One Piece: Burning Blood taps into the absurdness of its source material to deliver an action packed, creative, and pleasantly in-depth 3D fighter. However, this is clearly a title for those already engaged with the anime, for everyone else it trends a bit too close to bizarre and its minor flaws will be felt more keenly.

With the anime, One Piece, telling the tale of a bunch of superhuman pirates with peculiar looks and even more peculiar abilities, it’s no wonder it proves an ideal setup for a 3D brawler. Here the large roster of unique characters have a place to shine, showing off their variety of over the top combat techniques and their complex interconnected narrative that links the characters together. It’s oddly compelling stuff, and Burning Blood does a great job of focusing its own story on a specific arc of the anime so not to completely overwhelm newcomers.

This concept of accessibility is further evident in how the mechanics are taught to you. The story mode is the only option available to you when you start the game, and as you follow the events of the Paramount War as the anime’s primary protagonist Luffy, new attack and defence techniques are gradually introduced. By the end of Luffy’s adventure you’ll be fully aware of the complexity of Burning Blood’s combat system, including guard breaks, support character buffs, switching between characters mid-battle, and the numerous yet intuitive attacks and special moves.

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It’s a combat system that’s complex enough to offer strategic scope but simple enough to be intuitive. Meanwhile, with fights taking place in sizable 3D arenas, controlling spacing and mastering the dodge become important skills.

In fact you’re encouraged to learn multiple disciplines as the adventure unfolds. Sometimes a fight is a simple brawl, whilst others task you with staying alive for a certain amount of time against a far superior foe. Some battles will require you to frequently break your opponent’s guard and slowly chip away their health, whilst others encourage aggressive speed. It’s a nicely varied set of objectives revolving around combat.

However, there are clearly some balancing issues. Some missions feel like their result is entirely down to luck, with your opponent’s utterly destroying your health bar in a single hit and taking hardly any damage themselves. Getting stuck on such battles is highly frustrating and can easily ruin your immersion and enjoyment. Fortunately the most infuriating of these battles are largely restricted to optional missions. The camera also has a tendency to frame larger characters horrendously, completely obscuring your view. Mind you, the cinematic angles it achieves during special moves is tremendously effective at immersing you and highlighting the excellent, and faithful to its source material, aesthetic.

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As you play through the Paramount War you’ll unlock additional modes and characters to use outside of the story. Additionally, once you’ve completed Luffy’s adventure, three new characters are unlocked for the Paramount War story, allowing you to witness the same events from a different perspective. Here’s where the variety begins to suffer, with many of the cut scenes reused and only the fighters changing. Fortunately the other modes offer something new, however, with the roster locked behind complete the story mode, you may find your choice of characters restricted unless you persist. In-game currency can, fortunately be used to purchase characters but at hefty prices.

Combat outside of the story mode is more structured. You choose three characters to bring into battle and can switch between them on the fly to utilise shred attacks and preserve your fighters health through lengthy battles against the AI, local opponents, or online. Beyond your standard verses modes and their leaderboards and stat tracking features, is the more creative Pirate Flag Battle. In this mode you pick a pirate faction, and every online duel you complete works towards capturing points on a map. It’s a neat social feature that helps encourage online play, although its longevity will very much depend on if the community stays with it.

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Indeed, One Piece: Burning Blood is a fun and well-designed 3D fighter that makes great use of its source material. However, it struggles to balance its positive aspects with its negative ones, providing a focused story that’s easy for new comers to digest, but compromising on variety; and offering an immersive cinematic camera, but occasionally obscuring your view when larger characters are in play. Meanwhile, keeping content and characters locked away hurts the verses mode. But if you’re a fan of One Piece then Burning Blood is a wonderfully faithful brawler of one of the most intense story arcs of the anime.

Thanks to Bandai Namco Entertainment and Xbox for supporting TiX