One Piece: Burning Blood is Stuck in Second Gear
First off -- yes, we know. There's a big old "7" up there, so you're entering this review thinking that One Piece: Burning Blood is a mediocre game that is not worthy of your time and money. Well...that's not entirely true.
One Piece: Burning Blood is a solid, satisfying, and over-the-top fighting game that can be highly recommended for fans of the series, or fans of the more recent Naruto fighting games. For others...well, that recommendation comes with a few caveats.
Pirate Fighting 101
One Piece: Burning Blood is a 3D fighting game that shares many mechanics and stylistic elements with games like Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4, and oddly, with Pokken Tournament as well.
Generally, all characters control more or less the same way, with buttons assigned to regular attacks, unique attacks, and guarding. The shoulder buttons can be held as well to activate special moves, or to use your character's special ability to augment your moves.
Layer this on top of a guard break mechanic that is absolutely necessary to master, and the game's complexities really start to show. There are tense moments of push and pull in this game, since most characters can combo into a guard break even if their attack was blocked, necessitating offensive action even from a player on the defensive.
It's really unfortunate that these moments are few and far between.
Most One Piece: Burning Blood matches devolve into strafe-fests, with players doing their best to avoid long range attacks and countering with long-range attacks of their own. Now, this isn't a problem in Pokken Tournament or in the Naruto games because of the movement options the game provides you with. But here, the sidestepping and dashing mechanic leaves characters completely vulnerable at the end of their animations, allowing for followup attacks. This, combined with the fact that none of these characters are particularly quick at closing distance, means that at any given moment, a tense fight can instantly turn into a frustrating game of cat and mouse.
Now, this isn't a competitive fighter. It's not made to be, so it shouldn't be judged as one, but it bears mentioning for anybody considering buying this game that balance wasn't really a concern when they compiled the game's cast of characters.
Now, for all the negatives the game's combat brings, the set dressing for the game is amazing. The visuals are just perfect, and the 3D cel-shaded models look great. Plus, the visual effects that appear when performing an ultimate attack when your opponent is at low health, or the fact that certain attacks will launch your opponent into faraway buildings when they are KOed... They're nice touches that contribute to the game's fun factor. Sure, there could be more substance, but the style here is undeniable.
Speaking of substance, though, the story mode itself is surprisingly deep and lengthy, following key stories and arcs from the anime and manga, as well as unlockable stages for skilled players that complete hidden objectives. Fans of the series will also appreciate the vast list of playable and support characters. Your favorite One Piece character is in there somewhere. We promise.
That said, the story mode isn't without its faults either. First-time players will likely be frustrated at the way the game chooses to teach its mechanics, as the tutorial is spread out through what essentially functions as a multi-hour prologue to the story mode proper. It's nonsensical, and gets in the way of enjoying what is, at heart, a solid game. The gameplay isn't too complicated. There's no reason the tutorial needs to be spread out piecemeal over multiple matches and hours.
Outside the story mode, there's a sort of online faction mode that promises to extend replayability further. The way it works is complex, but essentially, players join a faction and then engage in battles in different areas to claim them for their team. It works surprisingly well, and the developers deserve a lot of credit for fleshing out this idea as much as they have, since it's not generally something that has been seen before in games like this, at least not to this extent.
At the end of the day, yes, One Piece: Burning Blood is a flawed game. But the flaws don't hide the fact that the game is chock-full of style and character and is just generally a blast to play. Punching your opponent into a pirate ship never gets old. It just doesn't. And you know what? That's enough. If it's fun, it's worth at least some of your time and money. And if One Piece: Burning Blood is one thing, it's fun.
Well, at least when you're not spending the whole match trying to dodge projectiles and close distance. It's fun when you're not doing that.
Disclosure: One Piece: Burning Blood was reviewed using a promotional review code obtained from the publisher.