Also On: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Players: 1-2 (1-2 for Vita)
One thing I've always loved about the One Piece games is that even if I don't always (or ever) know what's going on, I still have a blast playing them. Even though I don't read the manga on which the games are based, there's still much going on, and the games have been so intuitive, I always end up getting sucked into their brand of wacky madness.
Or at least I did, up until One Piece: Burning Blood.
My biggest problem with the game stems from the fact that whereas the other One Piece games have been over-the-top action games, Burning Blood finds the franchise branching out into the fighting genre. In theory, I see the thinking behind the shift: since the other games in the series — particularly the Pirate Warriors musou games — have been all about beating up everyone in your path, it kind of makes sense to figure that everything would work just as well if you're beating up one or two or three enemies at a time, using similar attacks to the ones found in the other games.
In practice, though, the choice feels limiting. A major part of the fun — at least for me — was the joy of wiping out enemies by the hundreds and thousands. After you've pummeled your way through entire armies and taken control of entire worlds (or, at least, their maps), it feels significantly less satisfying to only beat up a couple of enemies in any one go. Not only that, none of the attacks here feel as enormous as the ones found in Pirate Warriors do. For the most part, you just get slightly exaggerated punching and kicking — something you'd expect to find in a fighting game, I guess, but not the kind of crazy set pieces that are simply par for the course in other One Piece games.
It also doesn't help that the action here is bogged down by the bizarre design choice to make the fighting arenas far bigger than they need to be. In Pirate Warriors, it makes sense to give players lots of space, since you'll be battling through armies of opponents nearly every step of the way. In Burning Blood, by contrast, you get similarly vast swaths of space, except the area is only occupied by you and your opponent, and every time you punch him/her/it away, you need to chase after them at a painfully slow speed. I'd like to say that the space is at least justified by some enormous-looking moves, but that would be a lie.
Because the action is so lacklustre, it lays bare the other problem with Burning Blood: the story makes no sense, at least to a newcomer. To be sure, this was probably an issue with the other games in the series too. If you were to ask me what happened in Pirate Warriors 3, for example, I'd have no answer for you…but that would be at least partly because I was too preoccupied with beating up invading hordes to answer you. This time around, my lack of answer would be because the mythology is so densely-presented, there's no room for a series novice to be immersed. Characters flit in and out of the story at a breakneck pace while references are made to previous events in the One Piece canon, and all of it happens at a speed and a volume that suggest you'd better be a franchise devotee, or else you'll be lost.
On some level, that's an admirable way to go about things. One Piece devotees, after all, are the target audience for a One Piece game, so it seems fair to have some expectation that if you're buying the game, you'll know what you're getting into. It wouldn't be fair to series veterans if Burning Blood had been a primer for anyone just joining One Piece now. At the same time, however, it doesn't seem totally unrealistic to ask that there be some way in for newcomers — or even just for those people who've been drawn to Burning Blood because of a love of the previous games, and who don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of One Piece lore.
Or, to put it more bluntly: if you're going to smother me in One Piece, at least let me pound away at armies while you're doing it.