Here it finally is, my complete review of World Seeker! I had shared my initial thoughts last week, but after getting to fully explore the world, having completed the story and done most of the side objectives, I’m ready to give my full thoughts on the game. Keep in mind of course that this is in the end just my opinion, but I hope it can give you enough of an insight to consider the game!
“The person with the most freedom on the seas is the Pirate King”: this is the main piece of motivation that has driven Luffy to pursue his dream across the entire series. And it’s this very same concept of unlimited freedom that serves as the driving theme behind World Seeker.
While across the years we have gotten many One Piece games, one of the series that has risen to the forefront is the Unlimited franchise. While other games are mostly rooted in the fighting genre (the only real exception being the Warriors games being more of a beat’em up), the Unlimited games have always stood out for focusing on the true purpose of the series: the adventure. Unlike the other games, the series has always centered around exploring a set of locations, with opponents to fight and vast landscapes to journey across, really capturing the feeling of adventure that the series has thrived so much on since the very beginning.
While the first game in the series, Unlimited Adventure, helped set the groundwork with its great gameplay, the sequel, Unlimited Cruise, refined that formula to perfection for what is considered by many the best One Piece game created so far. With plenty of exploration, a simple but fun combat system, plenty of fanservice for readers of the series and an overall great sense of adventure, Unlimited Cruise is a classic for many fans. Several years later, in 2014, we got Unlimited World Red, which served as a sequel that improved on many of the aspects of Unlimited Cruise, and while it easily surpassed its previous entry in many aspects, it also took a few steps back, which didn’t quite let it become the definitive title in the series, at least in my eyes.
But still, almost five years after that, developer Ganbarion has finally completed their latest installment in the Unlimited series, being One Piece: World Seeker. However, this time, they didn’t want to limit themselves to simply following with the formula that had been previously set to them, instead aiming for a far more ambitious goal: to make the next game set in an open world. To completely remove all limits and boundaries that limited exploration in the past, allowing the player to visit anywhere in the game’s set world, with a stronger overarching storyline to match said ambition. This is not only a very big undertaking, but also a big gamble, as a transition to open world is something many series have tried, but only some have succeeded in. So does One Piece make the jump to open world as well as other franchises have?
Well, to start it off, let’s start on the basic concept of the open world. This is, without any shadow of a doubt, an open world: every single location you can see you can explore, aside from inside buildings there isn’t an area on the island that you can’t climb your way to in some way or another. The world is completely seamless and you can travel to every location without the need of a loading screen. Even the sky islands, perched high atop the skies of the world, are naturally part of the same area: you can jump off of any of them and land somewhere on the island below to continue exploring seamlessly, an impressive feat for a licensed anime game.
From the very moment that you begin the game, after being taught the basic controls, you can go wild and explore anywhere you want. If you want to you don’t even have to follow the tutorial or the story, you can just go and explore wherever whenever you want. The game really presents a boundless ability to explore, which when paired up with Luffy’s Gomu Gomu no Rocket, which allows you to soar flying from almost any surface in the game, there isn’t just an unbelievable sense of freedom, but the very travel between locations feels easy and quick. One of the things that tires me about most open world games is having to slowly make my way to every location because I’m too slow, but in this game you can simply propel yourself at incredible speeds and get wherever you want to in a matter of seconds, alleviating much of the travel to any location. Even after all my hours in, I never got tired of slinging around, there’s an unbelievable sense of joy that comes with it.
The world revolves around one large island, which has meticulously been handcrafted to not just be fun to explore, but also to feel very organic. All the terrains feel like they blend together and could realistically exist within a real island. While there unfortunately isn’t as much variety in locations and terrain as in some of the previous games (as instead of exploring different islands you are exploring a single one with a fixed climate after all), each area still feels uniquely distinct on its own, be it from its architecture, its vegetation or its landscapes, with some of them in particular being an absolute blast to explore. More than anything, the location feels so… so One Piece, it feels like something that legitimately belongs in Oda’s world, from the style of architecture used for the buildings, to the trees and mountains of the island, to the several marine bases scattered around. There is so much meticulous love and care put it in every inch of the world they’ve built and while not every area hits home, with some being more fun to explore than others, what has been created here is still incredibly impressive.
