Yo ho! One Piece Odyssey, the first turn-based RPG game in the storied franchise, has been a bit of a mixed bag in its early moments. While the game knocks it out of the park with how it portrays the dynamic of the lovable Straw Hat crew, the game’s “fully blown RPG” mechanics are a bit of a bore to play through.
One Piece Odyssey, developed by Bandai Namco and ILCA, Inc., follows Luffy and crew’s misadventures on the mysterious island of Warford. Warford basically serves as the One Piece equivalent of the Bermuda triangle in that the Straw Hats have no means to communicate with the outside world. There you meet a mysterious girl named Lim. The rest of the game has the Straw Hats (minus Jinbe) explore dungeons, team up against enemies, and strive to figure out why on earth the island capsizes ships that sail too close to its shores. The game came out on January 13 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.
One Piece Odyssey comes off as a good-looking JRPG. My only two gripes so far are that the game railroads exploration way too often in the early game, and that its turn-based combat is a bit on the easy side.
As soon as I took control of Luffy, the first thing I wanted to do was explore the hell out of every pathway in sight. Turns out producer Katsuaki Tsuzuki saying One Piece Odyssey is a “full-blown RPG” meant that it would also have the worst aspect of the genre as well: excessive handholding.
Any desire to walk an unbeaten path early on will lead to crewmates and the island local, Adio, chastising you for abandoning the main objective. Should you persist, the screen will fade to black and about-face your party leader toward where the game wants you to go. Seeing as how One Piece is about the adventure and not the destination, this early JRPG-ism sucks bigtime. However, this excessive handholding is meant in part to deliver tutorials on the game’s turn-based action.
One Piece Odyssey’s turn-based combat has an attack-type hierarchy that determines the effectiveness of attacks. Here’s how it works: “Technique” attack types are strong against “Power” attack types, “Power” attacks are strong against “Speed” attacks, and “Speed” attacks are strong against “Technique” attacks. The system works similarly to roshambo, and the game becomes a bit of a cakewalk once you suss out the appropriate party composition against each enemy type.
I found having a party that consisted of Nico Robin (technique), Sanji (Power), Usopp (speed), and Zoro (technique) made battles way too easy to get through. The game occasionally spices things up with the implementation of battle conditions that force you to rotate out party members, but once you’ve familiarized yourself with good positioning and attack-type matchups, battles become an absent-minded affair.
Mechanically, the game works around the simplicity of its combat difficulty by doing the thing most sequel games do: stripping the heroes of their powers. At first each Straw Hat starts off at level 40 and absolutely dog walks enemies with their overwhelming strength. But when the crew first meets Lim, she turns their abilities into cubes and scatters them about the island like dragon balls. Mechanically, this serves as a way to nerf the Straw Hats and encourage farming XP in a battle to recover their abilities. I feared it would mean the rest of the game would ask me to scour every nook and cranny of the sandbox world for each skill individually, but the game, mercifully, has individual cubes dish out a handful of skills for each pirate instead.
Narratively, “the cubening” of the Straw Hats’ powers is clumsy in its execution because it leans into amnesia territory, which I find to be the second most annoying narrative device right behind time travel in how it undoes character growth. While the Straw Hats don’t lose memories over the countless adventures they’ve been on, they do just forget how to do their signature moves. Straight up, Luffy forgets how to “gomu gomu no” (basically his stretchy arms punch), which is almost too ridiculous to accept considering that’s like his one thing.
The strongest aspect of One Piece Odyssey is how the spirit of the game feels like a playable filler episode in the anime. While typically comparing a game to an anime filler episode doesn’t come off as a compliment, One Piece happens to be one of the few anime to have filler episodes interweaved with canon content that is better for it.
Most of the characters are in good form, too. In true One Piece fashion, Luffy is food-motivated, Zoro is directionally challenged, Nami will risk it all (it being her crewmates) for treasure, Usopp is cautious, Sanji is simpin’ for his female crewmates (as he should), and Nico Robin is hilariously morbid while withholding vital information about their situation until she’s 100 percent sure her theories are correct.
Sadly, the odd men out early in the game are Franky and Brook. While Franky is delegated to repair the Thousand Sunny, Brook gets shafted narratively. When the Straw Hats crash land in Warford, Brook’s skeletal body sank to the ocean floor. In order to recruit Brook, you must repair the Thousand Sunny and retrieve him using its submarine. But that won’t be for a while. Despite his physical absence, Brook is able to hang out at the Straw Hat’s campsites via his corporeal ghost form. While Brook’s predicament is admittedly amusing, it’s hard not to feel like it’s the game’s way of saying it wasn’t sure what to do with him. Charitably, the narrative decision to exclude Franky and Brook was the game’s way of not overwhelming players with its turn-based gameplay mechanics.
As a born-again One Piece fan, Having the freedom to switch between Straw Hats while exploring Warford island, hearing their post-battle banter, and having a feast after a day’s worth-of adventurings made playing Odyssey feel like playing with One Piece dolls. Time will tell whether the remainder of One Piece Odyssey’s anime filler episode content is more akin to the highs of the G-8 arc or if it just ends up feeling like a discount Skypeia storyline.