Video games based on Japanese anime tend to be fan service at best and a cash grab at worst. Unless it’s a fighting game or an Omega Force musou game with characters from Dragon Ball, Naruto, Demon Slayer, or other Shonen Jump animes (or if you want to go really back, the Initial D Arcade Stage racing game in arcades), there aren’t many examples of anime games that are critically successful. As a matter of fact, out of the dozens of One Piece video games on console and mobile platforms, not one has averaged higher than an 80 on Metacritic. One Piece Odyssey seeks to change all that, with Bandai Namco opting to have developer ILCA create a full-fledged JRPG out of the long-running franchise. And while it stumbles a bit trying to mimic Square Enix’s Dragon Quest series, One Piece Odyssey comes surprisingly close to the real deal.
As a primer for those who don’t know a lot about the series, One Piece started as a manga series in Weekly Shōnen Jump magazine all the way back in July 1997. Written and illustrated by Eiichiro Oda, the manga was turned into an anime in 1999 that is still running today and currently has over 1,000 episodes. Even today, the series appears in Top 10 lists for the most popular anime of the year. But at this point, I assume many people, anime fans included, take one quick look at that episode count and reasonably conclude that the ship has sailed on getting into the series. Fortunately, Oda understands this, and has tailored a story that new players can follow and that longtime fans will appreciate.
Gum Gum Storm adventures
The plot of One Piece Odyssey weaves two ideas into one, combining an original story written by Oda himself with prior arcs of the series. But though the narrative treads through some familiar material, it is told from the more interesting perspective of the crew looking back on its past. The game begins like most One Piece story arcs do: Luffy and his fellow members of the Straw Hat Pirates find a mysterious new island where a dangerous storm begins to swirl around it. Despite having Devil Fruit powers that give him extraordinary Gum Gum rubber-man powers, Luffy has a weakness to the ocean (caused by the same Devil Fruit) and can’t swim in it, so the crew moves fast to brace for impact. Still, the sheer strength of the storm knocks their ship straight into the air, and by the time Luffy wakes up on the beach, he discovers that some of his friends have been scattered about the island of Waford.
Then within the first few hours of tutorials and opening exploration, the crew members soon discover that they have forgotten their skills. Only after they meet several new characters on the island do they learn about the hostile colossi that protect Waford and how to regain their lost abilities by entering a world called Memoria that is formed by their collective memories. From there, the story alternates between the party spelunking through dungeons on the island and revisiting their past from their current point of view.
By and large, One Piece Odyssey does an admirable job telling a new story while rehashing old material in a new light. Odyssey offers an intriguing spin as we revisit four of the most popular arcs in the franchise and see the crew try to avoid past mistakes, battle against familiar foes, and change certain outcomes. There are enough mysteries about Waford and its origins, and enough nostalgia and character struggle in Memoria, to maintain the momentum and tension of the narrative. While the twist involving the new characters near the end of the game isn’t too surprising since Oda knowingly telegraphs it throughout the game, their transformation is done gradually and steadily. So while you can see the curveball coming from a mile away, it still resonates.
Better yet, the banter between the Straw Hat Pirates is snappy and authentic thanks to Oda. Even without an option for English voice acting (the majority of One Piece fans won’t mind this since the English-dubbed episodes still lag far behind), the dialogue is well-timed and suitably witty or serious when it needs to be. The swordsman Zoro and kick-tastic cook Sanji humorously ridicule each other, while navigator Nami ruthlessly hunts for bargains and the sniper Usopp provides comic relief. The strong but simpleminded Luffy sometimes leads the group into trouble, so the reindeer medic Chopper helps to patch the team up and the archaeologist Robin keeps them on track as she pieces together the lost history of Waford. Both the ship carpenter Franky and skeletal musician Brook also make an appearance (for One Piece fans, that means the game takes place at around Volume 82 in the manga or around Episode 783 in the anime).
On the downside, the plot stumbles a few times, particularly near the beginning and around the midgame. Getting accustomed to all of the crew members’ abilities at the start before they’re suddenly taken away is disorienting, so it takes some time for the first chapter to settle into its groove. Later on, the sixth and seventh chapters feel rushed too, especially compared to the substantial length of the eighth chapter. In fact, it’s possible that you might miss the third town altogether if you choose not to return to Memoria for it.
Time for a Straw Hat Pirate party
Wisely taking design elements from other JRPGs like Dragon Quest, One Piece Odyssey features exploration and combat that will feel familiar but is able to innovate in a few key places. Maps are divided into concrete sections with enemies pacing back and forth on the field, allowing you to get behind them easily for a critical chance bonus. Although maps aren’t open world and many of them tend to be linear, both the island and the environments in Memoria are expansive enough to feel rich and grounded. A lot of graphical detail has gone into bringing some of the most popular kingdoms in the series to life, replete with a staggering amount of NPCs with whom you can speak. The dungeons on Waford, specifically the second and third ones, are also designed well with light puzzles all based around a theme.
Where One Piece Odyssey shines the most is in how it encourages you to use every member of the team. Every character and enemy is assigned a particular type from among Power, Technique, and Speed, which have a roshambo relationship for strengths and weaknesses. So swapping in the right members at the proper time is key in making sure your team deals more damage and reduces incoming damage too. The system is also flexible so that you can take your team’s turns in any order you want. Luffy, Zoro, and Sanji will typically form your main DPS, while Chopper heals from the sidelines. Though relatively weaker in strength and hit points, Usopp, Nami, and Robin have access to plenty of AoE attacks that cost a lot of TP but can eliminate enemies from a distance.
