It’s difficult to have even a fleeting interest in Anime and Manga without hearing of One Piece. The best-selling manga series in history, it has run since 1997 in comic form and since 1999 as an Anime and continues to develop. It follows a crew known as “The Straw Hat Pirates” and their captain Monkey D Luffy on their search for fame and fortune, and mixes classic shōnen themes with a pirate aesthetic. Whilst the series has “grown up” over the years, it continues to be incredibly popular.
…and of course, this has led to the release of a variety of video games based on the franchise. Whilst not all have demonstrated consistent quality, some have been better received than others, with One Piece Unlimited World Red initially releasing for 3DS, before being remastered for PS3 and Wii U. Now, some years later, OP: UWR has been once again updated for PS4 and Switch, but does it hold up?
The first thing I’ll point out about this game is regarding where it is placed in One Piece lore. It’s unclear when the story of the game takes place, but it clearly takes place after the timeskip, meaning that unless you’ve watched the entirety of the Anime you’re probably going to be unsure of what is happening at first. Luckily, whilst there are confusing elements (what on earth is Franky etc) the story is self-contained enough to be welcoming to new-comers. The plot begins with the crew arriving at a new island alongside the tanuki Pato. During their frolics on shore-leave, the entirety of Luffy’s crew is kidnapped and it is down to him to find and rescue them.
I’ll be honest, like with most anime-based experiences I really did expect a story that loosely covers the anime indispered with short pre-rendered cutscenes and battles with fighting game mechanics. I was wrong. Unlimited world Red is, in reality, a brawler with light exploration elements and a hub are. Hell, there’s even a crafting system and upgradable characters. Across the hub-area world; Trans Town, there are also a variety of little nods and things to find.
You play as 3 of the 9 members of Luffy’s Crew, and as the big boss has resurrected a veritable cornucopia of their enemies, OP:UWR is what amounts to a modern best-of their most important encounters and enemies, in dispersed with new story tid-bits. Combat revolves around crafting combos from a combination of light, heavy, special and ranged attacks and pummelling enemies until they explode into a rain of coins. Each character can be upgraded using “words,” essentially character specific phrases from the anime which give a marginal buff to their attributes, and they naturally level up through gameplay which also increases their power level.
Most levels are themed around a certain encounter in the anime, consisting of a trawl through a familiar location fighting groups of enemies, a puzzle or two, and a boss encounter with a familiar face. It’s a refreshing twist on the standard “anime game” formula which works well alongside the original characters introduced for the game itself. These newbies fit into the world well and contribute to an intriguing story of betrayal and adventure. A standout character for me is the titular “Red,” whose arc is well-paced and interesting. He may borrow from certain clichés (avoiding spoilers here!), overall I found his composition compelling.
The presentation of the world of One Piece is amazing, representing the source material perfectly. The cel-shaded aesthetic truly evokes the colourful, vibrant world and the pirate-y soundtrack is excellent. It’s a huge visual upgrade on the original 3DS game which is highly impressive. The only qualm I have with the visual design is the “cutscenes.” The developers chose to have freeze-frame pans as part of certain cutscenes rather than actual animation, which strikes me as an odd choice. The audio is equally pleasant, taking inspiration from the Anime to great effect and presenting familiar styles alongside original music. Again though, I do have a small issue; there is no English voice track.
It’s become apparent to me over the last few anime-inspired games I’ve played that this is a common issue. I would admit that perhaps some fans of anime prefer reading subtitles and hearing the Japanese voices, and that often dubs can be pretty bad especially in terms of censorship. The problem I find is having to read subtitles in games which are fast-paced and already overwhelming. Often, things get missed. This is more forgivable when a game is newly-released and has been rushed across the pond as soon as the translation is done, but I take issue with it in Unlimited World Red for two reasons. One: It’s an especially crazy and confusing game to start with. Once your characters start fighting you really have to focus on them. Two: This game was first released in Japan in late 2013 and in Europe in June 2014; that’s over three years ago. When you develop the same game for what is now 7 different platforms over two generations and release what you claim is a deluxe edition, you would assume some form of English vocal translation would have been a reasonable expectation.
Overall however, Unlimited World Red does live up to its Deluxe title. Whilst it’s missing some expanded features which would have made the game better than its predecessors, it does include all the DLC released for previous versions. If you love One-Piece and haven’t played the base game or all the DLC for this title, I can highly recommend it. None-fans, I’d watch a couple of episodes of the anime first, but it’s still worth your time; just beware the lack of an English voice track.