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One Piece Unlimited Cruise SP is something of an oddity if, like me, you haven't heard of Anime. Nevertheless the striking characters and exciting action manage to shine through.
I explore the uncharted island alone, in spite of my lazy crew-mates who wait back at the ship for me to return, laden with freshly-caught insects, hewn rock, gathered fruits and the gunpowder of fallen enemies. Should I chance upon a monster, I have a handy list of moves already prepared to deal with them. I know that if I work my way through the list, I will be rewarded with a boost in power and a terrifying advantage over my enemies. A list of items, a list of moves, a list of tasks to complete... it's all the same to me. Just write it all down and I'll go and see that it is completed. Everything else along the way is just unnecessary detail.
One Piece Unlimited Cruise SP successfully takes inspiration from all kinds of games and somehow managed to weld them into a whole which works very well. From The Legend of Zelda, you will recognise future paths which are currently closed because you lack an upgrade for progression. From Monster Hunter, there is a seemingly endless array of natural items to be collected, hacked from trees and gathered from enemy corpses, to be used for crafting into new items and abilities. Meanwhile, from fighters such as Dead or Alive there is a range of fighting moves and combos, listed helpfully on screen during fights.
If, like me, you enjoy a list of tasks to compulsively work through, One Piece Unlimited Cruise SP will be a slice of heaven. Not only are there a huge range of items to find, but most of the quest milestones require a combination of particular ingredients, gathered from around the islands. The items themselves form reasonably logical components in the puzzle to be overcome, but your input is limited to collecting a particular amount.
If, like me, you enjoy a list of tasks to compulsively work through, One Piece Unlimited Cruise SP will be a slice of heaven.
In addition, there are nine playable characters, all of whom level up individually through use and all of whom have unique moves and weapons. It would take quite a while to max out the abilities for all nine characters; doubtless some of you relish that kind of challenge while if you're like me, you'll pick three or four favourites, either because their fighting style works well for you or simply because you like the humour and look of an individual.
One Piece Unlimited Cruise SP appears to draw from an excellent fiction and a cast of diverse and zany characters. I say "appears to" because I found it hard to keep track. The game is based on an animated TV series which is hugely popular in Japan but, despite a decade of game adaptations, the One Piece saga never seems to have hit European shores. This is a pity for this game, as the storytelling here often assumes that you know what is going on.
Most confusing are the enemies that appear. The story which the game is telling seems to revolve around reappearing antagonists from the One Piece crew's previous adventures. These are being recreated by morphing monsters on a string of strange islands. This does provide some diversity in the enemy types, particularly among the boss characters, but it does mean that the enemies you encounter will share little context with the environment and I found myself feeling confused about what was actually going on in the plot. Without knowledge of the series many of these guest characters will carry little weight.
What One Piece Unlimited Cruise SP does have going for it is that the main controllable characters are all highly amusing and well defined. Gameplay is regularly interspersed with extremely well written and characterful cut-scenes and the animated sequences attest to the quality and depth of the source material. The relationships between the characters are quick to become clear and its great fun to see how each of the nine characters' different abilities manifest themselves.
While the characters and animations are beautifully defined, the game world itself feels rather bland.
All of which provides some much-needed colour, because the game world feels very bland at times. It's almost a shame that the writing of the crew's relationships is so entertaining, because while the characters and animations are beautifully defined, the game world itself feels rather bland. Environments lack detail, to the point where it can be hard to navigate without a map because all the locations look the same. It's like a newly built house, filled with plain walls and carpets. It's only when incidental detail and decorations are added that it feels like a real place. It would be easy to put this down to the 3DS' comparative lack of power, but there are many places where One Piece Unlimited Cruise SP's sets are properly dressed and among these it feels like a completely different and more engrossing game.
I don't know if it's the tricky balance of animating nine different characters of different stature, but the controls feel loose and unsatisfying and the characters feel disconnected from the game world. The combat somehow manages to be addictive and strategic, but it too feels dislocated and I found that my strikes lacked the meaty connection of brawlers such as Monster Hunter or Ratchet and Clank. It's almost as though the characters are too big for the low-budget world in which they have been placed.
Having said all that, One Piece Unlimited Cruise SP is lonely among a very small group of roaming adventures on the 3DS. The huge open world is a rare treat on the handheld and I found myself engrossed by the longer and more involved adventure which it offered. It deserves a good audience right now, especially while we wait for a UK release for Monster Hunter 3G (3DS).
More than that, I loved the interactions between the hilarious characters; my confusion over the story has inspired me to find the Manga novels and see how the tale unfolds for myself. Ultimately, One Piece Unlimited Cruise SP is an extremely enjoyable adventure which will be a great title for most action-adventure fans on the 3DS and an absolute must for anybody that knows and loves the anime series.
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