One Piece: Burning Blood
PS4, Xbox One, PS Vita
Shounen manga and I have a contentious relationship. While I’m partial to a bit of Dragonball, other titles like Fairy Tail and Naruto that are seemingly hell bent on avoiding closure have never grabbed my attention. Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece is one of the current genre standouts, having amassed over 700 anime episodes and a slew of video game adaptations, the latest of which is Spike Chunsoft’s One Piece: Burning Blood, published by Bandai Namco.
From the ground up, One Piece: Burning Blood is a brawling game designed for dedicated One Piece fans. That’s not to say that there aren’t elements I can appreciate, but as someone with literally zero knowledge of the world or characters, there is a pervasive sense that players should simply be getting a kick out of reliving the key story beats and taking control of the vast roster of main and support characters.
Burning Blood initially comes across as fairly meagre in terms of content, with only a few modes accessible until the completion of Luffy’s Chapter in the Paramount War Mode which acts as the single player story campaign, using cutscenes and narrated still-frames to further the plot around the player controlled battle sections. Once completed, not only do more character chapters become available (up to a total of four) but the Online Versus and Pirate Flag Battle modes will unlock on the main menu. While the Online mode is self-explanatory, Pirate Flag Battle is slightly more interesting as an asynchronous, seasonal mode that sees players joining the Straw Hat Crew or another pirate outfit and battling for dominion over the world of One Piece against both AI and other players. Unfortunately, during my time with this online portion of Burning Blood, the player pool seemed fairly low, making it difficult to find opponents. It seems as though the devs had the foresight to plan for such an occurrence and give the option to face AI instead. While this might frustrate players who would prefer real world opposition, to someone as inept at brawlers as myself some of these battles proved trying.
That’s not to say that Burning Blood is overly difficult, but the way it goes about teaching combat controls is needlessly confusing. Rather than outline the button that equates to an action, the game instead refers to actions directly – a statement like ‘Press Unique to unleash a ranged attack!’ makes little sense without further context. These initial tutorials take place during the early stages of Luffy’s Paramount War chapter with more advanced sets available in the Wanted Mode which also features static and rotating scenarios that challenge players to defeat opponents under certain conditions with set characters. As unlocking extra characters can get quite expensive, expect to spend a lot of time in Wanted Mode grinding for Beli, the main currency in One Piece. It IS possible to unlock some characters in the Paramount War mode by meeting objectives on certain levels to unlock a special EX Chapter. These levels are similar to challenges in Wanted Mode and force the use of a specific character. By beating an EX Chapter, the character in question becomes unlocked in the roster which is a welcome addition given the steep prices of character unlocks and the breadth of the roster itself.
Sadly, the core combat system of Burning Blood is fairly shallow with the wide variety of characters let down by limited move sets resulting in a brawler aimed at a more casual market rather than more serious fighting game fans who would appreciate a higher degree of depth and balancing. After some research, the consensus amongst One Piece fans seems to be that Burning Blood puts the source material ahead of game balance, meaning that while character attacks and movements are faithful to the anime, characters who are overpowered in the story are similarly overpowered here. To make matters worse, at many points during the story mode it feels as if Burning Blood is scaling opponent difficulty on the fly, with enemy AI ranging between fairly placid to stupidly cheap and attack power sliding similarly. This is especially true in chapters which require you to simply survive for a set period of time rather than beat the opponent. To compound difficulties, the arenas in Burning Blood are fairly large which puts characters who lack long-range attacks at a significant disadvantage. Indeed, I spectated more than one online match which eventually devolved into one player pummelling another in a corner from a distance, repeating the same moves ad-nauseum.
One area I have to applaud Spike Chunsoft on is their stellar presentation that again stays faithful to the source material, with characters visualised in such a way that they don’t look super deformed in the jump to 3D. It is no easy feat to move 2D characters into a three-dimensional space and Spike Chunsoft have done an admirable job of it, even going so far as to incorporate a cross hatching effect which, when overlayed onto cel-shaded characters, gives a fantastic ‘manga’ look & feel to the visuals. Audio is of a similar high quality, with the Japanese voice-over, music and sound effects rounding out a package that is very aesthetically pleasing.
Overall, One Piece: Burning Blood is a competent entry in the brawler genre that will appeal most to serious fans of the long-running series who are likely to see issues of balance as a positive move to stay in line with One Piece canon whilst enjoying the great aesthetic work Spike Chunsoft have put in. For anyone like myself who isn’t already invested in the adventures of Luffy and the Straw Hat Pirates, Burning Blood’s gameplay flaws prevent it from being a worthwhile investment.