As the first game based on the highly popular manga and anime series One Punch Man, which follows the bizarre story of a man who beats anyone in a single punch, expectations seemed fairly high for One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows when it was first unveiled. Since I'm a fan of the source material, I was quite looking forward to giving it a go, but right off the bat I was greeted with the strange lack of a main menu and was forced to create my own custom character, despite the main draw of the series being its highly particular and popular characters.
Once I'd made my own fighter, who really couldn't look any more generic because of the limited amount of choices available in the character editor (there are, however, many more articles of clothing, hairstyles, and so on that become unlockable later on), I was dropped down into a hub world and tasked with start up missions. While the game does have both English and the original Japanese audio, due to the fact that you don't actually have access to an options menu until you land in this hub world, you're forced to listen to the English version even if you don't want to until you've gotten through this initial phase of the game.
I was under the impression that this would be a battle arena game, like many other titles based on anime licenses nowadays are, so the hub world came as a surprise. Once I started completing the missions it turned out that my initial expectations actually weren't that far from the mark - the vast majority of missions consisted of walking from point A to point B in the barren hub world and then fighting someone using my self-made fighter, leaving me feeling confused as to what the purpose of the world even was.
I feel like advancing via a menu would have made for a much smoother experience, given that there isn't really much to do in the world besides walking to your next mission anyway. You can activate online mode to see other players who are currently playing the game with their own hero designs, and have their characters show up as assist fighters in your own battles, although it'll still be you controlling them.
By playing through the compulsory story mode I slowly but surely started unlocking characters from the actual series and became able to access versus mode, where I could pick my favorites to fight with (which had been the main appeal for me to begin with). Unfortunately, this did little to increase my appreciation for A Hero Nobody Knows, because the gameplay is sluggish and unintuitive compared to other similar licensed titles within the genre. My Hero: One's Justice 2, which is the same type of game, and in fact comes from the same developer, released just two weeks after this game and the battle system is on a whole different level - it boasts a much smoother and more pleasant fighting experience.
My main gripes with the gameplay lie with the bland repetitiveness of the combat itself, and the very unclear rules for when your attacks will beat your opponent. Most of the movement feels slow and clunky, and it's very hard to judge when you're actually allowed to hit your opponent, since even when you've knocked them down they will still look like they're about to stand up, making recovery animations quite confusing. On top of that, the special attacks you can unlock, as well as much of the gear for your custom character, is lifted from popular characters in the series anyway, which makes the entire create-a-character system seem entirely unnecessary.
Once I hit my third mission, which you have no chance of actually winning and are just meant to run around and avoid your opponent's attacks until Saitama, the eponymous One Punch Man, shows up to defeat the unbeatable opponent in one hit on the player's behalf, it became crystal clear to me that this game wasn't going to be winning me over.
Even as a first outing for a game based on this highly entertaining intellectual property, One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows feels incredibly lackluster and comes off as a title that was crushed by its own lofty ambitions. The development resources placed on the create-a-character system and hub world, neither of which are properly fleshed out, seem to have come at the expense of the actual gameplay, which itself is unfocussed and scattered. It feels like the latter was a direct result of splitting focus between all the various different parts, none of which could be completed to satisfaction given the budget and/or development time allotted to the title.
There is some fun to be had with playing your favorite characters from the series and seeing their signature moves in action, and the game's character models do genuinely look good and stay true to the style of the source material, so if all you want to do is play as your beloved heroes and villains from One Punch Man there's definitely some value to the game. But be warned - you have to slog your way through several hours with your own generic and lackluster character before you're able to access them.
In conclusion, if you're someone who has heard about One Punch Man and want to know what all the fuss is about, I really can't recommend this game and would instead advise you to either read the manga or watch the anime series. If you're already a fan of the source material, it's possible you'll find some joy in it, as well as an unhealthy dose of disappointment; I honestly didn't have a particularly good time, despite being a fan, but maybe some of you will find the charm that I couldn't.
This review is based on a digital copy of One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows for the PS4, provided by the publisher.
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