I have to be honest and say that I was not aware of the ‘One Piece’ anime universe until I encountered the character in Jump force, so when I learned that he was to get a full game I was interested and hoping to learn more about Monkey D. Luffy and his world. Getting the opportunity resulted in very mixed feelings for the game in particularly being a new comer to it but there was enough to sink my teeth into and maybe going in blind was perhaps not the best way to first experience it all.
One Piece World Seeker’ is an open world adventure game set in the ‘One Piece’ anime universe with an original story written by series creator Eiichiro Oda which follows pirate captain Monkey D. Luffy and his crew known the Straw Hat Pirates. Doing what you would expect all good pirates to do, they travel to Prison Island to find precious treasure. By being an original story, this game is able to have its own little corner of the universe to play in which was great for me as a newcomer, as it did not rely on me having to have a deep knowledge of the series in order to appreciate the story. Characters are introduced as the story isolates Luffy from his crew after they are separated and the story is told via limited animated scenes and mostly text dialogue exchanges, something I will come back to a little later on.
Luffy is the main character for the story as you might expect and has some very interesting special powers which is why he stood out to be in the Jump Force roster. Luffy once ate a devil fruit, the Gomu Gomu no Mi, which gave him the power of rubber limbs and super durability. Luffy can stretch his limbs like Mr Fantastic from the Fantastic Four, which helps him in combat and allows some very interesting movement ability with really fun traversal animation in the game. Moving around the island which serves as the open world area instantly reminded me of web slinging in Spider-Man PS4 but only to a degree. Luffy does not “swing” with his rubberised limbs but instead has a grapple system which pretty much just flings him about the place using momentum. I found this really fun and using Luffy lower body as a form of helicopter to land safely never stopped being entertaining, but then I am new to all this.
Combat is where I really expected Luffy’s incredible abilities to really shine, but I did find the combat system to be disappointingly basic using one melee button reducing the fighting to pretty much generic button mashing. The combat animation is much like the traversal animation in that it is visually appealing and fun to see on screen. There is a skill tree that can unlock new moves but with just a single melee button means that there is no finesse to it, it is purely just an automated combo system that simply has new animations added to it over time. Now Luff does have two battle stances in Observation Haki stance which allows for quick attacks and the Armament Haki, which is slower but can deal more damage. I was expected and hoping for a far more advanced combat system, even if it was simply a light and heavy attack button system so simply mashing the attack button became very repetitive and linear for me. There are some stealth attacks but these feel a little clumsy as usually you can stealthily take out guards near each other without the other being alerted to the thump sound of you smacking their colleague on the head.
The focus on simplicity is something I began to notice after a couple of hours playing with not just the combat system but also in the way this open world operates. For example, to say this is an open world game, especially with ‘World Seeker’ in the title is a little bit generous considering that the game remains on Prison Island and all you really have is the freedom to explore it as you take on story missions and side missions but it is still confined to just this island. This is probably not helped by the term open world being so brilliantly executed in recent Assassin’s Creed games Origins and Odyssey where the open world is massive in terms of exploration, but there it never felt like it was a big world. The story does bring together a wealth of One Piece universe characters together, so as someone new to it all, meeting so many varied and wonderfully drawn characters was great to have but then that simplicity element creeps back in and kind of spoils it.
Cut-scenes are terribly basic in animation and another disappointment for me is that the majority of character exchanges are simply text based dialogue chats. It would have been amazing as a newcomer to have those character voices delivering their dialogue instead its just text based, which like the combat, becomes a little tedious to have to sit through and read or skip just to get back to the world. Something that had not occurred to me but I have seen in fan reactions to the game is that Luffy is the only playable character and I can kind of understand that in as much that the game brings together so many iconic characters from the universe to the game, even if it were in the form of a short side missions. But this is a world completely designed around Luffy and his abilities so not sure that would have been possible but I can appreciate why fans had hoped for it considering the open worldness which could accommodate it.
Visually I really love the art style and the world is bright and colourful with a fun musical score that for some reason requires the player to almost create their own playlist to appreciate in the game. The animation is great to see whether its moving about or in the limited combat but then you have static cut-scenes between characters where they just stand there with the camera just switching to them when their text appears on screen instead of being fully animated. The large number of characters like the Straw Hat pirates are reduced to basic mission givers and those missions often just end up being a case of going from here to there to find or collect something to bring it back and even when it can get interesting such as rescuing a crew member, they never really have the feeling of being anything more than a side mission to complete.
That is probably why ‘One Piece World Seeker’ sadly ends up being rather flat, the focus on simplicity whilst at the same time trying to bring so much of that universe to life. By keeping so much of the elements in the game basic, it just lacks that certain something that it potentially could have done so well. The fan service is certainly there but never really utilised enough, the short cuts in delivering the experience would have benefitted by having more thought and effort in expanded them more. It almost feels like the developers did a sweep of recent western world open world games and cast a net to grab elements they believed players would expect and want but just failed to deliver on what they were attempting to copy. There is a crafting system which never feels necessary and searching for item chests only to have to spend almost ten seconds opening that chest when you have a character who can smash things with a giant armoured fist but never thinks breaking the chest open would be faster.
As my first step into the ‘One Piece’ world, this game definitely has me wanting to learn more about the world and I will seek out the anime to meet these characters properly. It is just a shame that the game never quite brings that universe to me in a complete way enough to be satisfying. It felt like it wanted to bring me as the player and newcomer into its universe but then the game itself managed to stumble and get in the way of it. It required far more polish and refinement in many areas and where it kept it simple and basic it should have aimed for the stars and gone all out such as character exchanges and the combat system especially.
In the end, ‘One Piece World Seeker’ unfortunately trips itself up it what it is trying to achieve, which is a shame but the foundation has been laid down and can be built upon for another game if they can focus on celebrating the systems in the game as well as delivering an experience fans new and old can sink their teeth into.