Here’s the dilemma that comes with adapting a popular piece of work across a different medium: should it follow the original canon storyline, or is there room to introduce some new content?
A mix of both is usually the resulting course of action, but even then, striking a fine balance between new and existing elements proves to be a tough challenge as well, and no one knows this better than game producer Tsuzuki Katsuaki of the upcoming game, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4.
With the exception of Pirate Warriors 2, which featured an entirely original storyline, the previous game entries all saw a mix of canon mashed up with new elements. The newest installment seeks to continue the tradition, spanning across the 39-episode Alabasta Arc, to the Whole Cake Island Arc, all accompanied by an original story involving the Wano Country.
It should prove to be an emotional, thrilling affair, considering how hyped and well fleshed-out the latter story arc was. But according to Katsuaki-san, not every aspect of that will be brought into the game.
In fact, the content is selected based on what the team thinks users would like to experience.
“We took into consideration what fans love in the One Piece itself, such as their favourite characters and parts of the overall narrative, by looking at the SNS (social networking services) and JUMP popularity polls,” he shared in the presence of a translator during an interview at the Thailand Game Show.
“After that, we decide and prioritise which characters are suitable for the selected parts – taking into consideration the sentiments of fans, of course – and the Alabasta and Whole Cake Island story arcs happened to end up as the top picks.”
But there are some limitations that come with gameplay, particularly of the title’s musou genre. Citing the example of the Davy Back Fight Arc, Katsuaki-san explains that the one-versus-one battle format made it unsuitable for hack-n-slash, where one has to go up against waves and waves of enemies – even if the animation action is able to carry over well to a game setting. As such, the team often has to put their imagination prowess to use, and visualise the best scenes and pirate figures that will make for interesting playable content.
The vast world of One Piece presents a challenge, though. Pirate Warriors 3 certainly impressed with a robust roster of 37 characters, and its successor isn’t going to lose out with more than 40 of them in the line-up. Where the former title introduced crowd favourite Shanks as a new playable character, Pirate Warriors 4 will welcome the debut of villains Basil Hawkins and Kaido, alongside ex-Marine admiral Kuzan and the red-haired Vinsmoke Ichiji, both of whom can be player-controlled.
Retaining the unique, colourful personalities of these characters, thus, requires fine and thorough thought. Katsuaki-san acknowledges this fact, and confirms that the team has put in a lot of effort to do their anime counterparts justice.
“The characters from One Piece have vastly individualistic qualities, like how Carrot is unable to activate her Sulong transformation unless it’s night time, or how Sanji will never kick a woman. We took all of these into consideration when coming up with the characters for this game, and the team is working very hard to explore that within the personality of each character,” he noted.
This sense of dedication translates into the smallest of details in Pirate Warriors 4, which is a respectable feat in itself. In a scene where Carrot fights with Electro, for instance, the former’s night-only Sulong version appears, so special effects are tailored to reflect the backdrop shift from daytime to night time. Meanwhile, every character will sport a trait unique to their own, such as a specific facial expression or action.
Because the cast of One Piece are so set in their own individualistic ways, it’s not easy to pick out a main favourite – and it seems even the producer himself is not spared from this difficult decision-making process. When asked about his personal bias, Katsuaki-san appeared to be caught slightly off-guard, letting out a quick, uncertain chuckle, before faltering in his response. As he slowly mulled over his choices, a conclusion was finally reached, and it’s one without the usual favourites like Zoro, Sanji, or Ace.
“Man, it’s so hard to choose, but I think my favourite character is Bartolomeo,” he said. “It’s because he started out as a very hateful character, but as the episodes progress, you start to realise that there’s a gap in his personality – he’s not the awful guy everyone thinks he is, and in fact, turns out to be good.”
He then added with an abashed smile, “During the fight between Bartolomeo and Gladius (Episode 713), he risked his life to protect Robin, and then defeated Gladius with an homage to Luffy. The flashback to Bartolomeo’s and Luffy’s first meeting made me cry.”
New additions to the roster are hardly the only changes present, however. While the core gameplay mechanics remain similar to its predecessors, the game is set to usher in some minor adjustments in the form of more diverse move sets, expanded slots for special abilities, increased emphasis on air combat, and the enemy-juggling while airborne. This means that players can look forward to having Luffy use the newly-featured Gomu Gomu no Hanabi and Gigant Thor Axe attacks, as well as levelling up his four special abilities.
The Titan Mode is undeniably the most significant addition to the title. Pirate Warriors 4 swaps out the character-switching mechanic Kizuna Rush in the previous game for the ability to transform into giant characters. Giving a brief breakdown behind the change, Katsuaki-san elaborated, “For Pirate Warriors 3, the theme was for the player to have two characters to take down one character; whereas for this game, the story will revolve mainly around titans and the stronger Yonko, so we decided to add this aspect in.”
There’s just one slight concern – Pirate Warriors 3 experienced some porting issues on PC, and veteran fans are bound to adopt a wary attitude with the upcoming title. Katsuaki-san, however, assured that the team is “proceeding with caution this time, [with no intention] to let the same situation happen again”. It was quite an unfortunate error on their part, especially with the satisfactory, above-par reception that previous game reeled in on other platforms.
As the interview with Katsuaki-san drew to an end, he indicated the Suke Suke no Mi (Clear-Clear fruit) as his top pick for the most desired Devil Fruit – much like Sanji himself – and we can definitely see why: turning invisible is really handy to have on hand, especially for making hasty, unnoticed retreats or pulling pranks.
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is currently slated for a 2020 release, with first impressions leaning more towards the fun, beginner-friendly, and bombastic side of things.
Si Jia is a casual geek at heart – or as casual as someone with Sephiroth’s theme on her Spotify playlist can get. A fan of movies, games, and Japanese culture, Si Jia’s greatest weakness is the Steam Summer Sale. Or any Steam sale, really.