Despite One Piece: Unlimited World Red being the thirty-sixth entry, and the fifth in the Unlimited series, it is very likely that you have never encountered the world of One Piece. Based on Eiichiro Oda's shonen manga and anime series of the same name, the One Piece series is about as Japanese as you can possibly get. The game in question within this review, One Piece: Unlimited World Red, was originally released on the Nintendo 3DS in Japan last year, but is now heading to the American and European markets on the 3DS, Wii U, PlayStation Vita and PS3. Despite being complete newcomers to the series, we were excited to start our journey into One Piece.
One Piece: Unlimited World Red focuses on our main character Luffy and his friends, who all come together to form the Straw Hat Pirates. At the beginning of the game, Luffy’s friends are kidnapped by Red Count, who has returned to destroy the new world. It is your job to aid Luffy in rescuing his friends and eventually trying taking down Red Count. The story is simple enough to understand and enjoy, however newcomers will be at a great loss when they encounter returning characters from previous iterations of the One Piece series. These characters are not given any introduction and it is almost assumed that the player knows who these people are, and so the game doesn’t feel it needs to spend much time explaining who they are and their background. It is rare for a One Piece game to be released outside of Japan, so it would have been nice if the developers had put a little more effort into making the game more approachable to newcomers. However one thing that will please fans outside of Japan is that all the original voice acting is kept intact and is accompanied with English subtitles. Despite a few odd translations here and there, these subtitles did their job well and helped us gain a much better understanding of what was happening.
The town that Luffy wakes up in at the beginning of One Piece: Unlimited World Red serves as the central hub. Throughout the game, the player can collect resources such as wood blocks, rice and charcoal to bring back to the town and build new shops which will aid you in your quest. One such shop that can be built is the tavern, which gives players access to a range of side quests, and these range from defeating a certain number of enemies to taking down a boss. These side quests are a good addition to the game and offer a break from the main story, as well as a chance to earn upgrades for your character and rare items. Fishing is another activity that can be done on the side of the main story, and this allows you to collect fish to cook food or upgrade certain places within the town such as the restaurant and the museum. The town building serves as a meta-game and because it is where you return to after each mission, it is a good idea to upgrade the town the best you can. The town building is a particularly enjoyable aspect of the game because you can shape and upgrade it to suit your needs. It is only possible to upgrade buildings by actually talking to the townspeople and finding out why they need you to help them, which gives each building a personal touch because the player knows they have aided that NPC in their life. Think of it as just like the upgrades you can buy for Monteriggioni, as seen in Assassin’s Creed 2.
One thing that is certainly unique about One Piece: Unlimited World Red is that Luffy’s body is made of rubber, this allows him to extend his arms to reach high places and propel himself around the environment. This is a fun mechanic and makes traversing the town much easier, but it is never explained why Luffy’s body is like this. Due to this being the thirty-sixth iteration in the series it is probably explained in a previous game, but it will definitely puzzle new players.
Throughout the world of One Piece: Unlimited World Red, players will encounter a variety of enemies they can engage in battle with, ranging from simple goons to dragons that your party of three must strategically take out together. Combat plays out in real-time and is very easy to understand, as it centres around two buttons and an SP (Special Power) meter. A variety of moves can be performed by a number of combinations of the X and Y button on the Wii U gamepad, however all of these attacks seem to do the same amount of damage. While attacking enemies, the SP meter will be built up and when half full, the player can carry out a powerful attack on a single enemy which will eliminate them from the battle almost every time. If the player waits until the SP meter is full, then the three characters in play can combine their attacks and attack every enemy within range, which ends the battle on most occasions. The SP meter is one of the most important factors in combat because you will be victorious in battle almost every time after its usage. Another factor that comes into play within combat is called Strong Voice which aids you when you are low on health and need help. Other characters will call out to you asking if you need help and you can answer these calls and you are rewarded in a boost to your health bar. However you only get a finite amount of help in each battle, so it is wise to keep your wits about you during a boss battle. Unfortunately this is as complex as combat gets, and then the problems start to become apparent. When traversing the world of One Piece: Unlimited World Red, the camera is generally very stable and never causes any problems, but when in combat, the camera will get in your way far too often. Some battles are fought in tight paths and corridors and this seriously hinders the camera because it leads to times when you cannot even see your character on screen, and so you have no idea what is happening. This happens far too much and spoilt our enjoyment of the combat, as it turned battles into an annoyance. As we progressed through the game, we realised that combat does not require a lot of thought or skill. It is very easy to defeat enemies by just mashing on the X and Y buttons repeatedly until they are dead. This makes later levels feel very repetitive and frankly just a bore to play through. A little variety is introduced by switching between characters, however you will still find yourself spamming attack after attack with no real thought or strategy.
The characters you take into battles will level up as you progress through the story which aids in an increase in HP, SP and a better resistance to elements such as blow, slash, fire, ice and lightning. There is no way to customise your character to suit your style of play due to the lack of a skill tree, all upgrades are done automatically as you level up. The one small bit of customisation that One Piece: Unlimited World Red does offer comes in the form of custom words, which characters can equip to boost their attack powers and defence stats. These are a nice addition, however they cannot completely replace a skill tree.
One of the game’s high points is its character models, which all look fantastic and it is clear that a lot of time and care was spent on making them look as detailed as possible. Cutscenes look they have been taken directly from Eiichiro Oda's manga series and placed in the game, they look stunning and are a pleasure to watch, a real high point for One Piece: Unlimited World Red. Unfortunately the graphics are let down a little during gameplay, as many environments are quite bland and boring with nothing really going on in them. Obviously it isn’t feasible to expect the same level of polish we saw in the cutscenes, but it would have been nice to see more detail put into the gameplay environments to really bring them to life. You will visit a new location in every mission within the game, and sometimes even two different surroundings within a single level. We really appreciated the variety in locales the characters visited and it kept us looking forward to the next mission, always guessing where we would be visiting next.
It took us eight hours to complete One Piece: Unlimited World Red, and upon completion the player has the option of competing in the battle coliseum. Here, you can defeat waves of enemies within a certain time limit, and this becomes increasingly more difficult as you progress. The game’s story certainly isn’t the longest out there and so the battle coliseum was a welcome addition to the package of One Piece: Unlimited World Red, now players have an opportunity to test themselves against the strongest enemies the game has to offer. The story is spread over nine missions, which all have a very similar structure. The player will make their way through a new linear environment defeating enemies as they go, and then fight a boss at the end. There is very little variety and by the fifth mission, the game started to feel extremely repetitive. To make matters even worse, there are a few points in the game where you may have to backtrack to previous levels to gather resources to help you progress through the game. This sucked out all the enjoyment in the game and we stopped having fun with what we were doing, One Piece: Unlimited World Red became tiresome and boring. We reviewed the game on the Wii U and were looking forward to seeing what exclusive features we would find that the gamepad could utilize, and unfortunately we found none. We were very disappointed by this here at The Digital Fix, because it seemed obvious that something even as simple as just displaying the map on the gamepad would be included. Instead, you must pause the game every time you want to view your map to work out where you need to go next, which in itself is an annoyance on any videogame console.
Overall, One Piece: Unlimited World Red feels like a game made for fans of the series, and ultimately, they’re the only people we can consider recommending this game to. Anyone unfamiliar with One Piece will have a tough time completely understanding what is going on and who every character is, and this really hinders its accessibility. While the character models and the variety in locales are real high points for the game, the combat and repetitive level structure make the game a complete bore to play through by the halfway point. Fans of One Piece may get a kick out of One Piece: Unlimited World Red, but newcomers should look elsewhere.