If you say you haven’t heard of One Piece, I don’t believe you. Plenty of anime and manga series are popular, but nothing quite rivals the multimedia mega-series that is One Piece. A beast unlike any other, the original manga and anime have been running without interruption for over two decades. There have been plenty of One Piece games through this run, but the last two console generations of these interactive spin-offs have mostly been ho-hum action games with unforgettable original stories or overly streamlined adaptations of anime story arcs. for the 25th anniversary of the franchise, Bandai Namco are shaking things up with One Piece Odyssey, a turn-based JRPG that delivers a nostalgia-fueled narrative that looks back on the Straw Hat crew’s best adventures with a nostalgic twist instead of the usual trimmed down highlight reel.
One Piece Odyssey sees the Luffy and his Straw Hat companions crash landing on the storm-covered island of Waford, losing their ship to the elements and becoming scattered across the island. Luffy sets out to quickly reunite the crew, getting into a few basic battles along the way. It felt like a bold choice when my first battle saw me doing over 1000 damage to a grunt enemy with my basic attack, and earning 32K in experience – maybe the developers really liked the big numbers of Disgaea? – but it quickly became apparent this wouldn’t last. After reconnecting with your crew and having a few battles where everyone is equipped with high levels and a load of different abilities, a mysterious new character named Lum quickly strips them all away from you.
It was an odd feeling having this kind of moment in an RPG, but it plays into the narrative in a fun way. Lum has accidentally turned your strength and abilities into mysterious cubes scattered across the island, Her guardian, the way-too-cool gunslinger Adio, helps you track down the dungeons where your cubes have been scattered to. Once you find them, though, the Straw Hat crew needs to activate them and explore the world of Memoria, a dream dimension that manifests as some of the most iconic locations and moments of the original series.
With this, One Piece Odyssey puts an incredibly refreshing spin on the usual attempts anime games make to cover their source material. Rather than being sped through a watered down replica of the original stories, the modern Straw Hat crew gets to revisit iconic old-school locations like Alabasta and unforgettable stories like the Marineford arc with a time-travel twist – reminiscing on their memories of their experiences, recreating their epic victories to escape the Memoria dimension, and grappling with the unexpected changes to these familiar events that end up occurring.
What feels even more special is the fact that, for the first time in a while, you really get to really explore and savour these iconic locales. The low-key, slow-paced vibe you get in-between dungeon exploration and boss battles just feels so special and it even helps make character cameos hit just a little harder. Whether you’re running into Smoker and Tashigi, fighting Crocodile, or even meeting the Kung Fu Dugongs, there are small, fan-pleasing moments sprinkled throughout the game that you didn’t see in the musou or fighting One Piece games.
While you’re exploring Waford, Memoria, or numerous dungeons, you’ve got more to do than just hold down the left stick and encounter overworld enemies. You can choose to run around as any of the Straw Hats at any time, and a lot of the characters have unique overworld abilities. Luffy is unsurprisingly the most useful character to run around as, sporting long-range item pickups, wall-smashing abilities, platform grappling & swinging, and even detective vision – I mean, “Observation Haki” – that lets him find hidden items and scan for rare enemies. As much as I love getting to run around as my favorite fashionista Robin or the world’s cutest doctor Chopper, you’ll be swapping back to Luffy pretty regularly in the overworld. Unfortunately, every character you control suffers from some quality-of-life annoyances – your jump animation is incredibly rigid, and a bevy of frustrating invisible barriers or walls prevent the locales from feeling truly explorable or alive.
In combat, though, the entire crew shines. Even with most of your abilities stripped away and lost to the cubes, there are plenty of engaging mechanics that form the building blocks of combat in One Piece Odyssey. Battles see four of your characters (which you can swap at any time) squaring off against any number of enemies – sometimes one large foe, other times half a dozen or more annoying grunts. Every character and enemy has one of three attack-style categories, rock-paper-scissors style – sword beats first, fist beats gun, gun beats sword. Your special attacks also have various element types that enemies might be weak or resistant to, adding more complexity and possibilities. The only frustration with this system is that the UI could be far more intuitive about letting you quickly make these swaps. The amount of button presses and confirmations you have to go through would be fine if you only swap once in a while, but I found myself swapping characters around multiple times per battle.
On top of these elemental combos, combat places characters and enemies in different ‘battle areas; – so Chopper might be facing two enemies in his corner of the arena while the rest of the gang are standing next to a different enemy in their area. You can attack enemies in other areas, but only once your own area is clear of threats. The system adds an extra wrinkles to strategize around, but since you aren’t physically moving characters around in real-time or getting any zoomed-out camera angles that clearly show the different areas, it feels kind of fake. It’s like the game is just pretending these zones exist for the sake of combat depth.
It’s also a bit weird seeing what basic elements are missing from the game that leave the overall package just feeling a little unpolished. You can’t defend in battle, or even skip a turn, which is frustrating when a bonus battle objective wants you to land the killing blow with a specific character. Your overworld interaction button is circle but your menu confirmation button is square, with no way to change it – a minor thing that led to me accidentally closing or confirming way too many menu options.
In a bubble, One Piece Odyssey is a promising, but flawed JRPG. Some shortcomings in the overworld design and oversights in the combat design can be a bit of a let down. For a standalone RPG experience, it might be a hard-sell, but it never tries to be a standalone, entryway experience. The overall package is such an uncompromising love letter to the history of One Piece, and in that way, One Piece Odyssey is a massive success. All the awkward overworld issues and kinda-okay RPG battles are more than worth getting through in order to experience the immersive, heart-warming tour down memory lane that One Piece Odyssey is.
Believe it or not, I’ve never heard of One Piece. ?