Let’s make this simple. Are you looking for an introduction to One Piece, the international megahit franchise with over 1,000 chapters of manga and over 1,000 episodes? Have no fear, brand new RPG One Piece Odyssey is of no interest to you. Keep searching for an easy entry point. Okay, have we ditched the neophytes? Probably not, but hey, One Piece fans? We have a lot to talk about.
One Piece is no stranger to video game adaptations ranging from adventure games doing their best Zelda impression to Warriors games spent racking up KOs. But this is the first time we’ve seen a full turn-based RPG set in the universe. This time, it has the form of an original story that borrows liberally from several storylines over the series’ history. The story is the reason I waved off any lingering One Piece newbies. And really, the premise will feel familiar to any anime fans who have played games based on their favorite series: we’re playing the hits here.
The Straw Hat Pirates find themselves shipwrecked (via a very cool introductory sequence involving a stream that launches their ship into the sky and an awaiting storm) on the legendary island of Waford. This mysterious island holds plenty of secrets and seems to be of great historical importance to the One Piece world. Living on this island are Adio and Lim, a mysterious explorer and superpowered girl, respectively. After Lim sees the pirates on her island, she quickly locks their fighting prowess into cubes and scatters them across the island, leaving the pirate crew without years and years of power creep. The mission becomes simple: regain those powers, discover the island’s mysteries, and teach everyone some lovely lessons about friendship.
As for how to find and unlock those cubes, your crew is heading back in time, baby! More specifically, they’re heading into Memoria, where they encounter memory versions of four of their old adventures. This comprises the bulk of the game, with excursions around the island filling in the gaps. Unfortunately, the game assumes you’ve experienced these stories already. It skips the bulk of the main events, reveals hidden alliances immediately, and generally makes little attempt to recreate the experience of the original story. This is explained away by Lim regularly reminding your characters that memories are fuzzy and things often change when exploring the world of Memoria. While this opens up the field for some interesting plot developments, it is largely utilitarian. A character’s hideout switches from a dock to a sewer to make a more traditional dungeon. Enemies are stronger than they used to be to accommodate the Straw Hat crew’s higher power levels. Most side characters are left out.
Stories that could be celebrations of the source material instead serve as nostalgia trips and little else. It’s not a good introduction for newbies, nor does any single story echo the emotional highs of the scenes found in the manga and anime. Iconic scenes are given tribute, like the farewell in Alabasta, but the weight isn’t there.
But the story isn’t the only draw. One Piece Odyssey presents some pretty inventive gameplay systems in both exploration and combat. It’s in the gameplay that the Straw Hat crew’s personalities show through. The world of Odyssey is dotted with environmental features that require your crew’s unique talents to traverse. Your samurai first mate Zoro can cut open any iron doors or boxes. Reindeer doctor Chopper can squeeze into small spaces. Navigator (and top-tier thief) Nami finds stashes of gold scattered around the world. But ultimately, Captain Luffy, whose stretching ability allows you to traverse gaps and makes collecting the myriad items scattered throughout the world a bit quicker, will occupy most of your playtime.
Combat uses a unique system wherein the battlefield is divided into four quadrants. Party members and enemies can move freely between areas unless they share a spot with an enemy, which locks you into combat with them. Strategy grows organically because characters have a mix of short and long-range attacks that can reach enemies outside their zone. A Fire Emblem-esque triangle weakness system adds more depth to the combat. Each character has a type: power, speed, or technique. Power beats speed, speed beats technique, and you know how triangles work. The system perfectly complements the large size of the crew, as swapping out active and backup characters is a free action. You’re constantly swapping through your entire party, using the best characters for any battle.
And the wrinkles don’t stop there. Bond arts reward taking specific tactical actions in battle with powerful group attacks. Status effects are constant, often resulting from standard attacks. Skills have a unique and flexible (if simplistic) improvement system, allowing you to power up your favorite attacks. Even equipment is given a more complex face, with each member filling out their own puzzle-like board for accessories that boost your basic stats. It can all seem like a lot, but most systems are shallower than they appear. It’s easy to buff the best skills with free skill point reallocation at any time. Auto-equip is the name of the game here.
It’s unfortunate, then, that all those subsystems never really need to engage. The shiny new combat system feels amazing for the first few hours while you’re learning the game, and you can see your characters’ progression and the wonderfully animated special attacks carrying you for hours. But as the game continues, the challenge never really rises. You don’t have to meaningfully engage with the most complex subsystems to beat the bosses. On the rare occasion that you do run into trouble with a boss, your item stores will be so overloaded that you’re prepared for any contingency.
And this is where the real failings of the game come to light. There are a lot of good ideas here. The combat is fun, the animations are amazing, and the Straw Hat crew is always fun to spend time with. But repetition sets in during the first of four Memoria sections. Combat doesn’t meaningfully evolve, nor does it force you to engage in unique ways. You have so much flexibility in party composition that you can simply swap in the characters your enemies are weak to and go ham on ‘em. Map areas are gigantic, and the main quest will see you run back and forth through them a half dozen times with fast travel disabled for the flimsiest of excuses. When you need to find a character, the quest will send you in at least three different directions before you find them. Sometimes you have an icon pointing you exactly where you’re going, and sometimes you don’t, but you’ll definitely be running across one or more maps with little, if any, combat to break it up.
All of this running around is before you loop in the side quests. While these occasionally introduce the kinds of fun characters the series is known for, most often they’re simple fetch quests with little personality and meager rewards. By the second Memoria section, I was ignoring the vast majority of these, which is highly unusual for my completionist lifestyle.
Visually, the game holds up well. Environments recreate and expand the lands from One Piece history well, while the island of Waford is a tropical paradise that feels genuinely interesting to explore. Character models look in line with their original designs, and their special attacks are rendered lovingly with reverence for the original animation. It makes battles a treat to watch, and if the repetition gets to be too much, a fast-forward feature makes battles fly. The only real downside is that the model’s expressions aren’t very flexible. Luffy exemplifies this the most, looking angry and ready for battle at all times, never showing his usual kind expression.
The soundtrack by Motoi Sakuraba fares a bit worse. While it does its best to emulate some of the playfulness of the property, most often it feels like a Tales game, a Star Ocean game, or any number of Sakuraba’s other JRPG soundtracks. It’s a tough role to fill, given that the anime has so many iconic tracks that would fit perfectly in an RPG and would give a bit more personality to the experience. The soundtrack does the job but fails to elevate the game as a whole.
There is an audience for One Piece Odyssey. Sometimes, in the middle of an exciting battle or while revisiting some of my favorite locations from the original series, I think I could be part of that audience. I’ve been a fan of the property for over 20 years and still read the manga every week. I’m not the world’s biggest One Piece fan, but I’m certainly an enduring one. But the repetition made the game a struggle to complete. As amazing as the game feels to start, it trudges across the finish line. A more patient player, or one whose love for One Piece is far more enthusiastic than mine, might be able to see past the repetition for the loving nostalgia underneath. For non-fans, or those of us looking for something meatier, One Piece Odyssey is more filler than killer.