One Piece Burning Blood is the first One Piece fighting game to be released in the west. It’s not Spike Chunsoft’s first time developing a Shonen Jump fighting game either, with them working on J-Stars Victory VS+. But this is far from just a rehash of the J-Stars mechanics, and is very much a One Piece game from the ground up.
One Piece is one of the longest running manga and anime series ever, and one of the most popular. Eiichoro Oda’s unique art style and imagination have created a whole host of absurd and very singular characters over the years. It makes the series perfect for a fighting game, and a tonne of the major characters are represented in One Piece Burning Blood as playable characters. There’s even different versions of some characters before and after the time skip (the story of the game takes place before it). On top of that, there’s way more support characters that can provide your fighting team with various bonuses — even Johnny & Yosaku are in there. You’d be hard pressed to not find your favourite character represented.
Despite Spike Chunsoft’s previous Shonen Jump experience with J-Stars Victory VS+, the fighting system in One Piece Burning Blood is its own beast. It’s a unique fighting system that is hard to compare to much else, and it’s great to see it doing its own thing. This does mean it can take a little while to click, but when it does it can feel very satisfying. It’s a 3D fighter where fights take place in visually impressive but very basic arenas. The focus here is on the system, not really what’s going on around you.
The fighting system might seem a little bit complex at first, but when you get to grips with it you realise it’s actually pretty pared down. The focus is more on deciding what actions you should be taking rather than in the act of pulling them off. Unfortunately the game isn’t without its balancing issues. Some characters are just better than others. This is attempted to be remedied by giving you a 9000 point “allotment” from which to make up your team of up to 3 characters and support characters. Pick 3 characters of 3000 points, and you can’t have any support. But the power of the higher allotment characters in most cases just clearly outweighs any cons of picking them.
There isn’t much in the way of balancing issues in the story (other than Luffy always destroying with his ability movement slingshot into combo guard break into combo jet bullet ad nauseum). The fights get progressively harder the further you go into the story, which covers the Marineford Arc from 4 different characters’ perspectives, starting with Luffy. The fights start off quite easy, teaching you how to play, but by the end the final fight is really quite tough, and you’ll feel pretty good finishing it off.
There are side missions too, which usually get you to play as a different character in a harder fight than usual. These side missions don’t have cutscenes, but they do often have spoken dialogue in Japanese with subtitles. These can actually get a bit annoying in the harder fights, as they can be a bit distracting. I can’t help but compare these side missions to the side chapters in Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 4, and while there is pleasingly more in One Piece Burning Blood, they don’t quite have the same quality to them. It also doesn’t help that the game feels so restricted to one small arc that you repeat basically 4 times.
The game really needed something akin to Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 4‘s Adventure Mode, presenting some other landmark moments in the One Piece epic in bite-sized chunks. Not only is the Marineford arc just a small slice of One Piece, but it’s presented without any context besides a glossary of text entries. Unlike One Piece Pirate Warriors which takes you through the whole story, it’s hard to see a newcomer to One Piece following along with this very easily at all.
Visually One Piece Burning Blood is a treat. Not only do the 3D animate cutscenes look gorgeous and give new life to an older One Piece story arc, but even in-game the graphics are heavily stylised and great to look at. Not only is everything “toon shaded”, but they also have a sketchy edge to them too, in a way not dissimilar to some of Street Fighter 4‘s visual effects. There’s visual flair to pretty much every fight, which makes them great to look at.
The game isn’t just about the story. There are some other modes too. Besides regular VS and Online, you also have a Pirate Flag mode. These put players into season-long teams, and they need to battle over claiming islands and forts throughout the sea. It’s interesting to have a metagame like this around just pure online matchmaking, but I found it hard to get invested it. With that said, it could easily provide a great structure to keep you coming back if you do find that One Piece Burning Blood online matches really are your thing.
The Wanted mode provides a lot of extra battles outside of the story mode to challenge players, and some of them do get pretty tough. The most interesting wanted posters are the “special” ones that require you to take down certain characters with a pre-determined team, mimicking some of the actual key fights from the One Piece series as a whole. But, without a little bit more context to the fights, it does feel a bit like you’re just doing these “story” fights in a vacuum.
One Piece Burning Blood is a pretty good fighter that is both simpler than it looks and also more complex than it looks — but both in good ways. It’s a game that is much more for those who are already One Piece fans than providing an alternative gateway into the series, which is a bit of a shame as it feels like with just a little more work they could have made it a bit more approachable. “You should always leave them wanting more” is a statement that can be true in some cases, but with this one I wasn’t that happy to be left wanting more. What’s here is good, but it just makes me wish it was a little bit more all encompassing. The Marineford arc was good. But it wasn’t that good.