Bright blue skies, breezy winds. All things seem dandy as the Straw Hat Pirates escort a small raccoon, Pato, to his home-island after they saved him from being stranded at sea. Upon arriving at Trance Town, the gang splits up, each deciding to kick back at the lazy port their own way. However, within the hour everyone except Luffy has vanished. Not too worried, but nevertheless going off to find them with Pato in tow, he leaves Trance Town and finds himself in a very familiar place.
Not only that, but a very familiar face also appears to stand in his way despite how impossible it should be. Depending on your familiarity with the anime or manga series, One Piece Unlimited World Red may send you on an emotional roller coaster despite the predictable pattern of visiting old areas and facing familiar bosses.
Because of the writing and several other factors, I feel like extra attention was paid to not only making the world of Unlimited World Red look like Eiichirou Oda’s world, but also to make it feel like it. The dialogue is almost 100% voiced (with the main exceptions being quest menus and Coliseum dialogue), and conversations are split evenly between full FMVs and full portrait sprites showing the characters’ expressions.
The story is something I feel like wouldn’t be out of place in the original One Piece’s world, though it is considered non-canonical. While I didn’t feel like the villain, Redfield, was as strong as others in the series (and admittedly, that’s a very high bar to set), the reactions the Straw Hat Crew have to the different areas or people they face aren’t just rehashes of what appear in the anime. For example, when they find themselves in Mt. Corvo, where Luffy grew up in and then encountering the bears and wolves in the forest, they all have their comments about Luffy’s hometown.
My favorite moment was when I met Wapol again, and absolutely no one remembers him (or cares). The only person who supposedly does is Brook, who, as Wapol indignantly points out, wasn’t even there in the first place.
Acting as your temporary headquarters, Trance Town is a strange but refreshing place. The colors are bright and refreshing, giving the entire place the feel of a summer resort, and though Luffy’s natural running speed is pretty slow, rocketing across the entire map with the mere press of a button has made traveling through a town practically like flying. I never learned much about the place other than that it needs a lot of facilities built (preferably by you, with generous donations of materials), but none is really needed since it achieves its goal of being a safe haven in all the chaos occurring around it.
Despite everything happening on the island, Trance Town still manages to achieve the laidback feel that Luffy’s adventures sometimes have when no one is after their lives. You can expand facilities through across the town, check out some quests, go through areas you’ve previously visited to net some bugs and/or catch some fish, play a few minigames with Chopper or Luffy, etc. Each character has their own custom action they can take in the field that enhance the exploration as well, especially since you can only have two other characters with you at a time. Usopp can grow flowers that attract a rare insect, while Brook can run across the water to reach small islands. Though the main story is rather urgent and sometimes made me want to either hug my Nintendo 3DS or throw it across the room, the lulls in between the chapters are just as enjoyable simply in their aimlessness.
It’s also amusing to see Sanji or Zoro trying to catch a small beetle with a butterfly net.
Speaking of which, the original animals created for the game really fit the art style in the game. The enemies, too, are designed to fit each world (which, though it sounds intuitive, I haven’t seen often in anime-based games). Skypiea is filled with the Gods Enforcers with their funny goat-like heads and cloud skates, and Alabasta features the kingdom’s soldiers, dressed in their own costumes and having a different fighting style compared to, say, the Marines from Marineford.
There are at least 8 fields that appear around Trance Town, each from the Straw Hat Crew’s past adventures. I like how the areas focused on areas that weren’t visited in either of the Pirate Warriors games (the only other One Piece games I’ve played), such as Fishman Island and Mt. Corvo near Fushia Village, or that weren’t expanded upon, such as Skypiea and Enies Lobby. I especially enjoyed finding a familiar area from the show rather than just having a generic boxy map to beat enemies up in. I also enjoyed the small details built into each area, such as your footsteps in Skypiea making cute “boop” suction sounds because of the wet cloud surface.
All the places are rendered in a beautiful, striking palette of primary colors, giving everything the lively feel of One Piece, and even the effects, though not the most high resolution swirls or patterns you’ve ever seen, were created to fit the color scheme and looked more cartoony than I usually see in video games. But, like in the original One Piece, no matter how silly or colorful something looks, they may very well be dangerous. Those colorful swirls? They’re the warning that Crocodile is going to sling a clawful of sand in your face, or that Caesar Clown is going to send poisonous gas or explosions flying your way.
As relaxing and laidback as I found the exploration in Unlimited World Red to be, the combat can be very hectic. Before I started the game, I had seen trailers and had thought that the movements in the game would be slow and sluggish—especially compared to the Pirate Warriors games. However, I was glad to be proven completely wrong. It’s true that Red doesn’t have quite the same crispness as the other games, but in turn it places much more focus on paying attention to your enemies and dodging or guarding attacks. Enemies take off quite a chunk of hit if they connect, and though there is a level system in place, that damage never really goes down, so the battles become a hectic rush of attacking while keeping an eye out on your surroundings.
