Those crazy pirates are fighting it out like Power Stone.
One Piece: Grand Battle is a fighter very similar to Power Stone -- so much that my roommate thought it must have been done by the same team, but it was not. One or two players can select from sixteen characters (only about ten are available at the start) from the One Piece series to battle it out in 3D arenas filled with treasure chests full of power-ups and weapons.
The control system feels a bit slow and awkward, so it can take a while to get used to. Basically, A is for horizontal attacks, and X is for vertical attacks. R guards, Y jumps, and B can be used to pick up items or throw enemies. Using different moves is simply a matter of pressing specific sequences of buttons, such as A A X or R+A+X, etc. Each character has a different set of moves that you can look up at any time from the start menu.
A variety of items and interactive background elements do their part to enhance the experience. Treasure chests are constantly dropping in from the sky, and you can either bust them open for goodies or throw them at your opponent. All of them contain a healthy serving of fruit as well as attack items and power-ups. You might get such goodies as bombs, beehives, poison mushrooms, or enhanced speed. Each level has things to hit in the background for your advantage too. You can whack a cow in a village to send it stampeding back and forth through the level. One stage has a giant “sea-cow” (not a manatee, but a big cow-ish thing with fins) that dips in and out of the water, sending waves across the walkways to push you off the arena. And yet another stage has a mast that you can roll over your enemies like a giant baking pin.
The L button doesn’t do anything by itself, but you can use it in specific combinations to summon support characters, use specials, or pull off your character’s mega-powerful secret move. To use any of the L button moves, you’ll need to eat a lot of fruit (yes, I said eat fruit) to fill your gauges. The summons and specials each require one full gauge, but you’ll have to fill up two of the gauges to use the secret move.
This secret move is really the game-breaker (and I don’t mean that in a cool NBA Street kind of way). The moves are mostly fan service and switch from the battle arena you’ve been fighting in to show long cut-scenes of your character annihilating his opponent. However, this cinematic might be shorter or longer depending on when you use your secret move. The way it works out is that if your life bar is lower than your opponent’s, you’ll do more damage, and if it’s higher, you’ll do less. Imagine a special move that grows in destruction the weaker you get, and as a result, if somebody is much better than you, you can just use this move to finish them off, even though your life bar is empty and theirs is full. Add in the fact that some characters have nearly unavoidable secret moves, and you get what is probably one of the cheapest tricks ever seen in a fighting game.
Even without this crazy secret attack system, character match-ups in Grand Battle really don’t feel balanced at all. Krieg seems to be unstoppable against most characters, but get Buggy the Clown on the case, and suddenly he’s easy pickings. This experience repeats itself with many of the characters, making the game less about skill and more about knowing which character beats which.
One Piece: Grand Battle is remarkably short as a single player experience. I completed the story mode in about twenty minutes the first time through. It only consists of five one-round battles and a box-smashing mini-game. Each battle is opened and closed with some brief banter between the characters, but these pirates come up with some pretty pathetic reasons for fighting each other. So, it’s not much of a story.
In addition to story mode is a mini-game challenge, in which you’ll battle Usopp’s pirates in three events. The first two are random mini-games like shoveling snow by using your standard attacks or assisting a team of racing villagers by preventing pirates from firing on their ship. If you lose a challenge, Usopp will take one of your support characters, and if you win, you’ll get to choose one of his, which you’ll keep for the duration of the challenge. The final round is a battle against Usopp himself, and whoever wins two out of three rounds wins the challenge. Most of the mini-games aren’t too fun in any case, though. Once you’ve tired of Story battles and mini-games, all that’s left is multiplayer. You can set up either a two-player match or a tournament for up to sixteen people.
There are a lot of unlockables for One Piece fans such as artwork and video clips. However, these mostly serve to point out that the player models in the game don’t look much like the characters they’re based on. They all have a kind of shortened, fattened look to them that some fans may not care for. Fans of the Japanese version of the show may prefer to import the game as well, since the American acting is noticeably terrible and doesn’t match the emotions expressed on the characters' faces. I’ve never seen the show in any context, but I know bad acting when I’m forced to endure it.
In all, One Piece: Grand Battle might be alright for two-player games, but the single-player experience is worn out in six hours or so, and I’m not sure how many people would want to jump into a tournament with this fighting system.