Saturday, June 4, 2016

One Piece: Burning Blood (PS4)

Coming from the pages of Eiichiro Oda's serialized manga, "One Piece: Burning Blood" recounts in vivid detail the pivotal moments at the battle of Marineford island, and the triggering event that started the whole war. Nearly every One Piece character imaginable converges in a fight to the death in order to either execute the captured 'Portgas D. Ace', or rescue him from his would be execution. Joining Luffy, and the Straw Hat Pirates on Ace's behalf are Whitebeard, and his nefarious fleet as well as some former foes who have found themselves on the side of Luffy against the marines. On the opposite side of things Akainu, and his established Navy partners go all in to stop all pirates from advancing, and rescuing Ace from execution. The epic battle that ensues is all accounted for in a four part campaign called the "Paramount War" which depicts what transpired through the four main role players' points of view. You get to see the fight as Luffy saw it, as Whitebeard saw it, as the marine captain Akainu saw it, and even as Ace saw it from the trigger point forward. It's a heated battle filled with manga-like visuals fit for modern-era consoles. It's like seeing the manga itself come to life with original Japanese voice-overs, and being able to live out every moment of it in decisive hands-on encounters. Just as Luffy, and the Whitebeard crew fights an insurmountable war so shall you as you battle boss after boss in the midst of fighting game worthy arena combat.

Not only does "One Piece: Burning Blood" come to you with the previously mentioned four section campaign, but it also features plenty of replay value set aside in the unlockable modes that are "Free Battle", "Wanted Versus", "Online", and a season based "Pirate Flag Battle". Each of which is unlocked after you've reached a certain point in the "Paramount War" playthrough. There's even items to unlock along the way that come in many different forms including emblems, and titles. This is a huge plus for those of you looking for something to work towards after you've played through the story in all of it's entirety. Those of you new to the series need not worry either as there is a highly informational "Keyword Log" in which One Piece terms, events, characters, and places are all explained in text driven detail. Before I get too far ahead of myself though allow me to tell you what the campaign is all about ...

In the "Paramaount War" menu option (which is the only mode available from the start) you will find a chapter based playthrough titled, "Luffy". In this episodic breakdown of the events regarding the Marineford War you'll witness animated manga-like cutscenes, in-game tutorials, and single battles with set conditions for clearing. The chapters are each made accessible via an overhead map of Marineford Island that houses several points of interest. These marked dots with connecting path markers come in color coded "Chapter", and "Extra Chapter" form, and will have you using the fighting game skills that you learned along the way to beat specific characters which the main character has encountered in the preceding cutscenes. Battles, as they were are fought on 3D arena centered battlefields that come complete with destructible objects. At base level the fight is geared towards depleting the onscreen opponent of health against a set timer, and set clearing conditions such as survival, and victory. Sometimes you merely have to survive until the timer runs out while other times you have to defeat up to three enemy characters. Beyond that there are fighting game inspired mechanics geared towards a Haki (the powers non-Devil Fruit characters use) meter, and a "Burning Gauge" which will allow you to execute special/unique attacks including "Unity" attacks when paired up with more than one character. You'll also find assisting characters that come into play under certain conditions. It's these assists that can change the tide of battle through performance boosts, and restorative effects.

The fighting game style mechanics I spoke of earlier include special attacks that enhance the base "Close (SQUARE)", "Range (TRIANGLE)", "Guard (CIRCLE)", and "Jump (X)" actions. The game, at heart is a four button fighter with shoulder button functions added in to make the battles more complex than a simple button bashing experience. You'll learn of things like "Guard Break (SQUARE + X)", "Flash Counters (UP + ATTACK)", "Combos", and meter centered effects/actions that will change how you approach certain situations. Not all characters are created equal in "One Piece: Burning Blood" though, and this fact isn't made more evident anywhere else in the game than it is in your initial campaign playthrough. You'll find that some characters can move more quickly, reach further with their basic attacks, and can even sneak through a characters' defenses easier than others. At the same time other characters in the 30 character roster have to play more carefully, and defensively allowing their opponents to come to them. It's very much like a 2D fighter in that sense.

