One Piece needs no introduction, not even in the world of video games. In 25 years of history, the work of Eiichiro Oda has repeatedly embraced the world of video games, facing different genres. From the smash-like (do you remember Battle Stadium DON?) to the musou, passing through more traditional adventure experiences. Each of these projects has tried to tell the iconic work with a different approach, trying to find the best way to express its peculiarities. At the announcement of One Piece Odyssey but I was surprised, because it was the first time that a team tried a different path, that of the j-rpg.
The Japanese role-playing game, so loved in the West as well, seemed like the right choice to decline the world of One Piece in a new, different way. One wonders why no one has done it before, but they are trifles that we can easily give up. However, the desire to try it was great, and thanks to Bandai Namco I was able to spend exactly 3 hours in the company of One Piece Odyssey, playing all the introductory part and testing the systems that characterize the experience.
In development for 5 years at ILCA, One Piece Odyssey has always been a j-rpg because the team thought it was the perfect genre to tell the varied adventures of Eiichiro Oda's world. From the first moment this statement acquires a certain credibility, because the feeling of playing something familiar and perfectly contextualized is there. It's hard not to draw parallels to Dragon Quest, the historic Square Enix series, from which the team took inspiration to understand which path to take in the genre.
One Piece Odyssey is in fact the son of the vision of Yuji Hori, the creator of Dragon Quest, and offers turn-based combat, with a linear exploration approach typical of a certain Japanese role-playing game canon. As I told you, the feeling of naturalness you get by playing One Piece Odyssey is absolutely unsettling, and once again leaves the thought that it took 25 years to have a game like this dedicated to One Piece.
Usual faces, new adventure
Once the adventure has started, we are greeted by a rather suggestive declaration of intent: "A story of ties, to create memories". One Piece Odyssey immediately throws us into the heart of the action, rediscovering the historical ties that characterize the entire straw hat crew. The irony of Brook, the resourcefulness of Nami or the sweet strength of Chopper, the whole crew is photographed with surprising accuracy, as if we were living one of the many pages of the manga, or stills taken from the anime. The arrival atWaford Island marks the beginning of the journey, after a shipwreck and, in the distance, a mysterious female character scrutinizing what remains of the Sunny, our ship.
It is difficult to pronounce on the narrative sector at this stage, but Oda's involvement in the project bodes well, with an original story and new characters to enrich the experience. The shipwreck seems to hide a bigger picture, but the tone of the first hours of the game is rather light and limited, taking the time to introduce the crew and Adio and Lim, the two original characters. The tone is certainly right, thanks to the carefully curated aesthetic presentation and Japanese voice acting. What is certain is that it is difficult to tell something new after a 25-year narrative and a genre that has been explored far and wide. The feeling is that the team at the thematic level wants to "play" with some fixed points of the series, from the ambivalent figure of the pirate to the more fantasy and mysterious aspects typical of the world of Oda.
The desire not to alienate non-One Piece fans, but to offer is appreciable a universal RPG experienceenjoyable for a wider audience. It's still too early to decree victory in this sense, but in these 3 hours I can confirm that I haven't felt the need to peek at some official wiki or browse through a random issue of the manga. My place in the One Piece experience? That of a fan who, like so many others, got lost along the way at a certain point in history without ever continuing it. I certainly won't be the only one in this situation.
Turn based, but with a twist
The first steps for the Mysterious Island are an important declaration of intent, because with great elegance One Piece Odyssey introduces the player to all the systems that characterize the experience and to the figures. Exploration is pretty traditional and linear, and in this phase we are called to find the lost members of the crew and to become familiar with the battle system.
