As with most musou games based on anime, I don’t know much about the source material, but I absolutely love smacking around hordes of enemies using a colorful assortment of different characters and weapons. And that’s why I’m absolutely head-over-heels in love with One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4. In terms of genre execution, few can match the excitement and enjoyment I experienced in both the admittedly confusing story mode and the so-called “treasure log” campaign. And while I still couldn’t care less about Monkey D. Luffy and his merry band of misfits, I’m rather bummed that I’m sitting here writing about Pirate Warriors 4 instead of, you know, actually playing Pirate Warriors 4. Even with the astronomical number of high-profile releases currently on the horizon across all consoles in the coming months, I have a feeling that the latest One Piece offering will consume a huge chunk of my time. Yes, I am that hooked on it.
But let’s face it: If you’ve never enjoyed musou games, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 won’t change your mind. While it does hammer out some of the lumps and bumps featured in other titles, nobody would ever classify this as a perfect experience. Even with developers Omega Force addressing problems fans have encountered in many other Warriors-style games, Pirate Warriors 4 still offers the same hack-and-slash gameplay with very few innovations to the formula. That said, sticking to what works isn’t necessarily a bad thing; deviating too far from what makes these games so fun would, essentially, destroy everything I love about them. While others may feel differently, I do not want too much innovation in my musou games — I simply want to crush scores of villains in a ridiculous power fantasy involving bizarre characters. I am a cheap date and an easy sell, which ultimately makes me fairly biased. Keep that in mind.
Story-wise, I remained thoroughly confused throughout. While I’m used to anime games crushing me with exposition, characters, and scenarios in an attempt to condense years and years worth of material into brief cut scenes, I felt more confused than ever with Pirate Warriors 4. I have a fairly rudimentary understanding of the One Piece timeline, and outside of the video games, I know next to nothing about Luffy and his companions. And while this confusion never detracted from my enjoyment of Pirate Warriors 4, most people who don’t know a thing about the source material will feel totally bewildered. Even without knowing much about One Piece, I could tell Omega Force had to cut serious corners to make these stories work within the framework of a musou game, and I’m sure longtime fans may take issue with how the developers handled this these arcs. In my case, ignorance is bliss — I’m here for the fights, not the story.
Pirate Warriors 4 definitely doesn’t skimp on the battles. And while this may sound like a fully loaded case of hyperbole, it’s currently one of my favorites musou games of all time. Seriously! Thanks to a solid frame rate and fairly tight, responsive controls, One Piece’s epic confrontations always feel frenetic and engaging. And once you begin your deep dive into the leveling system, which allows you to grow your characters and increase their move sets and equipable skills, the battles become even more outrageous. Watching Luffy lay waste to a gaggle of pirates using one of his patented “gum gum” techniques never gets old, even when you’re forced to watch a very brief cut scene before he delivers some of his more devastating attacks. Some of the characters definitely handle better than others, but most of the heroes and villains I had a chance to experience before penning this review were enjoyable. Except for Usopp. I cannot stand Usopp.
Even when the characters didn’t suit my playstyle, I never once found Pirate Warriors 4 difficult. In fact, like most musou games before it (Hyrule Warriors being one of the few exceptions), you’ll need to crank up the difficulty a bit if you want a real challenge. Although some of the boss battles require a touch of finesse, mostly because of their extra armor and penchant for using attacks that will knock you back several feet, the vast majority of your foes won’t pose a threat whatsoever. Even when a base leader emerges to prevent you from taking control of a specific area, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll walk away from the battle with more than a few minor cuts and bruises. And given the frequency of healing items and different power-ups to appear on the maps, you won’t spend too long worrying about your health. This makes for a nice, casual experience, which some people may not find enjoyable in the slightest. Again, if you want a real challenge, don’t hesitate to increase that difficulty, especially once you delve into the game’s robust leveling system.
As much as I thoroughly enjoyed my time with One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4, I did find one particular enemy almost impossible to overcome: the camera. For whatever reason, Omega Force decided to let the camera have a mind of its very own. Instead of following the character you’re controlling, it tends to stay put, regardless of the insanity unfolding at the time. Even when you lock on to the more powerful enemies, you’ll discover that the camera doesn’t always want to tag along. Instead, it just sits there, allowing the boss to move behind the camera and out of your line of sight. Fortunately, you can hit a button to re-center the camera, a feature that will quickly become your best friend. In fact, you may discover that you’re spending more time getting to know that button than any of the others. In a game that’s 99.9 percent action, why the developers didn’t spend more time refining that camera boggles the mind. While it’s not a deal-breaker by any means — unless you absolutely detest unwieldy cameras, of course — it may take your brain a moment to realize that, no, the camera is most definitely not your ally. It’s literally worse than Usopp.
Alas, a miserable, unruly, and uncooperative camera cannot dampen the unbridled merriment I experienced during my time with One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4. Even though I often got lost in the mountains of exposition, and although I spent a lot of time wondering why these characters seemed to cry at the drop of a pirate hat, I still enjoyed the story — as much as I could, anyway. However, if you couldn’t give two tosses about the narrative and want some top-notch musou tomfoolery to keep you busy for dozens of hours, Pirate Warriors 4 has you covered. With so many post-campaign missions to complete and characters to max out, you can put as much (or as little) as you want into the game and still walk away with a wonderful case of pure gaming satisfaction. Just don’t ask me to explain the story.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game. A copy was provided by Bandai Namco.
Although it's incredibly easy and features one of the most stubborn cameras in recent memory, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is quite possibly one of the best Warriors-style experiences you'll have on modern consoles. It's slick, fast-paced, and weirdly charming, even if you don't know your Luffys from your Crocodiles.