Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Tecmo Koei
Going into One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2, my knowledge of the One Piece series was pretty much non-existent. The full extent of what I knew about the franchise came from a preview of the first game I read awhile ago (and now only vaguely remember) that made it sound like it was the craziest thing ever created. While that wasn't quite enough to get me to play that first game, it did mean that I jumped at the chance to play its sequel — after all, who doesn't love games that are mind-bogglingly insane?
You can imagine my disappointment when I found out that it wasn't the single craziest thing ever put to pixels. I mean, put One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 next to, say, a random Katamari game or something from Suda51, and it seems downright tame by comparison: a Dynasty Warriors-esque hack & slash (or, in this case, punch & kick) where you single-handedly wipe out thousands and thousands of bad guys.
Of course, that's stripping the game down to its barest essentials, only looking at the basic gameplay, and then comparing that to some pretty weird (when you think about it) stuff. If you look at One Piece 2 more broadly…yeah, it's pretty weird.
A main character whose limbs stretch in all kinds of crazy ways. Allies that include some sort of giant blue half-man/half-walrus water god(I think?), a doctor that happens to be a teddy bear, another doctor that dresses like a pimp, and a skeleton with an afro. Enemies that include some kind of demonic clown, a thing with a giraffe head/neck, a morbidly obese minotaur, and a whole bunch of very flamboyantly-dressed marines. A story that — if I understand it correctly — seems to be about a world government trying to exterminate a global pirate alliance, except the evil clown wants to use some sort of "dials" that make people his slaves, and much fighting ensues.
At least, I think that's what it's about. Even after playing through the story and some of the side-stories, and reading all the subtitles (because, by the way, all the spoken stuff is in Japanese), I'd by lying if I said I had a clear idea of what was going on. Alliances shift, characters are introduced that apparently have complex, long-standing relationships with the main character and his crew, and as they sail around the seas, they seem to regularly come across locales with all kinds of history for them. Needless to say, the plot's not really designed for newcomers. (Or who knows, maybe it is? The Uncharted series is full of characters that Nathan Drake has off-screen histories with, and I wouldn't make the same criticism there.)
Here's the thing, though: as insular as One Piece 2 might be, it's also absurdly fun. Obviously, if you're not a fan of the anime, you have be willing to just go along with everything, rather than trying to piece together exactly what's going on. But once you do that, it's not hard to get swept away by the game's ridiculous tide. Moreover, it transforms the game from being a reskinned Dynasty Warriors clone to something relatively fresh and exciting. I may not have known what was going on half the time, of course, but, considering how much fun I was having, that didn't seem to matter all that much.