Level Design is one of the most important aspects of game development. It’s effectively the glue that holds a game together. All the work you put into programming the game’s mechanics, drawing the game’s art and writing the story is all for nought if you don’t know how to put it all together and make it into something focused and coherent. While a good level can enhance the gameplay and the fun you have playing the game, a bad level can stick out like a sore thumb and taint your memories and experience of an otherwise great game. Today, I’m starting yet another new series(I swear this is the last one): Leveling Up. In this series, I seek to look at some of the best and worst-designed levels in video games and talk about what makes them so good or how they can be improved. To start, I’m going to be talking about a horrible level in a game I love based on a series I love: Adventure on Ghost Island from One Piece Pirate Warriors 3.
Let me start by giving a bit of background for those unfamiliar with the One Piece manga and anime series. One Piece follows the adventures of Straw Hat Luffy and his pirate crew as they travel in search of the One Piece, a treasure of unimaginable value hidden somewhere on the seas by the late, legendary Pirate King: Gol D. Roger. One Piece Pirate Warriors 3’s main story follows the story of the series all the way up to the recent Dressrosa arc. Adventure on Ghost Island is a level based off the “Thriller Bark” Arc, an arc where Luffy faces off against Gekko Moriah of the Seven Warlords and his zombie army. Thriller Bark was a mixed bag for me. It had some great comedy, and some epic fights, but suffered from one of the weakest villains in the series as well as some stupid moments(Sanji’s ‘fight’ vs Absalom). Adventure on Ghost Island reflects this, as it’s easily my least favourite level in the entire game. So, with that out of the way, let’s go over why I hate this level so damn much!
Upon starting the level, things don’t look promising. The entire lower part of the map, the forest yo start in, is shrouded in a thick fog, covering all of the paths and making your minimap pretty much useless. This doesn’t make things challenging, it just makes it frustrating as you wander around trying to find where to go next. There are also very few enemies making it quite dull. Once you defeat Perona, one of Moriah’s commanders, you finally get rid of the fog and get out of the forest. Unfortuntately, things don’t get much better from there. You soon find out that the forest isn’t the only place lacking in enemies; the entire level is. There are ZERO keeps to spawn more enemies in, meaning that the level gets progressively more empty and more boring the longer it goes on. This isn’t helped by the fact that Pirate Warriors 3 generally has long levels, and Adventure on Ghost Island is by far one of the longest. It’ll take you at least thirty minutes to complete, and that’s if you’re rushing. Eventually, the map will be a hollow husk with only a handful of enemies and the bosses you need to fight to progress.
Speaking of the bosses, there’s one in particular that you’ll quickly come to despise with every fibre of your being: Oars. I’m honestly convinced that Oars was designed by the devil himself, as every single part of him is made to be as infuriating as possible. You first encounter him shortly after getting out of the forest. He’s bad enough then, but at least he’s manageable. You have to wait for him to attack, dodge the frustratingly large hitbox, and damage him while he’s pulling back to get ready for his next strike. This is a task that’s easier said than done thanks to the camera’s indecision on just what exactly it wants to focus on, and the fact that you can be knocked off the platform and forced to do some legwork to get back. Fortunately, you only have to get him to about half health, after which he retreats temporarily. Then you need to escort some engineers so they can build a bridge to the next area. Escort missions are usually the bane of gamers, but with very few enemies to deal with, it should be a piece of cake right? WRONG! Oars comes back again, preventing the engineers from moving forward. And this time, you have to fight him twice!
But after that, it still isn’t the end, no! That would be too easy! After fighting off another warlord(Bartholomew Kuma), you must now fight Moriah along with, you guessed it, Oars! Yet it somehow manages to be even WORSE! No sooner have you got to Oars and started dealing some damage, than he decides he’s going to move to the other end of the map for absolutely no reason. After around every two attacks, he’ll jump and move somewhere else. So you run around trying to take him down as fast as possible, and you get him to half health. As if you didn’t have enough on your plate, now Moriah as well as several of his doppelgangers appear in random places around the map. If you don’t defeat the right one, well, Oars will be back to FULL HEALTH! If you’re lucky, you’ll manage to defeat one of them before this happens, and there’s no way of knowing which is the real one. You get past this, and finally finish off Oars, only for Moriah to do the same goddamn trick again! By this point, I was about ready to throw my laptop out of the window. Fortunately, I got lucky and got the right Moriah, finally defeating Oars for good… but not Moriah! As a final “fuck you”, you have to fight a powered up Moriah. By this point, your character is probably on the brink of death because of Oars and as a result, you have to be extremely careful if you don’t want to repeat the whole nightmare all over again.
It’s questionable why Omega Force went out of their way to make this level so infuriating. There’s no other boss like Oars in the game, meaning they had to make it from scratch, and it would have been much easier and better to make it similar to the other levels in the game. But if they really wanted to go down this route, there are a number of ways they could have made the level more bearable and even fun. First of all, the level needs a LOT more enemies for the player to fight. The entire reason people play Warriors games is for the satisfaction of mowing down hundreds of enemies with brutal combos. There should be a few keeps around the map to keep enemy numbers up. As for the forest simply have the player take over keeps to advance and reunite with the rest of the crew with no fog obscuring the map.
Most importantly, reduce the amount of times you have to fight Oars drastically. At most, you should only have to fight him twice; once when he first appears and at the end of the level when you fight him and Moriah. Moriah’s heal should only replenish a quarter of his health at most, you should get a little more time to stop him, and there should be no doppelgangers whatsoever. Oars should also stay in the same place instead of constantly moving around so it doesn’t get annoying having to go from one side of the map to the other. The engineer mission can still be there, but instead of Oars, have enemy captains stop them and prevent them from moving forward. After Oars is down for good, you can then have Moriah do the doppelganger trick(with no healing) before entering into his final “Shadow’s Asgard” form. With those changes, the level would certainly be a lot less rage-inducing and time-consuming to complete. Be sure to tell me what you think of this new series in the comments below, as I’m interested to hear your opinion! And with that, Adventure on Ghost Island is successfully Leveled Up!