiar faces? Meanwhile, the Straw Hat Pirates–the series protagonists–accompany a tanuki named Pato to “the Island of Promises,” but is the talking critter all that he seems?
Anyone who’s intimately familiar with the term “anime filler” should know what to expect: nothing special. While Redfield and Pato fit in with the Straw Hat crew just fine and–to their credit–have some genuinely touching scenes by the game’s end, the story just can’t lift a candle to Oda’s hard-hitting original themes. The after-school special themes of “it’s never too late to give up” simply don’t gel with One Piece and it even clumsily enforces plot twists just for the sake of plot twists. For what it is, it’s still tolerable, but don’t expect to be blown away.
With cel-shading being the go-to presentation for anime-based video games, it’s no surprise Unlimited World Red heads down the same path. The characters are true to Oda’s overly-cartoonish artstyle: full of exaggerated body proportions, hilarious facial expressions and bright colors everywhere. Any fan can tell it’s also a good sign when the new Oda-designed characters fit right in.
But that’s just the characters. Developer Ganbarion has always struggled with graphical presentation in just about every other area, and Unlimited World Red is not exempt from this. Embarrassing Nintendo 64-levels of draw distance “pop-up” effects are a common sight, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say environmental textures and models would feel right at home in the early PS2 era. If only the same care given to character animation was shared across the board.
Unlimited World Red introduces Transtown (before you ask, no, it’s not home to the gender-ambiguous “okama” of the series), a budding port town that serves as the game’s hub. In exchange for free lodging, the Straw Hats are roped into a material-gathering scheme to help the town expand. As the pirates discover gold and nab loot from their adventures, they’re able to contribute their hard-earned materials for crafting new tools, pay off construction for new facilities, and even contribute to the local museum.
Home to disposable mini-games and infrequent music transitions, completionists might still find some worth in Transtown. Of particular note are with the numerous expedition/mission requests; with DLC thrown into the mix, hunting treasure and tracking down familiar outlaws can keep players busy. Having Luffy’s Gum-Gum Rocket as an interactive quick-jump is also a fun–and much appreciated–touch.
By far the most disappointing aspect of the game is how Unlimited World Red has stripped down the series’ core element: exploration. Whereas in earlier games it was fun to get lost in exotic jungles and caverns, areas are stripped down here to a more linear model. Progression comes packaged with all the excitement of exploring your nearest hallway, and so the novelty of revisiting fan-favorite locales such as Alabasta and Marineford is rendered rather dull.
This isn’t so bad in the aforementioned mission requests since the streamlined level design eases their progress, but it comes across as cookie-cutter and lazy in the actual campaign. Even worse, those interested in collecting materials and insects and the like will find the process to be a laborious, tedious process, as it just consists of revisiting the same flat planes over and over. So rarely does the game apply any twists on level design (such as Skypiea’s maze-like jungle) that it makes the player wonder why they even bothered.
Even the unique actions for each crew member feel superfluous; for example, crew archaeologist Robin could once decipher hieroglyphics for clues, yet the equivalent action here grants the player a coconut (wait, what?).
“Clunky” is appropriate for describing Unlimited World Red’s combat. Combat in earlier games ran smooth as butter, yet Unlimited World Red is rather sluggish in comparison. Excluding the gauge-consuming special moves, attacks barely feel like they’re landing on enemy characters and it takes forever for many of ‘em to keel over.
It’s not totally throwaway, though. Fighting side-by-side with fellow crew members provides for a somewhat engaging experience, and there are some undeniably cool maneuvers characters can pull off; in particular, fans should get a nice kick out of how Cyborg Franky’s carpenter skills are put to use in the heat of battle, and witnessing Brook’s hypnotic musician skills is always a delightful sight.
Based off the current Dressrosa story arc in the original series, the Straw Hats–along with fellow pirate Trafalgar Law–enter Donquixite Doflamingo’s Coliseum tournament in hopes of winning whatever mystery prize the warlord has in store. Anyone who’s familiar with the series should know Doflamingo is not the type to hand over anything so easily, and rumor has it he’s pulling some strings with his Marine contacts…
Unfortunately, while the Coliseum is a decent diversion via solo and multiplayer, there just isn’t enough variety for the player to chew on. Fights often boil down to one-on-one duels or fending off mobs, and while the original story involves recent new characters, its predictably struggles to maintain further interest. Its saving grace are the unlockable promises of fan-favorite characters (including Ace, Jimbei, and Crocodile), yet one can’t help but feel their potential is wasted here.
True to the anime, Unlimited World Red utilizes classical-style music to express the romance of adventure. While there are a couple of stellar tunes expressing the grandeur of The Grand Line’s imaginative locations (such as the sand kingdom Alabasta and the floating islands/jungles of Skypiea), much of the music comes across as overly typical classicism or just simply misplaced. Fans who remember the daunting government facility Enies Lobby will be perplexed as to why its accompanying score would suit a walk in the park, and it’s a shame how woefully inadequate the song for the ravaged Marineford is.
Thankfully, the immaculate, ever-present Japanese voice cast from the anime step in for their roles. If you’ve watched the show in its native language, you understand what they’re capable of, and therefore know they’re practically perfect at what they do. Redfield and Pato are provided some nice pipes as well, although in the end I wished I could have seen their full potential in Oda’s hands.
Unlimited World Adventure is a decent diversion for One Piece fans, yet its half-baked features are too jarring to overlook. While fun can still be mined from the title regardless, it's a shame the title is so stripped down from what made the series fun. Only hardcore One Piece fans should give it a look.
- Great character animation; models are true to Oda’s art
- Cool new characters
- Transtown provides some fulfilling sidequest material
- Focus on linearity renders general gameplay tedious
- Combat feels clunky
- Poor graphical presentation aside from character models
- Coliseum feels throwaway
- Uninspired, clumsy music score
By the way, the new Zou arc in the manga is just incredible. Those cat gags get me every time.