However, no matter how beautifully crafted a world is, there is always one determining factor that can make it or break it: its emptiness. There’s this term that always gets thrown around with open world games, that “the world feels empty”. After all, the idea of exploring a large overworld can become a rather tedious prospect, so proper motivation to search each area is a necessary aspect. In that regard, does World Seeker feel “empty”? Well, no, but to an extent.
To put it very simply, the world isn’t empty. It is filled with items scattered all over the ground, plenty of enemies and set pieces to explore. On one hand, I found the item system one the weakest aspects of exploration, since while it felt rewarding to find new and rare items, its use is almost exclusively limited to making armor for Luffy. There is no medicine, no crafting and food simply serves to obtain more items. Items feel vastly underutilized in this game, unlike some of the previous games in the series, but even with that taken into account, it wasn’t something that particularly affected my enjoyment too much. Just generally collecting items never feels like much of a chore, it’s mostly something you do as you get from place to place. However, most importantly, there are other things that make it worth exploring the world:
Firstly, there are several treasure chests scattered and hidden around to find. While most of them simply include more items, the sheer fact of seeking them out and finding them was fun, as some are hidden in very tricky places. And in the rare cases where I would get a unique costume for Luffy to wear, it made it all the more worth it to find them.
Secondly, there’s all the enemies to encounter and fight. On one hand, not only is it fun to fight thanks to the great combat system, but most importantly the xp that you get from opponents, unlike items, serves a very important purpose, as it is the source of progression to unlock Luffy’s abilities. The gradual unlocking of abilities is fantastic, as it always feels like you are progressing, getting more options to fight and getting stronger, making the exploration in turn even more fun.
However, most important of all, was the exploration itself. Yes, it’s a bit of a cheap thing to say, but this holds valid for almost all well-built open world games. The true reward from exploring a new location is seeing the unique landscapes and structures that compose it and managing to make your way through each new area, which World Seeker certainly delivers in. In the same way that in platformers you await to see how each new area will be and in adventure games you’re interested to see what challenges the next location will pose, here its being able to traverse these locations that makes it worth the adventure: visiting an unexplored town, making your way through some deep woods, searching the insides of a cave or climbing atop steep hills to gaze at the beautiful sights… those moments are what make it worth exploring and with the continuous reward of new abilities from the searching and fighting, it made it even more fun to seek out new areas.
This is all topped off with the sidequests, which offer even more incentive to explore some areas. While the first sidequests in the game came off as very generic “gather x items for me” from many low-quality open world games, I was surprised as I progressed further at how sidequests got far more intricate, with almost all of them having their own story to tell. Don’t be mistaken, this doesn’t mean that sidequests are incredibly dynamic or feature completely unique objectives from each other, but they had more depth than I imagined at first, especially in their storytelling. While most of them involve generic npcs dealing with the issues of the island, it helped paint the picture of the story, really letting you understand the effect the World Government has had on this location first hand, which reflects in the grander story of the game. Most of the issues of the npcs, for as generic as they might be, are centered around the social issues of the main storyline, which help add substance to the story in a more indirect manner.
I think what made them truly special though was the involvement of the One Piece characters in many of these quests. Helping Usopp establish himself as the lord and savior of the locals, trying to find a lost Zoro, investigating the secret trade deals of the Germa 66 or teaming up with Sabo to infiltrate a Marine stronghold to help him find secret information within, there is a lot of fanservice to be had from these sidequests. Overall, I found myself pretty engaged in many of them, not just from the involvement of characters from the series, but also due to the way they helped supplement the main plot. There’s still something to be said about most npcs being forgettable and some storylines simply not being as interesting to follow, but I still stand by the fact that the side quests were far more enjoyable than I had thought at first, to the point that I completed every single one available before writing this review.
When you put all of that together, it’s hard to call the world empty or lifeless. In the end the concept of “empty” is very subjective, so it will depend from person to person. Some people will simply find the world empty, for some the sidequests and the locations simply won’t be enough, but at least for me, I found myself always excited to explore, especially when it came to a new area I hadn’t set foot on yet.
While World Seeker doesn’t really try anything new compared to most open world games, not really being inventive or revolutionary in any of its aspects, it never needed to be. The appeal of being a One Piece game already is its driving point, what it needed to do right was have a well-built open world and in that regard, while it is far from perfect, I think it achieved it quite solidly. Not all sidequests hit home and some areas just aren’t as fun to explore, but as a whole I still had a blast exploring all the locations over the island.
