One Piece Odyssey has a fairly monumental hill to climb as a video game adaptation of Eiichiro Oda’s epic franchise. My hands-on time with the upcoming video game is a stark reminder of just how much material there really is in the popular manga and anime, and how difficult it is to nail the atmosphere that makes it successful. After a slew of middling One Piece game adaptations over the years, however, Bandai Namco might have finally cracked the puzzle.
After roughly 2.5 hours with One Piece Odyssey on the PS5, it’s a bit hard to tell who this is for, exactly. It seems equally designed for longtime, hardcore One Piece fans as it is newcomers. It sometimes goes particularly deep into the lore and canon, but in a way that isn’t just nods and references without context. Whether trying to straddle that fence is ultimately successful remains unclear as there are roughly 30 to 40 hours beyond what I’ve seen – and that’s just the critical path.
A standard RPG scaffolding with multiple moving parts
At its core, One Piece Odyssey is a turn-based RPG with a side of exploration. The Straw Hat Pirates – Luffy, Zoro, Nami, Usopp, Sanji, Nico Robin, Chopper, Franky, and Brook – can seemingly all be used in combat as well as while exploring, with unique benefits to both. During my time with the game, Brook was unavailable to play, but there’s every indication that he will be available at some point. There’s a lot of the game I simply haven’t seen.
If you’re at all familiar with One Piece, having the full crew like this available to play might seem like hubris. They’ve got many different powers and signature moves or abilities that could, at first, seem like they are impossible to accurately adapt, but One Piece Odyssey manages to largely narratively sidestep this issue.
The whole premise of the game is that, at the very beginning, the Straw Hats wreck off the shore of a mysterious island named Waford. After gathering the party, players start to explore only to discover original characters Lim and Adio. While the Straw Hats initially are level 40 and have a bunch of abilities, Lim – who dislikes pirates – uses a bloodline ability (which is apparently separate and distinct from Devil Fruit abilities) to scatter their hard-earned skills and previous experiences to the wind in the form of mystical cubes.
Mechanically, this brings Luffy and the crew back to level 1 and causes them to forget how to use their signature abilities both in and out of combat. As they level up, which can happen rather quickly if certain actions are chained correctly, these skills return, and searching out cube fragments allows players to further enhance these abilities.
One Piece combat, with a twist
As previously noted, combat in One Piece Odyssey is a turn-based affair, but that sells the complexity of it a bit short. The title uses the Scramble Battle Area system, which is really just a fancy way of saying that different characters can start in one of four different zones when encountering an enemy on the map. Different skills and abilities can hit one or multiple enemies in the same zone or a different one, and players can also move between zones or use skills that move enemies between zones.
This makes for an interesting level of strategy. Do you want Luffy, who is seemingly by nature a bit tankier than the likes of Nami or Chopper, to stick around and face the big gorilla enemy, or do you want him to focus on the smaller group that’s attacking weaker characters? Should Nico Robin use her abilities on the foes in front of her or help Sanji take out the tougher critter he’s facing? There’s no correct answer, necessarily, but it’s a not insignificant amount to juggle.
Underlying all of this are a number of other systems. Using skills, which can do things like cause a status effect like Burn and Bleed or hit multiple enemies and more, requires Tension Points, which are gained through using normal attacks. Each attack and skill also operates within a relatively simple Rock, Paper, Scissors-style weakness triangle with Strength, Speed, and Technique types. It might make sense to punch a character the weaker group is facing, but it might also do less damage if that enemy is of an opposing type.
Even further complicating this is the fact that certain dramatic scenarios can also crop up during combat. For example, a battle might start with Usopp being heavily outnumbered, and if the player beats those before a certain threshold is met, an experience boost is granted. At one point, due to successfully navigating one such dramatic scene, I jumped from something like level 8 to level 12 all in one go.
It’s hard to tell from my brief preview whether all of these systems actually mesh together well. While a number of different systems were introduced – like battle mechanics, skill cubes, and equipment – many others were not. For example, I don’t believe I encountered any side stories, and things like cooking with Sanji were only briefly explored. Whether it proves to be too much in the end is difficult to say, though a producer at the preview event seemed to think that the team had done a good job of pacing the complexity in order to not overwhelm players. At this point, I can only take his word for it.
A look back at One Piece’s history
Given that One Piece Odyssey was specifically designed to celebrate the brand’s 25th anniversary, it should come as no surprise that it is absolutely steeped in what’s come before. While technically set before the most recent arcs of the manga and anime (Wano is nowhere to be found, nor is Jimbei), there’s still a lot of One Piece behind the game’s version of these characters.
This is showcased in party chatter, which constantly happens as players explore Waford as well as in combat, as well as with interactable bits on the map. Looking at a sunken ship might remind Luffy and company of a past adventure or examining an ancient carving could remind them of something they’ve seen before. One Piece Odyssey is constantly reminding players that these characters have seen and done quite a few things in the past, even if that’s not directly recreated in the game.
And there is plenty that actually is recreated directly. Bandai Namco previously revealed that, through an ability of Lim’s, the Straw Hats are able to experience previous adventures with a twist. Specifically, Water Seven and Alabasta have been announced and shown off, and my preview included the start of the Alabasta section. Given how quickly that showed up, and how much more of One Piece Odyssey there is that I didn’t see, I find it hard to imagine that other arcs aren’t also recreated in the game that simply haven’t been revealed yet.
One thing that One Piece is known for is just how expansive certain arcs and locations can feel, which makes recreating them in the form of a video game particularly daunting. While I only experienced the beginning of the Alabasta section, I came away from it with two lasting impressions: I hope the majority of the game does not involve backtracking fetch quests over the same location several times, and Bandai Namco has managed to capture something here I didn’t think possible.
Returning to previous arcs from the One Piece mythos is smart for two major reasons. Firstly, it provides some needed context for any players that aren’t intimately familiar with them. Even though these recreations aren’t exactly how they happened, the Straw Hats constantly reference the ways in which the plot was resolved initially. It’s both a memory – for the players and characters – and an entirely new experience.
Secondly, it’s an opportunity to revisit places and people that have died, been destroyed, or otherwise been left behind by the current One Piece franchise status quo. While there is a particularly effective reveal that I won’t spoil here, I will say that the Straw Hats reencountering their first ship, the Going Merry, during the Alabasta portion had me tear up a bit. It seemed right that One Piece Odyssey should include as many Straw Hats as possible, and while the Going Merry was and is a ship it is also inextricably a member of the pirate crew.
For once, I am actually excited about a One Piece video game. That’s possibly the highest praise I can give One Piece Odyssey after my hands-on time with it. The complexity of its layered systems is worrying, and there’s plenty of the game I haven’t seen that might not work as well as what I have, but it feels like an adventure worth going on. What I have seen absolutely commits to the purpose of the game as One Piece Odyssey feels like a bit of the unknown mixed with nostalgia, functionally and mechanically, and is better for it.
One Piece Odyssey is set to launch in full on January 13, 2023 for the above platforms as well as PC. If you’re curious to learn more, you might want to check out everything we know so far about One Piece Odyssey.