Even though I don't follow the One Piece Anime or Manga, I've always liked Eichiro Oda's characters and artwork, so I got into the Pirate Warriors games about a year ago during one of Sony's flash sales. After finishing PW2, I was still eager for more Warriors-style gameplay, and it was just a matter of time before the latest, greatest installment to the series would be released not only on PS3, but on the PS4, PC, and Vita as well. While the PS4 is said to have the definitive version, I decided to go for the Vita's portable adaption, which has yet to disappoint after a week of playing.
GRAPHICS: Despite being the weakest of the 4 available systems, the Vita manages some extremely polished graphics for such a busy game. The characters and enemies all look fantastic, but lack special touches such as bump mapping on Luffy's leather vest, or reflections in Don Krieg's armor. The series' trademark comic shading seems to be gone as well, giving the game an overall look that is disappointingly flatter than its prequels. The environments are similarly less detailed than the console iterations, but with all the running around you'll be doing, you'll never notice anything's missing. The only graphical changes that truly take you out of the experience are the very limited draw distance and the muddy textures on characters during the scripted segments.
GAMEPLAY: Pretty standard Warriors formula. Run around the stage capturing bases, helping allies, and generally beating the stuffing out of bad guys. It's repetitive in an oh-so-satisfying kind of way. The combo-oriented style of fighting remains largely the same, but crew strikes have been retooled to function more like fighting game assists. If you press the attack button once more after a combo, your selected crew member will jump in for a quick finishing blow. You can also activate a powered-up mode called Kizuna Rush that allows you to team up with up to four crew members for screen-clearing super moves. Another small change is that your dodge/dash maneuver can now be used to break an enemy's charge attack and open them up to being stunned. Finally, each character's unique abilities and handicaps are much more pronounced this time around, which adds some much needed strategy to the usual button-mashing. Lastly, the number of on-screen enemies is noticeably lower than on PS3 or 4, but it doesn't ruin the fun in the slightest. In fact, I never played above normal in PW2, but I've been pretty well dominating on hard this go around.
SOUND: The soundtrack from PW2 was great, but the folks at Koei really stepped it up this time. There are some new tunes and voice overs, but what really makes it sound so good is the "fullness" of the music creates a more intense and chaotic atmosphere for the battlefield.
CONTROL: This was the one area that had me worried prior to launch, but thankfully the feel of the controls translated almost flawlessly. Square and triangle execute your normal combos, circle performs your character's special attack, while X dodges and dashes. Touchscreen functions are kept to a minimum and work very well because of that choice. You can now lock on to a major enemy by tapping the reticle in the lower left corner of the screen, while tapping the lower right activates Kizuna Rush when it's gauge is full. As always, if something's going to go wrong with the control, it will almost always be the camera. It's totally manageable most of the time, but locking on to an enemy doesn't make the camera follow the action very well ESPECIALLY when you really need it to.
PRESENTATION: I really can't express how happy I am with the design and layout of the game's menus. They're like old world sea charts topped off with flashy comic book writing, and the effect holds together far better than you'd expect. All of your objectives and collectibles are clearly laid out so there's almost zero confusion about what you need to do to achieve 100% in each stage. In addition to the menus, the coin collecting system of upgrading your stats has been streamlined to the point of it being nearly automatic. Previously, coins were part of a deeper customization system and functioned like Final Fantasy VII's materia, giving you stat boosts depending on how you equipped them. The current method puts certain coins toward permanent upgrades rather than forcing you to search your inventory for the best temporary combination. This is a very welcome change since PW2 had you manually pick your best coins every time you played a new character. Story mode is a lot more exciting in terms of each mission's objectives and actually feels like you're progressing the plot rather than slogging through a huge battle just for the hell of it. In addition to the usual banter between factions, the game now has cutscenes (that can be skipped) that occur during battle to further the story, and it really makes the experience more adventurous than the story in PW2. Speaking of cutscenes, the FMVs that play after every episode are absolutely spectacular. PW2 had maybe three worthwhile fight scenes in the whole game, but PW3 makes a point of following the manga and showing Luffy kicking the ever-loving snot out of anyone and everyone who looks even remotely like a bad guy, making every stage's conclusion an absurd and satisfying reward.
Pros -Builds on well implemented Warriors style gameplay with both refined and new mechanics
- Streamlined interface makes objectives less confusing
- Story presentation is vastly improved and feels like you're actually accomplishing something
- Far less slowdown than PW2
- Stage design is a huge improvement over PW2 and doesn't feel like you're just trapped in a box
Cons - Targeting camera is sometimes a pain
- Not as pretty as the PS4 or PS3 versions (obviously)
FINAL SCORE: Overwhelmingly Positive
Whether you're a fan of Dynasty Warriors, One Piece, or just action games in general, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3 is a must for whichever Sony console you currently own. It may not be the definitive version, but the Vita port is solid and will serve you well on the go, or if you simply wanted the game $20 cheaper than a PS4 copy.