After you learn the ropes of the game through the "Luffy" portion of the 'Paramaount War' you'll unlock the 'Whitebeard', 'Akainu', and 'Ace' chapters in a following order. Each playthrough is shown through the respective characters' perspective, and adds a little more to the story being told. Ace's playthrough in particular takes the gamer back to where the troubles all started in his fight against Blackbeard. While some might consider this campaign to be short, because it only shows variations of one story arch it's still a decent sized playthrough made more long lasting through the very challenging boss-like battles that you have to face.

Past the trials, and tribulations of the campaign the other modes, and features that are made available afterwards will give you plenty to do.You can fulfill Wanted Poster requests in the "Wanted Versus" mode, for example. In that particular mode you are pitted against opponents tied to "Spec. Wanted Posters", and "Ltd. Wanted Posters". The difference between the two options being the demands, or rather clear conditions tied to fulfilling the Wanted Poster bounties. You are rewarded in a few ways for your efforts here including through the in-game currency (Beli), pirate points, and an alphabetical clear/failure rating (F meaning you failed, and A meaning you perfected it). The cleared Wanted Posters will be made visually accessible through the "Collection" menu, and the "Wanted Posters" listing therein as well as in the respective mode. Also in the 'Wanted Versus' mode are two different training options that are also tied to the wanted poster formula. One such training menu can be found in the "Wanted List" sub-menu, and is titled "Bride's Training". The caption there, underneath Lola, basically states that if you clear all the wanted posters there you get her as a bride. The secondary training menu which is listed under it's respective title is, "Rayleigh's Training". It contains basic to advanced approaches to battle mechanics done up in wanted poster fashion. Meaning that you will have to clear the predetermined match according to the mechanics based clear conditions.

Another mode that's made available later on into your campaign playthrough is the "Free Battle". It is an offline, or local mode in which you can play against a computer team or a second player. There is a training option embedded in this mode as well as some rule settings in which you can tweak the timer, or COM strength for both the 1P and 2P match types. It's the mode you would want to go to if you didn't want to bother playing competitively online through the "Online" mode.

Speaking of the "Online" mode it comes complete with the usual matchmaking options you'd find in a fighting game. This includes "Ranked Matches", and "Player Matches". By choosing either match type, and following up with either "Quick Match", or "Custom Match (Player Ping, Region ...)" you'll be paired up with another human player through the game's network. The battles in these match types can be played with up to 3 main characters, and 3 support characters supposing you do not exceed the point limitations set for crew assignment (9,000 PT). From my experience the online netcode in "One Piece: Burning Blood" is unusually smooth, especially for a game of it's design. It's a better netcode than some of the traditional 2D fighters out there. I really enjoyed my time with this mode, and feel that you will too.

Taking online, and offline play up a competitive notch you'll find that the offered "Pirate Flag Battle" mode, and it's seasonal competition carries with it one of the game's more notable replay worthy features. In 'Pirate Flag Battle" you'll be choosing sides, or rather a power to join. These powers include every One Piece inspired grouping from the Straw Hat Pirates to the Revolutionary Army, and even the "Unaligned". There are 16 in total. To earn points for your selected power you will need to use a given amount of log points to travel the point marked paths, and battle either the COM opponents, online players, or offline raid bosses. Winning in any of these will help your power come closer to winning the season standings. You can also set a single team at a point for defense against incoming attackers. This also helps to earn your power points in the season standings. Of course said season standings or rankings depend on how many of the points/flags you captured/defended during the current season. Players are warned at the main menu about how many days are left in a season, so staying on top of things is definitely vital to your victories. Supposing you want to check your season stats you can do that through the "My Status" menu listing. It keeps a detailed report of your allotted points according to 'VS. COM', 'VS. Player', and 'VS. Raid' standings. Even your personal 'In-Force' leaderboard rankings are accounted for in a menu listing of the same name. The "In-Force" leaderboards include 'Total (PT)', 'VS. COM', 'VS. Player', and "VS. Raid' standings with each section divided by an accessible color coded tab. When a "Pirate Flag Battle' season is over you can choose to "Leave Power", and join another power who might have better standings than your previous alignment.