Unfortunately it feels that for the sake of having such an open world a few compromises had to be made and while the ambition of the game is admirable, these really do sting a little. The lack of some of the minigames present in the previous games or some of the aforementioned lack of use of items, took down the experience a little. Don’t get me wrong, none of these were enough to ruin my playthrough as a whole or anything, but it does feel like a few things had to be given in exchange to have such a big open world.
Anyways, in the Unlimited series exploration is only half the game: the combat is an incredibly important aspect of these games and a weak combat system could easily turn into an incredibly tedious chore. So how does the combat fare? Well, in my opinion, as I was starting off, I felt rather worried as the options you get at first are limited. However, as I played further and unlocked more abilities, mostly obtained from the game’s skill tree, I began to see just how much deeper the combat has evolved from past games.
While the previous Unlimited games mostly limited themselves to giving you a fixed set of basic moves and a few specials, World Seeker brings in a massive amount of options: for starters, Luffy can always switch between two modes, observation haki mode and armament haki mode. Observation mode is the one for the standard attacks, allowing you to dish out your basic combos and moves, with the ability to dodge with soru and use haki (even a little bit of basic future sight) to foresee enemy attacks. Armament on the other hand allows you to coat your firsts in haki on a whim and attack enemies with much more powerful attacks, but in turn you lose the ability to dodge, only being able to block some attacks. On top of this basic system you get ranged attacks which can be dished out in third person shooting, the ability to use haki to scout your surroundings or being able to slow time during battle (as in Luffy being so fast that you can react more quickly), lunging at enemies, charged attacks, aerial attacks and special attacks, ranging from super powerful moves like the Red Hawk and Elephant Gatling to the utterly fantastic Conqueror’s haki, which instantly knocks down any weak enemy and stuns the more powerful ones, allowing you to perform unique takedown cinematic attacks on bosses.
With all the options you get at your disposal there are many ways to approach enemies. While it is possible to ignore these options and simply mash your way through to then call the combat “shallow” (cough cough some reviews cough cough), if you legitimately make good use of the combat options it feels hard to grow tired of it, especially with the countless options that you have to approach a fight. This is particularly noticeable in the higher difficulties (already starting from standard), where simple button mashing is heavily punished. You need to make good use of your countless options or you will die, with the game rewarding inventive play and good reflexes to adapt to each situation, which not only helps cement the combat system, but also emulates really well how Luffy fights in the series.
This is all topped off with Gear Fourth, which is unlocked halfway through the adventure. Gear Fourth looks flashy and is incredibly fun to use, but I unfortunately have a couple gripes with it. For one, it is hard to control at first, with no real reliable way to dodge and with its attacks being hard to connect at times. While you do get more used to it over time, it is rather jarring at first. On the other hand my other complaint would have to be its lack of flashiness: for a form known for its absurd attack power, the attacks do deal damage, but feel underwhelming with how they connect. You can easily unleash something like a King Kong Gun yet it will look as basic as a normal Kong Gun, I wish they made this form more ridiculously powerful and outlandish to use, with it also lacking any proper cinematic finisher to make it truly climactic. While it is incredibly fun to pull out in a dire spot during a battle or to soar the skies of the island propelling myself with the insanely fast propulsion of Gear Fourth, it is one aspect I wish had been expanded on just a little further.
The skill tree is a great addition though, as not only is it a good way to gradually unlock abilities, but it also allows you to do so in any order you want. More than a skill tree it’s more like a skill board, as you can unlock any skill you want in any order, allowing you to set your own playstyle. You want a purely offensive Luffy with all the flashy attacks? You want to focus on dodging and honing your haki? Or do you value more exploration? The game allows you to adapt in any way and you can balance out the playstyles at any time without having to worry about following a specific tree branch.
The game even introduces stealth mechanics, which while they might seem unnecessary at first, they can prove a lot more useful than you’d think. Knocking out enemies before they notice you can help avoid being swarmed by an annoying amount of foes and simply sneaking by some sections can be legitimately fun. However, if you just want to play as Luffy being Luffy, you can also just charge straight through the front gates with a massive Elephant Gun, it’s certainly an acceptable option as well. Whether you prefer to be stealthy or more direct, the game always gives you options for whichever approach you want to take. There is a lot of freedom not just in exploration, but also in how you wish to tackle combat.
