We loved One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 on the PlayStation 3 like a captain loves his crew, so we've always had high hopes for its sequel, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3. Like most of Omega Force's other musou titles, the third game in this licensed series has made the jump to the new generation, meaning that you can expect more enemies on screen, a smoother framerate, and a sharper resolution.
However, it's safe to say that Pirate Warriors 3 is refinement rather than an evolution of the series. The second game was a massive improvement over the first, and as such, it didn't really have many areas that could truly be expanded upon. Fortunately for Luffy and the gang, their latest escapade still manages to outdo its predecessor, even if it doesn't step out of its comfort zone. Of course, there's nothing necessarily wrong with this approach; Omega Force has always adopted a stance that seems to revolve around the phrase 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it', and we suppose that it has to, given how many releases it tends to churn out every year.
In any case, a lot of effort has still been pumped into Pirate Warriors 3, and that's clear once you get stuck into its lengthy story mode. Following the events of the manga and anime – all the way from the beginning of Luffy's adventure right up until the very latest ongoing storyline – it's the most comprehensive retelling of Eiichiro Oda's creation in video games. Fans will likely love every minute while newcomers may actually be able to use it to familiarise themselves with the events of the source material.
Cutscenes are plentiful, and range from brilliantly done cinematics to text-based exposure. Again, the amount of work that's gone into the mode is impressive, right down to the fact that some of the scenes almost perfectly mimic the anime, but it goes without saying that some of the finer details are left out. Given that One Piece has been running for an astounding 18 years, it's perhaps no surprise, but fans will still no doubt pick out points where the plot takes a few creative liberties.
This is also a result of the title's structure. In typical Warriors fashion, each story arch has been squashed down into separate, singular battles, so you'll generally be introduced to the relevant characters via a cutscene, head into combat, beat up the saga's bad guy, and then watch a concluding cinematic. It's a simple formula, but it's one that gets the job done, allowing the mode to tell a cohesive story that lasts a respectable ten or so hours.
An official story mode is a welcome addition, then, but as hinted, don't bank on any big alterations in the gameplay department. Once again, battlefields are populated by thousands of generic troops, numerous commanding officers, and bases ripe for capturing. It's worth mentioning, though, that this time around the maps are more packed than ever; it's not uncommon to end up with more than 3000 kills by the time that you're done with a stage, so don't expect to find any lulls in the action.
Thankfully, the action itself goes beyond what Pirate Warriors 2 offered. While you'll still be making use of combo chains and devastating special attacks to take out hundreds of opponents at once, newly introduced kizuna attacks add a fresh edge to your arsenal. As with other Warriors titles, you're not alone on the battlefield; computer controlled allies will back you up and fend for themselves, but here they're more involved than they ever have been.
Whichever characters you find yourself fighting alongside, you'll be able to momentarily summon them to take part in your offensive once you've ended a combo. These kizuna attacks come in all shapes and sizes depending on who you've summoned, and they're a great way to rack up some extra damage, especially against stronger enemies such as commanders and bosses. Keep up a steady stream of punishment and you'll eventually be able to hit R2 to activate another new mechanic: the kizuna rush. Not only will your own character temporarily grow in power, but you'll also be able to unleash a team attack so brutal that it can blow away entire armies in one go. It's quite possibly the most bombastic show of force that we've seen in a Warriors release to date.
It's not all about being as flashy as possible, though, as the game's core combat remains as joyous as ever. Thanks in no small part to the downright crazy cast of the source material, the character roster provides hours of entertainment by itself, purely because of how varied and fun each fighter is to use. The diversity on offer sets the bar for Omega Force's products, and with the number of available pirates nearing 40, simply unlocking a new character can be enough to provide a little jolt of excitement. It also helps that there's plenty of room for experimentation in the movesets themselves, as you attempt to string different attacks together and discover the best way to make use of each combatant's versatile R1 technique.
There's more than enough reason to keep brawling, too. Whether it's levelling up your favourite characters or hunting down rare coins – which are now used to upgrade your fighter's abilities further – there's plenty to keep you occupied as you get to know the ins-and-outs of the colourful cast.
Once you're finished with the story, you'll likely be spending most of your time in the all new dream log mode, and while you wouldn't be blamed for thinking that the narrative based missions are the title's main draw, we'd argue that dream log is actually the star of the show. After selecting a character of your choice, you're placed on a grid-like map made of islands. Each island represents a battle, and through conquering them one by one, you'll open up the way to boss islands that play host to yet more unlockable characters.
On paper it sounds pretty straight forward, but in reality, it's surprisingly dynamic. As you beat down your increasingly tough opponents, new events are unlocked which keep things feeling fresh. For example, by beating your second boss, you unlock the appearance of 'wanted' pirates, who'll dart around the islands in a randomised fashion. By tracking them down and entering a brawl on their current island, you'll be able to take them on and be in with a chance of nabbing some exclusive coins. What's more, randomised opponents, allies, and stages, as well as dynamic in-battle events, are all on hand to make dream log one of the best and most replayable additions to an Omega Force title that we've seen in some time.
Sadly, the brilliant dream log only supports local co-op play, which is a bit of a shame given the replay value that it provides. Instead, you'll just have to make do with playing through the story scenarios with a friend or stranger online, but at least the netcode seems like an improvement over Pirate Warriors 2's shaky attempt. That said, the title's archaic matchmaking remains, which, for some reason that's still far beyond our comprehension, separates you from your buddy after every cleared stage, meaning that you'll have to either invite them or rejoin all over again.
As for how the game looks, you'll struggle to find any real flaws in its presentation. Environments are vibrant and varied, character models are lovingly detailed, and everything's pleasingly crisp thanks to Sony's newest machine. Meanwhile, attack animations are superb, and the visual effects that accompany each and every smack to the chops adds a sprinkle of extra satisfaction to the already meaty combat. Without a doubt, it's one of, if not the, most attractive Warriors releases on the market.
Although One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3 doesn't do an awful lot to distance itself from its predecessor, it still manages to refine almost every existing aspect. Kizuna attacks add some extra flavour to combat, the lengthy story mode is as comprehensive as it can be, and dream log is something that we'd love to see incorporated into future musou titles. However, as with the second game, it's the immensely fun and varied character roster that acts as the wind in this ship's sails. Simply put, Luffy and his crew's latest adventure is a joy to play.