With over 50 video game adaptations, there’s been a wide variety of One Piece games over the past 20 years. However, Bandai Namco’s latest game based on the series, One Piece Odyssey, might be its grandest voyage yet, thanks to its fresh take on role-playing games and the involvement of series creator Eiichiro Oda.
After checking out the opening three hours of the turn-based RPG, which runs between 40 to 60 hours depending on how distracted by side quests you get, its battle system stuck out and was the most impressive part. The actual placement of the four party members comes into play since they’ll either get surrounded by foes or be forced to only attack the enemies in their immediate vicinity. This means players will have to improvise their strategies and not just stick to the same formula for each and every battle. Story-based battles sometimes even go a step further by adding in status effects or specific circumstances that tie into the narrative and change things up even further.
The battles will largely be familiar to anyone that has played an RPG before, as you can perform basic attacks, use your skills that cost energy, or deploy items during each turn. Skills fall into three categories — strength, speed, and technique — which creates a rock-paper-scissors dynamic to battles as certain skills are more powerful against specific enemy types. You quickly get a pretty wide array of skills, and that helps keep battles interesting as you’ll find yourself switching between them quite often (thus reducing seeing the same move animation one million times as well).
There are four characters active in battles, but One Piece fans will know isn’t the full crew. Thankfully, the others (with the exception of Brook, who has lost his physical form for the time being) are immediately available in your reserve crew and can be summoned mid-battle to replace a current member. It’s not unlike Pokémon where bringing in a new member can change the tide of battle by having energy reserves or a type advantage.
A function called dramatic scenes also livens up battles by giving players a specific bonus objective, be it using a certain character to defeat an enemy or finishing them off in a specified number of turns. Completing these doesn’t only keep the low-stakes battles more interesting but they also come with extra experience points. It’s full of a lot of small tweaks and improvements that have made a familiar combat system feel distinct and fresh, which is hard to do within a genre that has largely stayed the same for 40 years.
Every aspect of One Piece Odyssey is as well-thought-out as exploring new and familiar locales is just as thrilling as the combat. Each member of the Straw Hat Pirates has their own overworld abilities, such as Luffy’s stretchy arms that help her swing to far-off cliffs or Chopper’s diminutive size that gets him through small gaps. Enemies are also seen directly in the environment, so there are thankfully no surprise random battles, and can be sneaked up upon to gain a combat advantage, nicely blending exploration with battles.
Odyssey starts off quite linear, but it starts to open up quite a bit in the second chapter. This gives players more of a reason to explore, as there are bounties to take on and plenty of side quests to discover. One early side quest had the Kung-Fu Dugongs, a bunch of martial arts-loving marine mammals that view Luffy as their sensei, so long-time fans can expect plenty of great callbacks. A lot of care has seemingly gone into them, thus giving players reasons to engage with the side content as they don’t appear to be just throwaway battles.
Odyssey‘s story, which was written by Oda, is also quite clever in its implementation. It starts with Luffy’s crew crashing into a mysterious island and Nami finding herself in danger after a gigantic ape takes a liking to her. After a clever “abili-tease” section that blends a boss encounter with a tutorial, the Straw Hats get stripped of their power. It’s then on the players to get their skills back by reliving some past memories (where past foes become even stronger) and experience new events in some iconic locations, such as the cities of Water 7 and Alabasta. It is essentially a way for the game to have its cake and eat it too, because it gets to use beloved locales and foes while still offering up a fresh story that doesn’t follow the manga beat for beat.
Every aspect of One Piece Odyssey looks to be intelligently designed in a way that’s simultaneously welcoming and rewarding. The RPG combat is simple to understand but appears to have enough new layers to stay interesting even for veterans of the genre. Small innovations and tweaks have made a solid formula even better and this has all the potential to be one of the best and most ambitious anime game offerings in recent memory if the finished product keeps the same level of quality throughout.
Disclaimer: The critic was flown out and provided lodging by Bandai Namco to take part in this preview event.