However, the one big catch for this advanced combat is the fact that you can only play as Luffy. Truth be told, the real reason is the design of the game and it becomes very apparent: if the other Straw Hats were playable, you wouldn’t be able to explore as freely or zip by flying around the island. The game’s story would be much more limited given the more open storytelling compared to previous games and the combat options would be vastly more basic. While there would be more battle variety, combat simply wouldn’t have as many options with Luffy as it does. It is a bit of a bitter compromise that the Straw Hats had to be relegated to non-playable, but given the way the game is designed, you soon understand just why exactly this had to be done and I feel the compromise is worth it for this entry. To give you a legitimate open-world experience as Luffy with boundless freedom, something that simply wouldn’t be possible if the other Straw Hats were playable, is something that I felt was worth experiencing even at this cost.
After all, we’ve already had countless games letting us play as the other eight, so after all these years of playing as all the Straw Hats, I don’t mind them being non-playable for at least one entry. On top of this, it’s not like they’re absent or anything: all the Straw Hats are heavily present in the main story and there are countless sidequests in the game that have them involved, with their personality and quirks shining through as brightly as always, often leading me to a lot of good chuckles. They might not be playable or present all the time, yet somehow because you look at it from an outside perspective, they feel even more present in some occasions than in some of the previous Unlimited games.
At least the OP bosses are back as always, but they are slightly scaled back too, with not as many as some of the previous Unlimited games, another compromise that stung a little. However, on the flipside, their battles feel more developed, with them standing out more and feeling like they do their powers justice. The aspect I feel is certainly superior though is the actual writing and involvement of the bosses. Previous games in the series always had a “these bosses are just figments of your memories given life via a devil fruit or some other power”, thus giving them an excuse to bring in any character from the series in.
Here however, no, they’re the real deal. This is the real Lucci, the real Crocodile, etc. They have motivations within the storyline for being on this island, so in that regard it feels a lot more legitimate that these characters are present here and their dialogue and relationships with Luffy feel much more relevant because of it. Having Crocodile bid her son- ehm, I mean, bid Luffy goodbye by saying “adios”, Fujitora clashing with Kizaru for putting citizens under harm, or Luffy and Sabo teaming up to fight Sakazuki, there’s a very cool aspect in seeing these characters interact and clash with each other, because while still non-canon, this leads to some incredible dream set ups that we could only wish for in the manga. Each of their dialogues is written accurately to the character’s personalities, whether it’s one of the Straw Hats or one of the recurring characters from the series, they sound and feel like they’re the same characters we’ve come to love in the manga.
Eitherway, with that I think it would be a good opportunity to talk about the story and writing. The stories in the Unlimited games have always been incredibly mediocre and boring, by far their weakest aspect, with the villain of Unlimited World Red being the sole redeeming aspect in the franchise’s writing (though even then he was the only interesting thing of that game’s storyline). World Seeker actually surprised me with how good its story was though. While nothing ridiculous that hasn’t been done in previous non-canon stories, it was still legitimately well-written and even heartfelt at points.
This isn’t surprising once you realize that the main aspects of the story were conceived by Oda himself and it absolutely shows. While obviously not as deep as some of the stories of the manga, it still includes all the traditional aspects of the series: a traditional Arc-like OP storyline, the World Government’s involvement and its morality, flashbacks and background to the characters, a larger tie in the overall lore of One Piece (even going as far as to explain the reason behind previous events in the series, which I found really cool) and an emotional climax. The developers have described this akin to playing through a One Piece movie and while it doesn’t quite reach the save level of scope, it certainly feels like it from the perspective of its structure, far more than just a filler arc. Stakes are big for the OP world as a whole, several important characters are involved and it feels that, in all its exaggerated danger, this is an important event for the world of One Piece, just like the other movies.
The two original characters in particular became a lot more likable than I thought, with the villain becoming someone I could legitimately sympathize with even with his twisted perspective. They both shined on the same level of quality as the characters of the movies in that regard, which helped me become more invested in the story. While some bits of dialogue could be a little awkward, overall the story, just like a One Piece movie, felt like a great ride from start to end.
