Don’t take this the wrong way, readers, but being a writer can be tough sometimes. I know, woe is me, my job is to chill at home and talk to strangers about video games. But think about it this way: it’s a constant pressure to have an opinion on everything you touch and to develop that opinion in transactional fashion to maintain your livelihood. Usually it’s fun, but sometimes you get stuck! You may be wondering what this has to do with One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4. Look, I love One Piece, and I love Musou games. But this is the fourth one of those. Everyone involved is kinda running out of steam. But while I was struggling to find an angle, I practically tripped over one. Due to some visual choices that are super odd sans context, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 gives us a fascinating look at a classic manga trope.
Regardless of your thoughts on Musou gameplay conventions, it’s undeniable Omega Force and Koei Tecmo have stepped up their respective games when it comes to adaptation. We’ve come a long way from the straight-laced Dynasty Warriors Gundam, with the likes of Hyrule Warriors, Dragon Quest Heroes II and Berserk and the Band of the Hawk showing an eagerness to play with franchise form. One Piece: Pirate Warriors has been pretty straightforward, since there’s only so much nuance to a shonen battle manga. But one area One Piece stands out is its visual style, fueled by mangaka Eiichiro Oda’s interest in theme and spectacle over realism. In a world of sleek and sexy modern anime, One Piece stands as a lingering monument to eras long past. The prime example here is one of my favorite old school tropes, one that really stands out in Pirate Warriors 4 thanks to one character in particular:
Watch the strongest of the Sweet Commanders cause mayhem on Whole Cake Island!
The fearsome Charlotte Katakuri joins the roster of playable characters in #OnePiece Pirate Warriors 4, coming to PS4, XB1, PC and Nintendo Switch in 2020. pic.twitter.com/WuFZFajFYx
— One Piece Video Games (@onepiece_games) October 15, 2019
That’s Charlotte Katakuri, a recent One Piece big bad who was an instant fan favorite. As you can tell in the above gameplay video, Katakuri is huge. He towers over the mooks he’s thrashing, despite his more or less human proportions. Now, Katakuri is hardly the only villain in One Piece who stands at impossible heights over the more human-sized Strawhat Pirates. But he’s an exceptional, recent example. Not only does it stand out because he’s playable, it stands out because as a video game adaptation, a choice has to be made here. And here’s how that choice turned out:
Yeah, it looks ridiculous. You’re seeing the difference in how One Piece characters, especially those on the villain side (or the grey areas between) will compare to each other physically. Since we’re in a video game version of One Piece, particularly a Musou version, these models kind of have to be locked in. But in the “reality” of One Piece, characters’ physical presence can be much more fluid. While Oda does provide measurements for his characters and they are big in a literal sense, the way he actually draws them is often more abstract. There’s no “off-model” in One Piece, because a character’s size can change drastically as needed.
Oda has noted in the past he’s a big fan of Fist of the North Star, and references or nods have snuck their way into One Piece. In a lot of ways, this David and Goliath stuff we see in One Piece is traceable back to that and other works of the 80s. Just like in One Piece, Hokuto no Ken did more than just play with perspective for key thematic moments. Villains like Mr. Heart or Roah could be portrayed as giants, regardless of their true size. And if a character on the good guys’ side was larger than life, you knew to expect a lot from their time in the story. Here are a couple examples from the Hokuto no Ken anime:
This isn’t just old animation being sloppy. When artists make choices like these in anime and manga, it’s a way to inform the reader without making them read more. When Raoh’s bicep is bigger than Kenshiro’s head, we know Ken is facing an insurmountable challenge. Later as the two clash they’re often framed more realistically, showing the reader how the battle has progressed in Ken’s favor. It’s a visual representation of a character’s strength, power, importance, and the stakes or weight of the encounter. One Piece plays even more fast and loose with this concept, as its more fantastically loose grip on reality gives Oda more breathing room to play in. And that’s how we end up with characters like Kaido, Katakuri, and Whitebeard (to name only a few) standing taller than any human naturally could, with nobody in the story questioning it.
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is a fine game for fans—-it’s a new (more polished than before) presentation of the One Piece story up to where the anime has reached more or less, and it adds new gameplay twists to the formula. It isn’t a remarkable experience, but like other Musou licensed adaptations, it’s clear a lot of care and attention to detail went into development. We see this most strikingly, perhaps, in just how physically ridiculous some of the character models are. When One Piece characters stand next to each other in Pirate Warriors 4, it looks absolutely stupid. But that’s pretty cool.
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.