Damage is dealt through combos, and if you perform the list of combos appearing on the screen without getting knocked down, you can activate a Break Rush, where your character does more damage for a limited period of time. When an enemy targets you, a button prompt appears over your character’s head that prompts you to either guard or dodge – which the character does seems to be dependent on the person. For example, Zoro tends to guard while Usopp tends to run. Note that this doesn’t mean the battle stops to allow you to push the button like the usual QTE. I’ve missed many prompts because I was too busy performing a combo or the prompt came and went before I could react.
In addition to simple combos, your characters also have a few special moves to pull off that differ based on character. Each character has a maximum of three different moves they can pull off, and each take off 1-2 SP points that are accumulated as you deal damage. There is also a team attack that you can pull off that hits everyone in the field and generally seems to depend on who you have on your team.
Unless stated otherwise, you can have up to three party members in a team. The way teams work in Unlimited World Red, though, is slightly different in that each character has their own health bar yet take no damage from enemies. This, coupled with the ability to switch the character you control at will, means that essentially you have three lives before it’s game over. What surprised me, too, is how the AI for your party in the game is actually very aggressive, and because the party members don’t take damage, it doesn’t matter if they run willy-nilly into attacks.
Though the combos present in Unlimited World Red are simple compared to other games, I enjoyed the effort put into differentiating each character’s playing style. For example, Luffy has longer combos and focuses on dealing damage both in air and on ground, while Zoro is mostly ground-based and moves slower, but deals more damage per hit.
These differences are rather basic, but then you also have Usopp, who has an actual sniping mode where the controls switch to an almost FPS-style of play and is one of the only characters with multiple attacks that can hit downed enemies. Franky can build a stationary tank and lob cannonballs at the enemy, though he lacks any extensive combos. I also don’t understand why he can strike poses in battle. Brook can put people to sleep with his music, while Sanji is the only character with an actual Dash option.
Of less importance but just as fun are the dodging and guarding animations. Nami and Chopper flip and roll out of the way (like semi-normal people), but the other character’s actions vary more. They also have different effects. Luffy practically teleports to the side in a whiz of pinkish-red smoke, while Law uses his fruit to literally teleport past the opponent. Brook’s soul leaves his body, causing some time to pass before he returns to battle, and Sanji jumps upwards.
And then there’s Usopp, who throws up his hands and runs away screaming like a little girl.
There are only two factors that take me out of the immersion. The first is that the faces of the characters appear stiff in battle (but not on the portraits, thankfully), and the second is that, if you manage to get separated from your party members, they’ll actually teleport to your side, sometimes in the middle of an attack. Sometimes they’ll even teleport ahead, starting on the next batch of enemies before you even see them.
I’ve made no mention of the Battle Coliseum area thus far, and that’s because it’s actually a completely separate game from the main story. In fact, you can select to play either the Main Story or Battle Coliseum right after you load the game, and you have to quit one part of the game to play the other. Playing the Battle Coliseum does net you extra quests for the main story, though, and it’s always fun playing the many characters that only appear in that part of the game, such as Shanks and Aokiji.
The Battle Coliseum loosely follows the story from the Dressrosa arc and plays like a fighting game, where you have to battle enemy after enemy with dialogue appearing every time you earn enough points to rise a rank. You can choose the type of battles you can fight – 1-on-1 duels, Battle Royale against one or two boss characters or a gang of lackeys, or fighting 50-150 grunt enemies. Sometimes, a special match will appear where you have to use a certain character to fight another one related to him or her in the anime in a 1-on-1 duel. For example, one of the battles is Shanks vs. Blackbeard.
Although One Piece Unlimited World Red is on the short side, it is a fun excursion into a piece of One Piece’s world that doesn’t just feel like the Straw Hat Crew thrown together to form a game. To me, it actually felt like I was playing a part of the anime. However, because it’s so short and because of its limited roster, you can catch onto attack patterns quickly and the game loses much of its difficulty. This is why I actually appreciated the Battle Coliseum special matches, where I’m forced to use characters I would never have otherwise used.
Food for Thought:
1. I’ve played both the 3DS and PS3 versions of the game. The PS3 version runs smoother and has HD graphics (and it seems like it even has more shadows and effects). However, while the PS3 handles the camera better, with the presence of a second analog stick, the 3DS handles the menu, items, swapping characters, and the map better because of its second screen.
2. I couldn’t fit in the Word system from the game in the main article. Words hold power on this island, and equipping words (essentially quotes from the anime) can enhance a character’s stats or unlock an ability or attack. Some Words can even be used as items and activate special effects, like boosted attack or regenerating health. One of the more annoying uses is having to use them to unlock barriers on the map since you’ll inevitably have to backtrack, but thankfully these Words always provide a great reward. I love how when the Words are used, though, your character says the phrase out loud.