One Piece is a strange franchise. Despite being the best-selling manga of all time, you either know it well or you’ve never heard of it. Bandai Namco is hoping that with the release of One Piece: World Seeker, more people will start to move from the latter camp to the former.
Anime games are often a niche unto themselves, slotting into a number of different genres from fighting games to narrative action adventures and RPGs. Rarely do they break out of their audience into the mainstream, with Pokémon’s (pocket) monstrous success the most obvious example – OK, so it was a game first, but even so! – but Dragon Ball FighterZ also doing remarkably well last year to break past 3.5 million sales. One Piece games have typically been quite mixed, but World Seeker naturally hopes to surpass its predecessors. Right now, having played about an hour and a half of the game, I’m skeptical but certainly hopeful.
As the series’s first open world exploration game, World Seeker is the most ambitious One Piece game to date. It also happens to coincide with the anime’s 20th anniversary (the manga is a couple of years older than that, but if Bandai can ignore it, so can we). It sees you step into the shoes of Monkey D. Luffy and take on Prison Island, a mysterious place that nobody can tell you much about because of spoilers.
The island is sizeable and full of things for you to see and do, with loads of people to talk to that also happen to give you a boat load of side quests to complete. Unsurprisingly, the roster of characters includes your standard fan favourites, although there are a whole host of new characters for this original story. Some of these characters are natives to the island, such as the enigmatic Jeanne; some are marines, who generally like shooting you and trying to hit you with their swords; and some of them are part of your Straw Hat crew, a notable band of misfits each with their own special abilities.
Luffy’s ability is that he’s basically made out of rubber like an anime Stretch Armstrong. His ‘gum-gum’ abilities allow him to punch/kick enemies at a fair range. Not the full range that you see in the anime, but a more balanced thing that you’d expect from a game like this.
Ironically, using Luffy’s abilities feels pretty natural. The combat feels exactly as you would expect it to; it’s your standard third person affair which goes over-the-shoulder when aiming to help you use those extendable fists in a rapid-fire attack. Traversal is also pretty good in that you can gum-gum rocket your way around the world, using Luffy’s stretchy arms to grab ledges and slingshot his way towards them. This is more grapple gun than Spider-Man web swinging, but it’s certainly fun, regardless of if you’ve always wished you could soar through the treetops like a young boy made out of rubber. The only downside is that in certain areas you can flip over the railing you’re grabbing and dump poor Luffy down the other side. Despite being a pirate, Luffy’s one weakness is water. Go figure.
The biggest draw to this game – aside from the fact that it’s an open world adventure that allows you to really sink your teeth into the world – is that the art direction and the music are done by the guy who wrote the manga and the guy who did the soundtrack for the show: Eiichiro Oda and Kohei Tanaka respectively. On the whole, it looks and sounds amazing. There are a few issues with the work in progress localisation, but this was a prerelease build so that is to be expected and I’d expect both to be tightened up by the 15th March launch.
The biggest drawback to the game, from what I’ve seen so far, is the voice track. It’s Japanese only and even then, it’s only half-voiced. When Luffy is chatting to someone he’s about to gum-gum kick in the head, the exchange is voiced in Japanese, but when Luffy is getting orders or chatting to someone in town, you’ll go through a handful of lines of on-screen dialogue before someone whines “onegaiiiiii!” at you. If you’re not paying attention, you hear a whiney “pleeeeease”, and have no clue what’s going on. It’s 2019! I don’t want to read my games, I want my games to talk to me. Whether or not that bothers you will be down to you and you alone, but I don’t see a game that isn’t fully voiced, let alone voiced in English, breaking out into the English-speaking market with runaway success. It’s a shame, because what I’ve played of the game so far has been quite fun.
Still, any franchise that has lasted this long is always worth paying attention to. If you’re curious about the game or the One Piece franchise, I’d certainly say it’s worth checking out.