More specifically, the game’s combat system doesn’t follow the classic JRPG trope with heroes battling on one side and enemies on the other. Instead, battlefields are split into multiple sections that group together heroes and enemies in different areas. Characters cannot move between groups unless their area is cleared of threats (think of this like zones of control), so if your heroes are in a bad matchup, you can either swap team members around or use abilities that move them to another group in an instant. Taken altogether, the game makes you think about team composition and placement before taking a turn.
About halfway through the second chapter, your team will also acquire Bond Arts that are earned after completing Frayed Memories or Hysterias. In these special scenes, a few select members of the team go through a side mission and at the end learn maneuvers that typically deal a lot of damage by using a portion of the team’s bond meter. Building this meter requires your crew to help each other through healing, buffing, and otherwise defeating enemies in each other’s area. Even if you choose not to learn some optional Bond Arts, just using the low-cost Bond Move is an effective tool in moving members from one group to the next.
Let’s chase that pirate bounty
Like a classic JRPG, One Piece Odyssey doesn’t have a difficulty setting, so the game is as challenging as you choose it to be. You can make a beeline from one red story marker to the next if you wish and avoid the vast majority of enemies on the map, but with just a bit of exploration, you’ll find side stories, Frayed Memories, and bounties to complete for extra credit. Finding tablets on Waford and Yaya Cubes in Memoria can also net you bonus rewards and plenty of extra berries (that’s the currency in One Piece) for more ingredients and accessories for fusion.
So long as you battle monsters consistently, you will run into enough randomized Dramatic Battle scenarios that will keep your party sufficiently leveled. These moments typically ask you to defeat specific enemies with a specific team member or in a low number of turns. Either way, completing them can earn your party a ridiculous amount of extra XP, sometimes more than ten times the normal amount. Money also isn’t a problem when you battle often. In fact, it’s very possible that you’ll end up having enough money on hand to buy special accessories from Yoisa accessory shops that cost millions of berries.
On the field, there’s an almost overwhelming number of treasure chests and free items in every area, and the other Straw Hat Pirates can use their talents to find them. Luffy will typically be your team leader due to his stretchy arms being able to climb up ladders and grab objects that are out of reach. In addition to Luffy’s Haki ability that can locate hidden objects, Sanji can find extra ingredients, Nami can spot bundles of money, Usopp can shoot down empty nests for materials, and Robin can find pieces of lore that fill in the details of Waford’s past. Zoro can also use his swordsmanship to cut iron gates and boxes, while Chopper uses his smaller size to scamper through tight passageways. Between all of their abilities, you can spend hours picking up extra items that are ripe for the taking.
If that wasn’t enough, Usopp, Sanji, and Robin comprise your main crafting team, which is accessible at camp and in select taverns. All those extra items and ingredients can be turned into powerful dishes that can revive downed party members and heal the entire team, as well as trick balls that are the primary way to debuff enemies. Later on, Robin can fuse accessories together, allowing you to stack stats and condense effects into smaller packages. This makes it easier to get the most out of each team member’s accessories board, which works by fitting simple blocks on a grid.
Combining this all altogether, I was able to stack accessories for HP and attack power to a point that I didn’t need to worry about the challenging spikes in difficulty in the latter half of the game. Luffy, Nami, and Zoro learn special attacks that can damage all enemies on the field regardless of the grouping system, so the majority of enemies and bosses in the final chapter weren’t too difficult. All told, One Piece Odyssey rewards players who have the patience to complete side objectives and invest in its crafting systems.
“People’s dreams… have no end.” ~Blackbeard, One Piece
One Piece Odyssey is a wonderful trip down memory lane for fans of the series. The game’s original story is earnest and the endearing bond between the Straw Hat Pirates comes through loud and clear. The engaging combat system and a decent number of side quests don’t hurt either. Sure, new players might get overwhelmed by some of the rushed chapters in the midgame and the flow between chapters could be better, but it’s hard not to notice the amount of heart and soul that was poured into the game. More than just a fantastic anime-based video game, One Piece Odyssey is an impressive JRPG and already one of the best surprises this year.
This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher. One Piece Odyssey will be available for PS4, PS5, Xbox Series S/X, and PC on January 13, 2023.
One Piece Odyssey
- Original story by Eiichiro Oda
- Revisiting past arcs with a new perspective
- Authentic banter between Straw Hat Pirates
- Combat system tests team cohesion and tactics
- Exploration and crafting are highly rewarded
- Plenty of side stories and bounties
- Takes a few hours to find its footing
- Some chapters and cutscenes are rushed
Nick Tan posted a new article, One Piece Odyssey review: It's One Piece Dragon Quest!
Thanks for this. Been busy working and lost track of the release.
Very interested in the comparisons to Dragon Quest. I've been very curious about whether or not this would feel like a cash in. Very happy to see it plays so competent for an anime tie-in game.
Yeah, for an anime-based game, it's somewhere on the top of the pile. I hope Bandai Namco continues down this path, because I think the JRPG route is a good one for their properties.
So is the One Piece real?
Whitebeard said so :D