I have been watching Japanese animation since I was a pre-teen. It's been more than 20 years of great stories, romances, fights and outlandish hairstyles with a whole range of themes, the result of the infinite ability of the creators to imagine whatever characters and plotlines that pop into their head. Now, well into my thirties, there is only one anime series that I admit to following with any regularity: One Piece. Eichiro Oda's magnum opus, a series about a boy who wants to become the new King of the Pirates, has been gluing me to the screen (and to a lesser extent, on the pages of the manga) for two decades now. In that time it has gone through different phases of varying quality in its story and animation, and I think that this idea can also be transferred to the video games adaptations of One Piece.
The story of One Piece has not exactly translated well from the pages or the weekly episodes to the video games. And while less story-driven titles like the musou series One Piece: Pirate Warriors have managed to extract some of the essence of what it's like to be a member of Monkey D. Luffy's crew, others like One Piece: World Seeker failed miserably to deliver an experience that lived up to its name. And now we come to One Piece Odyssey, a completely original instalment with Oda-san's hand behind the design of two of the new main characters and the shaping of their story as the franchise celebrates 25 years.
In this odyssey of the Mugiwaras, we find the crew shipwrecked on a mysterious island called Waford, where an ancient power lies dormant while the World Government wants to keep it safe. As our heroes attempt to repair their ship and retrieve their belongings (such as Brook's body, sunk at sea), they are surprised by two of the island's inhabitants, Lim and Adio. Both are rather suspicious of Luffy and his friends' pirate status, and Lim in particular makes use of his Devil Fruit to make the crew "forget" their abilities. Although the misunderstanding is quickly resolved, to recover their abilities our crew must enter Memory, the World of Memories, and "recall" versions of some of their best adventures to regain their combat skills.
The premise could well pass as an apocryphal saga of the original anime, and without a doubt both the design of Waford Island and the structure in which the adventure is divided are some are some of Odyssey's best features. Diving into the Mugiwaras' old stories (such as Arabasta, Water 7 or Dressrosa) lead us to again cross paths with, even if in a fictional way, some great characters and allies of Luffy's story, while we face and defeat the great villains of the sagas, who in the world of memories are stronger than ever. In addition, Odyssey has the best design and animation for a One Piece game to date, far surpassing World Seeker. The character design as well as the look of every environment, animation, and object is carefully crafted. A sign of ILCA's respect for Oda-san's work. But the waters soon become turbulent and, unfortunately, One Piece Odyssey's approach as a strictly manual JRPG spoils the experience almost from the start.
The "open" world of Odyssey (I'll come back to this later) is explored by talking to characters, doing generic quests like "defeat a specific enemy" or "collect a specific number of items" and grinding enemies in turn-based combat with a scheme of options that has been in place since the first Dragon Quest: Attack, Use Skill, Use Item, or group options menu. And that's it. It doesn't bring any additional or fresh elements to the formula. There's only a strengths and weaknesses system to consider (a rock-paper-scissors formula with Strength, Speed, and Technique) that sounds just as silly as the comparison to the children's game. Skills are recovered and upgraded by collecting character-specific glowing cubes. Similarly, at the scattered campsites where the party can stop, we can consult the encyclopaedia of enemies, cook dishes and create ammunition to use as power-ups in battle. And except for the odd bit of dialogue that brings a smile to our faces, the approach remains the same for many, many hours.
And the world (which would have worked perfectly with the graphical leap) is left in wide sections that are nothing more than very wide paths and passable natural environments, so you will also have to move in an uncomfortable and slow way, as I mentioned in my first impressions of the game. It's no fun to spend an hour of real time wandering around between two map sections, picking up items from the ground, potentially completing a side quest, and listening to two distant NPCs discuss carrying some special item. It might have been years ago, but it's something that even the purists of the role-playing genre don't remember with passion. These endless "hours-eating" sections, stretching out a game that would have benefited from being reduced by 60% in length.
One Piece Odyssey is a game that will appeal to fans of the manga or anime, but be warned that it will be a slow, harrowing, and sometimes even boring journey. Of course, there are some good things: The story is great, both for the "new" part and the flashbacks to the past, and it would work much better if the pacing of how the story is portrayed would match.
In addition to the character designs, animations and environment, the game has a fantastic soundtrack, and has the impeccable work of the original voice actors from the TV series to keep the jokes coming and make us smile with every situation we share with these characters that have been with us for so many years. But plenty of other One Piece games have done in the past. With Odyssey the hope was that we could see a proper adaptation of this great story to the video game medium. Sadly, despite getting our hopes up once again, One Piece Odyssey isn't the game to do it.