Who is that again?
Hot on the heels of Unlimited Cruise comes Unlimited Cruise SP2, and boy does it feel like the second half of a complete game!
Dropping you in moments after the first game ended, you're on a mission with Monkey D. Luffy and his Straw Hat Pirates to restore your little mate called Gabri, who has been transformed into an orb. To do this you must begin adventuring across islands, fighting monsters and collecting raw materials to build bigger and better items. Feed Gabri, power him up, prepare to take on the main big bad and you'll be done.
Sadly I've not played the first game in the series, which believe me is a total disadvantage here; SP2 generously allows you to bring across data from the previous game (no use to me) which includes moves, health bars, some items and certain recipes, so there's clearly a huge advantage to playing the original above and beyond just understanding the plot. Of course, had Namco Bandai not split the game in two in the first place (very naughty!) this wouldn't have been an issue. This little operation was apparently a requirement due to the amount of translation involved, but given that the only language track is Japanese and the subtitles are so small you need to be a Borrower to read them properly, this seems fishy to me.
Thankfully I've read a little of the manga so have a rough idea of who's who, but if you're playing a One Piece game, chances are this won't be an issue for you.
Extreme team building excercise
You have a team of 9 pirates who you can control at will. Each has their own health and special move bars which will become powered up with new moves the more you use them. Careful balancing should be a priority - sticking doggedly with a buxom lass called Nami may be enjoyable, but it'll get you and your weak, under-developed crew-mates killed swiftly in the end. Each character starts with 2 outfits which you can switch at the ship too if you like to customize.
Your pirate ship, the Thousand Sunny, is a wonderful hub world which you can wander about pretty freely. Certain areas are locked down for use later in the game, but it's a breezy, fun little place that allows you to store materials, develop items and set sail for new islands.
Building better worlds...
Charting islands keeps you busy by giving you plenty to find as you explore, though fighting is pretty repetitive and just seems like grinding 90% of the time. You can just run past enemies for the most part and concentrate on exploring - only the pirates with guns are annoying enough to actually deal with most of the time.
The islands all have a theme, but are pretty large and have areas that must be revisited when you have the appropriate tools to become fully charted. However, this is rarely signposted, so be prepared to make your own notes.
Hunting bugs, collecting materials and, most fun of all, fishing, are the order of the day here and will take up most of your time with the game. Your enjoyment will be directly proportionate to your affection for fetch-quests.
The graphics are functional enough, though I'd hate to see how jagged they'd be on the new XL model, and the music is pretty jolly (Roger). The colourful cast is the real motivator, creating an atmosphere of joyful enthusiasm that will, depending on your familiarity with the crew, become infectious or simply very irritating.
Bosses take the form of famous villains from the series, and are amusing enough but usually dispatched quite quickly. One Piece isn't a particularly challenging game, and a lot of the fun is derived from exploring and building.
Lastly, video is extremely poor. I know the limited nature of the carts means that compression is a requirement, but even by 3DS standards, it's atrocious.
Is it a treasure?
One Piece fans will get a kick out of entering their favourite world of full of primary colours and boundless optimism, but it probably won't garner many fans for the franchise on its own.
Spare a thought for our poor American cousins though - they won't be seeing this at all in their native country, and thanks to the draconian region locking on 3DS, won't be able to import either. So whether you love One Piece or just annoying Americans, this is the game for you ^_-