Review: One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is a mixed bag of fun adventures

Come aboard and beat up thousands of enemies with insane pirate powers.

Image via Bandai Namco

One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is the next installment in the popular crossover series that mixes the legendary anime and manga franchise with the gameplay of Dynasty Warriors, letting players control their favorite characters from that world and rampage through parts of the story. 

And while many people don’t find beating up thousands of enemies over and over again in different locations to be fun, Pirate Warriors has always done a good job in trying to add some innovative gameplay into the tried and true musou style. 

While the fourth game in the series does cut a few corners now and again, it still provides fans of both One Piece and Dynasty Warriors a few new mechanics to sink their battle-hungry teeth into, including a revamped special move system and the addition of air combos. 

It also has the largest playable roster of any game in the Pirate Warriors series, providing 40 characters that can be unlocked and used to pummel enemy pirates, marines, and other factions on their journey through the seas. 

One Sky Walk from Romance Dawn

Vanquish

The Pirate Warriors games have always tackled the One Piece story in unique ways, from the very straightforward story of the original title to a completely non-canon adventure crafted for Pirate Warriors 2. But some longtime fans of both the original material and older games might be disappointed to discover that Pirate Warriors 4 does not cover the entire story from start to finish. 

Instead, it jumps between key arcs and provides some flashback cutscenes to recap what is not playable in-game. This is a big bummer considering Pirate Warriors 3 let players experience the start of Luffy’s journey all the way through Dressrosa in a faithful retelling with very little compromise. 

Pirate Warriors 4 instead focuses on six main points in the plot, starting with Alabasta and then stopping at Enies Lobby (Water 7), the Paramount War, Dressrosa, and Whole Cake Island before pulling a Pirate Warriors 3 and giving players a non-canon finale to the Wano Arc.

This was partially expected since One Piece is such a lengthy story to cover and the fourth installment of this franchise spans into the Wano Arc, which is currently on-going in the anime and manga, but it is still a little sad to see some of the story cut from the game. 

However, what story is displayed comes in the form of storybook-style flashbacks, still imagery, in-engine cutscenes, and fully remade CG displays of some of the most epic moments from the series. Omega Force did a solid job making the world come to life once more in this game, with incredible music and visuals—which is also helped along by the entire game being fully voiced by the original Japanese cast.

If you just play the Dramatic Log and don’t focus on anything but the main story, you can probably finish the entire game in under 15 hours, with plenty of replayability available through the other modes and online play. 

Part of the Crew

Each chapter throughout the main Dramatic Log story will provide you various options for which character you want to play, though the selection is much more heavily curated than in previous games. This isn’t a bad thing, but you won’t be allowed to dive into as many missions focusing around the Strawhat Pirates using someone like Marco the Phoenix. 

But while it feels a bit more restrictive, the leveling system has been heavily reworked and allows players to use more characters than before without the need to level each of them up individually. This is one of the best changes to happen, given that in previous games, you would have to spend Berries (the One Piece world’s currency) just to play as a character at higher levels. 

You will need to unlock characters by completing specific missions within the Dramatic Log, while others will only be available once you clear certain conditions in other missions or finish Treasure Log challenges. In order to get all 40 characters, you need to master some levels and collect a lot of coins, but it doesn’t feel like a chore since you can play each level as any character in your arsenal once you enter the Free Log. 

And with all of those characters, you might want to bring along a buddy to smash enemies with you. 

Couch co-op is back, letting you play with a friend in person on the same console. Or if you would rather play online with someone, that option is there too, and it works better than the previous game’s online option. Some levels even allow you to play with four players through online play, giving each mission specific objectives that are only available when playing with a full party. 

Mastering Your Haki

Becoming a master in musou games is actually a lot harder than you would think, since on the outside it looks like just a bunch of button mashing and simple combos. But Pirate Warriors adds some new mechanics that fundamentally change how you have to approach each character in the roster. 

The biggest change to gameplay is the addition of an air-combo, which lets any character leap into the skies and change up their attacks to either juggle enemies, perform new special moves, or avoid attacks by simply jumping. There are even characters like Sanji and Crocodile that are basically made for aerial combat, being able to use more moves in the sky while also dragging others into the air with them. 

Special moves have also now been mapped to the R1 button instead of just being slapped on the end of some difficult combos. Each character can have four special moves equipped at once, and as you upgrade a character’s stats by applying coins earned from each battle to their personal Stat Map, you will unlock more abilities to choose from. 

For example, Luffy can use his Gum Gum Bazooka without a combo if you build up his special move enough. This does however completely replace the complicated yet epic Kizuna system, which allowed you to combo special moves with other characters in your alliance. 

All of these changes have made the already fast gameplay even faster, letting players chain combos together seamlessly in the air or on the ground before finishing with up to four special moves in a row. But be warned, some of the aerial controls are pretty messy and might lead you to losing a combo if you try to adjust the camera. 

And the fact that the individual map system to upgrade characters has made leveling up your roster simple and painless is just a bonus to the combat changes. Though the complicated map layouts and lack of notice brought to sub-missions might drive you a little insane when going through the longer missions. 

Final Thoughts

One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is an incredibly fun ride that has simplified the combat and improved upon most of the systems other systems that the franchise is known for. There are still some major flaws within the gameplay, like the aerial controls and a few characters feeling extremely weak compared to most of the roster (looking at you Bartolomeo), but it is more of what most fans wanted after five years away from the franchise. 

The lack of a full story leaves the Dramatic Log feeling a bit empty, but once you hit the New World content, specifically Whole Cake island, the game really shines in its new mechanics and focus on a smaller number of story arcs. Gameplay might still get a little repetitive, but switching characters can spice things up during longer play sessions. 

If you are a fan of musou games or One Piece and are okay with skipping around the story, this game is going to give you hours of mindless, beat-em-up fun, with very little need for grinding money and coins constantly like in the older games. And with DLC characters being added later in the year, this game should provide even more fun down the Grand Line.

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