Let’s tick the obvious off early. If you’ve not devoted a quarter-of-a-century to the manga that begat it, this new One Piece game will be quite the “odd”-yssey. After starting its maiden voyage in 1997, Eiichiro Oda’s magnum opus has taken swashbuckling to strange new seas indeed.
A few examples spring to mind. Teapots eating devil fruit to become raccoons. Cyborgs sending morse code messages with their nipple lights to underwater leviathans. The fully-functioning bottom half of a man holding a polite conversation (presumably through his anus).
Clearly, the source material is kooky and tough to engage with if you’re one of those “feet firmly on the ground” types. However, I’d be telling you pirate porky pies if I said One Piece wasn’t also addictive as hell. Many a wretch has waded into this fandom, only to get caught in its rip and be swept away for decades.
Hands-on One Piece Odyssey
After spending a few hours with One Piece Odyssey, I reckon it’s an even quicker way to be claimed by these seas of cheese, and find oneself utterly immersed. What’s been undertaken here is a 25th-anniversary commemorative JRPG that’s a remarkably inclusive voyage. Hardcore fans will be sated with new canon storylines; considerable steps to onboard newcomers have been taken as well.
Better yet, developer ILCA is determined to ensure all players feel welcome as they jump ship from the genre of action gaming to RPGing. The basic idea; to make something easy to grasp but also unique in its mechanical approach. A new spin that’s wary of typical JRPG pitfalls and, as a result, might be tough to master.
Oh, and possibly in the spirit of its ludicrously long-lived inspiration, it’ll be upwards of 60+ hours to fully complete. An Odyssey indeed, and one I’m told is based on a “Story of Bonds” theme. Inter-party-member relationships. Nothing to do with MI6.
First impressions of this are definitely encouraging. The animation VFX, generous voicework and overall cel-shading aesthetic are true to the OG article. In this original adventure, the Straw Hat crew shipwreck onto the legendary island of Waford, which I’m told is the main stage of their adventure. That said, I was also teased with the promise of future excursions to the arid haunts of Alabaster and Water 7 too.
How Many Pieces?
After a lengthy (and suitably batshit) intro, I get to grips with the three main components of gameplay: Drama, Adventure and Battle. The first pillar pertains to a dramatic story, where I was impressed by the constant chatter (VO not text reams) of my crew members as I poked around. That said, there was also some stop-start irritation—finishing a battle or cutscene, taking two steps in the overworld, then being smacked over the head with another cinema. I’m hoping this is just a symptom of tutorials gone mad, a passing annoyance.
The adventure side of things is much what you’d expect it to be. You sprint around a remarkably pretty (but expectedly restrictive) island overworld. It’s dotted with a ton of POI spots to milk extra dialogue from your invisible party members. This will surely please fans who opt to stop and smell the roses. More importantly, you can at any time open a menu to insta-switch avatars. Doing so isn’t just a cosmetic holiday—every character can solve environmental puzzles or create loot farming opportunities. For example, Nami may find random coins, Sanji can sniff out unique cooking ingredients, Luffy can snag distant items and Zoro slices through otherwise impenetrable iron chests like it ain’t no thang.
When it’s time to lay the smackdown, Odyssey is familiar but not without a few interesting tricks under its thatched hat. At a basic level, it’s a turn-based, rock-paper-scissors-centred battle system. Your party members are positioned against a field of foes in a randomised way, so it’s then up to you to switch ‘n’ match to threats as you go. Essentially to enhance or mitigate the various strengths and weaknesses of your pals.
More interesting are the desperate (and equally random) Dramatic Scene events that occur. After a small cutscene that has one of your characters tempting fate or simply being an overconfident idiot, they’ll start the battle in an extremely precarious position that’s well removed from the rest of the party. If you manage to complete the objectives in these high-stakes moments—like cleaning house in a certain number of turns—you’ll be showered with XP and rewards. It’s pretty exciting stuff.
Though I was only sampling an opening act, a tip of a Titanic sinking iceberg, I spotted hints of greater potential here and there. There were multiple opportunities to go off the main path to take on side dungeons. I did some light puzzling (literally…with the rearranging of light-reflecting mirrors). And Luffy has an Observation Haki which lets you track down optional, high XP yield monsters to take on.
Also, and while I had little time to fully gauge it, ILCA is doing its best to sand down the more monotonous part of JRPGing. Firstly, they’re trying to mitigate the “repeat this area” grind by offering ways to supercharge your effectiveness in other ways. The first is cooking—getting huge buffs (or accidental debuffs) via meals prepared before a brouhaha.
That’s complemented by Ussop’s ability to create unique opportunities involving trickballs, not to mention the simple option to…well, party on. Basically, there are camp spots where you can all get together, break out the sake, roast a beast and build some synergy that grants you a massive XP boost going forward.
Yep, a party that plays together can make their continuing adventures feel like a (one) piece of piss. Especially if you double down on your rewards by completing one of the aforementioned Dramatic Battle events for a serious XP payday.
In the equipment stakes, the devs want to rudder away from the whole “reach a new town, buy/sell for the bestest gear” trope. The equipment system here revolves around each character having a personal grid that can support a finite number of items that take up a specific “squares” footprint. The items in question are the distilled “ability cubes” of defeated adventurers who were chewed up by the denizens of Waford island.
It has echoes of managing one’s inventory ‘briefcase’ in Resident Evil 4, multiplied by half a dozen characters. Plus the items for said briefcases can be freely interchanged. Also, you can grow the size of these grids through studious levelling up. Furthermore, you can get in touch with crew member Nico Robin to synthesize new blocks and extra grid spaces.
Though it felt like I was too much of a landlubber to fully grasp the potential of these new straits, One Piece Odyssey feels like it’s all about the freedom to build a playstyle of my choice. Even more encouraging, it offers some much-needed catch-up reminders to ensure one can leverage the full potential of each crew member. Called ‘Grand Logs’, these are short, animated sumi-e styled recap videos that effectively fill in the blanks of this universe.
When the sun set on my time with One Piece Odyssey, I was surprised by how much I liked the cut of its jib. There is so much untapped treasure waiting on the horizon for me, too—bounty hunting and Memory Link quests to create stupidly powerful ‘Bond Art’ attacks with my fave Straw Hatters, for example.
More importantly, this is one doubloon that passes the “authenticity bite” check. One Piece Odyssey looks the One Piece part, sounds the One Piece part and appears to be as money as its subject matter. A lot of its nature still remains buried, but as a companion piece, I (pi-)rate One Piece Odyssey already. Flip your calendar to the 12th of Jan and X-mark the spot.