By Levi . February 13, 2008 . 1:35pm
Ahh, another anime game. Seems to be my forte, no? Reviewing anime games can be a harsh job. Anime games oftentimes fall victim to what I call the "anime game curse". That is, when a game ends up being nothing more than an excuse to use an anime's license to sell copies to uninformed fans of the series, who probably aren't aware that the game is terrible. And while some games fall victim to this curse (see Bleach: Shattered Blade), some don't. So what about One Piece: Unlimited Adventure, Namco Bandai's latest entry into the line of One Piece games? Well, I'm happy to report that it falls into the latter category.
Developed by Ganbarion, whose sole purpose seems to be developing One Piece or One Piece related games, One Piece: Unlimited Adventure puts you in control of the Straw Hat Pirates, who have to unravel the mysteries of a mystical orb Luffy finds while fishing. Through their journey, they'll encounter several old enemies, and perhaps new friends as well. Okay, I'll be honest here. The story is probably the weakest part of the game. It's not bad, per se, but it feels like something straight out of an OVA, or at worst filler episodes. Still, it gets the job done. Hardcore fans of the Japanese version of One Piece will be delighted to hear that aside from a few minor things (Smoker's cigars and Mihawk's sword for example), nothing has been altered for the US release. That's right, Zoro's name is spelled correctly, not Zolo. However there's no Japanese voice option, which might disappoint some. But the English voices are honestly extremely good, since they're now done by Funimation, so it's not all bad. Long time DBZ fans may recognize a few of the voice actors, as well (namely Chris Sabat as Zoro and Sonny Strait as Usopp).
Gameplay revolves around exploring the various areas of the island while trying to solve the mystery of the orb that has mysteriously come into Luffy's posession. Opening up new areas requires finding Orb Points, where you can use the orb to cause changes in the surrounding environment, opening up new paths. However, activating these Orb Points requires you to feed the orb various items you'll have to search for along the way. During your journey you'll of course come across plenty of enemies. From your standard Navy grunts to classic One Piece villains like Smoker, Kaku, and Don Kreig, you'll fight enemies aplenty along your journey. The fighting engine in the game is fairly well done, but the downside is the camera. Oftentimes you'll lock on to an enemy and still barely be able to see them due to the game's wonky camera. Most of the time you'll likely find that it's easier to just not lock on to enemies. Fighting is handled with a mix of button presses and Wii Remote motions, but mostly button presses. All eight playable characters (Luffy, Zoro, Sanji, Robin, Nami, Franky, Usopp, and Chopper) have their own set of unique moves. From the start you'll only have one to two hit combos at your disposal. As you fight your way through the game though, you'll learn new moves. Luffy's Gum Gum Bazooka, Usopp's Shuriken Shooting Star, and Sanji's Anti Manners Kick Course will all be at your disposal in time.
Now, if you're looking for a game that will keep you busy, One Piece: Unlimited Adventure is right up your alley. Let's just put it this way…This game is long. I'm talking Twilight Princess/Final Fantasy long. This, however, isn't always a good thing. A lot of your gameplay time will be spent collecting items and leveling up your characters. It can be especially time consuming (not to mention frustrating) when you're spending hours trying to catch ONE bug that you need for Chopper to make a certain type of medicine that's needed to progress to the next part of the game. And yes, I'm speaking from experience here. I was near throwing my Wii Remote through my TV screen by the time I finally caught the bug. Another issue is that a lot of the time, you'll be wandering around wondering what to do next. Fortunately, there's the internet to help if you get stuck. But man, if any game ever needed a strategy guide, this is it. It's not all bad, though. Far from it. The majority of the time, you'll likely be enjoying exploring the island. In some ways, it feels a bit like an MMO at times. Just, you know, not online.
The game also boasts a multiplayer mode, as well. No co-op through the main story though. Instead, you have a versus mode in which you can take on a friend or the CPU in one-on-one contests. As you progress through the main game, you'll unlock new locales and characters to use in the versus mode. Everyone from the Straw Hat Pirates to the bosses you'll face to even the smallest of grunts will be available for use in versus mode eventually. Now, don't go into this mode expecting something the caliber of One Piece Grand Battle or anything. It's an interesting diversion from the main game, but that's about all it is, a diversion. You'll also eventually unlock a survival mode, where you can see how long you can last against endless waves of enemies on a single lifebar.
The visual style of One Piece: Unlimited Adventure is difficult to describe. It uses a shiny style of cel-shading that I've never seen before. The character models look great, as do the cutscenes. The environments are pretty nice looking too, despite some muddy textures. One area in particular really struck me as being exceptionally beautiful. Full of golden-leaved trees, there's an autumn themed area that looks amazing. Maybe it's just because I love autumn, but I just really love this area. The game's music is quite nice, as well, especially the orchestrated piece that plays in the "Plains to Adventure" area (your hub area). It's probably nothing you'll want to try to hunt down an OST for, but it does it's job well. Sadly the show's current opening theme isn't present in the game. Which is a shame, since I really like Vic Mignogna's English version of Hikari e.
Overall, One Piece: Unlimited Adventure is an easy title to recommend to One Piece fans. There's plenty of gameplay here, and virtually all of the One Piece characters you've come to love are present (well, almost…no Buggy the Clown). For non-fans, Unlimited Adventure is still a solid, if not slightly flawed at times, action adventure title that boasts a staggering amount of gameplay time, especially when compared to other anime-licensed offerings. With as long as the game is, it's no surprise that Namco Bandai is splitting the upcoming sequel, Unlimited Cruise, into two parts. Bottom line, if you like One Piece, you'll love Unlimited Adventure. If you don't, give it a shot anyway. You may be surprised how fast Luffy and his ragtag band of pirates grow on you.