We are dealing with maps that are generally extensive, but linear and structured on several levels, which leave room for intersections and areas to return to later. Perhaps by exploiting the unique abilities of the crew, such as Luffy's Gum Gum Rocket, which acts as a vine and allows you to move towards points of interest or elevated areas. It is clear that the focus of the experience is not the large spaces typical of open worlds, or open maps of various sizes, but in this initial phase I noticed a rather stringent linearity. Even too much, at times. One Piece Odyssey appears very guided, with the exploration that is often stopped by the progress of the narrative. Given the limitedness of the maps, the need to necessarily follow the pre-established path appears as a stretch, but it is to be understood whether more freedom will be granted in the more advanced stages.
On the combat system front, things get more interesting, avoiding the risk of having a trivial imitation of Dragon Quest in your hands. do not despair, the soul of One Piece Odyssey is deeply classic, and its foundations are those of a turn-based RPG. The crew makes up our party, and there is no lack of skill management and the much-loved levels. I could tell you that what changes, in ILCA's RPG idea, are some nuances of already tested systems. Let's say you launch yourself at an enemy in the overworld, the transition to combat will make you notice one substantial difference: the division into areas. During the clashes, in fact, the party and the enemies will be divided into different areas. A bit as if the clashes took place in two different spaces of the same place. This trick allows a different approach to the clashes than usual, even in strategic terms.
The crew's attacks and special abilities have a range within which the enemies will be hit. When an enemy is in a different area, it is said that one of our characters is not able to attack him, or that his attack allows him to move to the other area. One Piece Odyssey takes advantage of this mechanic to push us to pay attention to the succession of enemy turns, shown at the top left. The passage to another area is in fact possible only if there are no enemies to hinder us. Managing the different positioning of the party and enemies therefore becomes an extra stimulus, in a combat system that remains very classic and easily readable.
The balance of power is determined by a rock, paper, scissors system, in this case Technique, Power and Speed, essential to gain an advantage over the enemies. The system absorbs itself after a short time, thanks also to an interface that shows everything clearly on the screen. It is not always readable at its best, at least in the most chaotic phases in terms of numbers, but the feeling is that One Piece Odyssey has managed to make the traditional Dragon Quest experience its own beyond simple imitation, with an original and functional approach.
The idea is really interesting, because breaks the typical monotony of the genre and acts on a further level of dynamism and strategy. And monotony is precisely the enemy to fight, often mentioned also by the development team. The Japanese role-playing game has often come to terms with too rigid structures, very dear to enthusiasts but in fact the daughters of an old and anachronistic approach to the genre. The idea of the One Piece Odyssey team is to have a classic experience, but not stuck in the past. The combat system moves in this direction for this very reason, but it is not the only element to have been revised.
In fact, in many battles we will have some “Dramatic Scenes”, which will have unique completion conditions, with enemies subject to various stat boosts, such as improved attack.
Imagine an imperiled Usopp in one area and us with the party in another, the goal is clearly to save him before it's too late. Or kill an enemy in 1 turn, or with a specific party character. Overcoming the challenges, we will receive an experience bonus at the end of the fight. A substantial bonus, which in the 3 hours of play put me in a condition of substantial advantage in the second dungeon.
The idea of limiting the grinding is a good and right thing, but the feeling is that the clashes become too simple. The balance here will be key, to offer a suitable challenge that doesn't make fights a mindless keystroke. Especially in view of an adventure that promises to be full-bodied, with 30 hours to complete the story and about 60 for total completion.
This massive proof of One Piece Odyssey left me wanting to keep playing. The gameplay manages to be an original expression in a genre often stifled by tradition, or in constant search of new forms, to reach a wider audience. The management of the areas in the clashes is interesting, as is the idea of breaking down the grinding and making the overall RPG experience less heavy.
The points of concern now they are linked to the balance of experience, the rigidity of exploration and a visually convincing technical sector, but with a fluctuating expressive capacity. In short, the atmosphere is all there, and the glimpses are really pleasant, but the rigidity of the facial animations and models does not always do justice to the situations shown on the screen. January is around the corner, and One Piece Odyssey might come as a surprise, not just for Straw Hat fans.