For those of you looking for that library of knowledge, and extra goodies that comes with unlocking things you'll be glad to know that the main menu's "Collection" listing has you covered. This main menu of sorts is sub-divided into "Transponder Snail", and "Records/Terms". The "Transponder Snail" is where you'll gain access to all collected in-game movies, and the replays which you have opted to save in your offline, and online journey. You do have the option to save replays in every action packed mode contained within the game. When it comes to the "Records/Terms" this is where you'll find the term inclusive "Keyword log" that I mentioned before as well as all cleared wanted posters, collected emblems/titles, and a detailed breakdown (Total Time Played, Beli Collected, Ultimates, Unity Chains, Unity Assists ...) of your "Battle Record".

For those of you interested in crew setups "One Piece: Burning Blood" also includes a main menu listing titled, "Pirate Base". In the "Pirate Base" you can spend earned Beli (which is earned for every battle regardless of victory/loss) to unlock characters, and support characters. There are a total of 30 main characters including some variations that are DLC, or non-DLC exclusive. There are also 60 support characters that come with their own individual perks that are both instantaneous, or activated through specified conditions. In the "Create Pirate Crew" option you can assign up to 3 main characters, and 3 support characters supposing you have them unlocked, and have not used up all 9,000 assignment PTs. Aside from using Beli to unlock characters, and support characters you can also unlock some of them through mode playthroughs. All main characters in "One Piece: Burning Blood" level up as a character would in an RPG with each win or loss. As far as I can tell this may only have effect in the online competitive modes of play though.

It should also be noted that you can assign two player emblems (main/sub), and a title. Emblems, and titles are unlocked through gameplay, and mainly the usage of certain characters or crew pairings. Lastly characters are divided by three defining types. There are Haki characters, Devil Fruit characters, and a combination of the two. Each character type performs differently on the battlefield according to their Haki, or Devil Fruit standings. Haki characters, for example use their own separate meter to dish out "Ability" attacks on a limited basis. The Devil Fruit type do not use this meter, and rely only on the standard array of attacks, and actions. Each character, despite type also has their own unique ultimate attack that differs in range, and effect. These are activated when the burning gauge is full by pressing in (R3). Knowing your characters capabilities is winning half the battle.

The Verdict ...

Despite struggling through some of the seemingly one-sided "Paramount War" battles I came to enjoy what this latest One Piece video game adventure had in store. I warmed up to the battle setup, and eventually was able to complete all four campaign scenarios including the punishing final battle that had you fighting as Ace against Akainu. Further past that I was able to enjoy the other modes that were unlocked even in the online environments. As far as a verdict goes I feel that you can look at it like IGN did as a short campaign button masher where you are constantly chasing the opponent, or you can look at it as I did in a way that actually reflects what the game has to offer. That being a challenging arena combat hybrid that implements fighting game worthy features, and modes of play worth returning to. Believe me when I say button mashing won't get you hardly anywhere in this game's campaign playthrough. You will have to pay close attention to the mechanics tutorials, and understand all mechanics in order to avoid frustration at the virtual hands of the computer opponents. Each fight in the campaign is very much like it's own boss battle, and should be treated as such. Going carelessly in while bashing the basic combo attack button will get you in a heap of trouble. In fact I learned that the hard way, and spent nearly a full hour trying to beat the final Akainu in Ace's playthrough, because I thought I could hammer my way through the fight.

When it comes to the online netplay, and mode offerings you'll find that the replay value is definitely there. The netcode itself seems to be exceptionally stable despite me seeing a few pop-up messages warning me of connection issues that didn't appear to be all that present. I really love what they did with the "Pirate Flag Battle" mode. It is kind of like Netherealm's MKX factions in a way, but seems to offer more to the player for their continued contributions. I also loved the online ranked play which was fun in a non-frustrating sort of way. I didn't find myself getting upset at a loss like I do in games such as 'Street Fighter V'. The online gameplay seemed fair enough, and wasn't like in the campaign where you were doing chip damage to boss type characters while getting damaged ten times as much by each of their landed attacks.

For what this game offers I think it's definitely worth buying at the current price. I was actually given a code for the digital deluxe edition which contained four DLC packs that have a combined assortment of character costumes, characters/character variations, HUD customizations and other noteworthy add-ons. It costs $69.99 for the game plus the extras, and depending on your thoughts regarding the anime/manga it may or may not be the right choice for you. I think it would definitely be worth it to Bandai Namco, and One Piece fans though. The game really does hold up as an enjoyable experience.

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