On the aspect of visuals and graphics, I can only put it as the game being simply stunning. While Cruise was great for the Wii and World Red achieved a great cell-shaded art style, World Seeker absolutely nails the look of the anime and manga, feeling like something right out of Oda’s world while also looking utterly beautiful to boot. The models of the main characters look fantastic and the landscapes can on some occasions be legitimately breathtaking. The one exclusion possibly being the character animations at times and the models for the npcs, but even those aren’t as bad as they seem at first.
On top of that, the game is also very mechanically sound: not only does the game run at a solid framerate, but I encountered almost next to no bugs or glitches over my 50 hours of playtime, an astounding feat for any open world game and a real testament of how well built the world is. While the words “buggy lazy cashgrab” have been thrown around since before release, this couldn’t be further away from the truth, as a lot of polish was applied to make sure the experience would be as enjoyable as possible from a technical standpoint.
Another great aspect of the presentation is the soundtrack. For the first time in the series the original composer of One Piece, Kohei Tanaka, was brought on to compose the soundtrack of the game and my lord it shows. The tracks range from great to fantastic, with them not only fitting each area very well, but covering many emotions, from deeply emotional, to relaxing, to a bustling sense of adventure. More importantly of all, while these aren’t the tracks from the main series, something that is unavoidable with these games but still a bit disappointing, the songs certainly sound like One Piece, which really helps drive the point home that this is a One Piece adventure. Particular standouts are the Main theme and the Gear Fourth theme, which really accentuated how fun to use it was to pull out Gear Fourth in the middle of battle.
One thing that struck me as odd at first though was that while the soundtrack is obviously dynamic, it works in an odd manner. Each track only plays once upon a new location and most of the overworld is silent. I was deeply worried that this would be another of those “the soundtrack is the ambience of the world” games, but I was pleasantly surprised that the game offers an inventive solution: it comes in the form of a tone dial, which allows you to play any track of the game wherever you want at your free selection, with it naturally blending into the game. You can even make playlists and shuffle songs. While it’s a great option, I found it a little annoying to pick some of the tracks manually, which got in the way a couple times and I wish they integrated it more seamlessly.
– Difficulty is adjustable at any time at any point from the main menu in a matter of seconds, which comes in great help if you find any one battle (or even a portion of it) too easy or too hard, allowing you to easily modify the difficulty and challenge that each fight poses, removing any sense of cheapness or boring fight design
– While not perfect, the controls are pretty solid. They take some time at first, but they eventually flow pretty well and I didn’t have much issue with them in all my playtime
– Commodities of modern open world games are present, from easy fast travel, to an easy to follow minimap, to a quest log that keeps track of all your objectives and sidequests
– The voices of the main cast are great as always and the voices of Jeanne and Isaac are particularly great as well
– One Piece easter eggs are hidden across the game, even Pandaman himself is!
– In certain places, it’s a little hard to use Gomu Gomu no Rocket. While it works perfectly 90% of the time, there are a few instances where I had to readjust myself
– Karma system, while fun to complete and a nice way to track progress, doesn’t offer much beyond some exclusive dialogue as a reward. There is a really cool aspect to the endgame you can unlock for each character if you complete their karma chart though, which does somewhat make it worth the effort
– Most cutscenes aren’t voiced and it’s mostly the characters sitting still with minor animations. It’s a little jarring, but you get used to it
– The “you entered a blocked scene so gameplay recording will stop” from Burning Blood is back and with a revenge, its ludicrously annoying, though this issue only applies if you’re playing on PS4
– No new characters from the past 150+ manga chapters are present (with the exception of the Vinsmokes). No Katakuri, no Jack, no Charlottes, which feels like a missed opportunity at the point this game was released
There’s something to be said about the fact that World Seeker isn’t for everyone. Those who are far too burnt on open world design or that simply don’t care about the genre will have a hard time enjoying the game and those that have set their expectations too high might come out disappointed. But if you’re willing to accept that this isn’t the One Piece game of our dreams, but still an incredibly enjoyable experience, I think you’re in for a great adventure that any fan of the series could enjoy.
World Seeker is flawed, it isn’t a perfect realization and it does come short in some aspects. But even with all that, there’s no denying the insane amount of effort and love that came into crafting every corner of this world, with the developer putting in as much passion as they always have with their previous entries. Don’t let the rumors of this game being a broken glitchy and “lazy cashgrab” mislead you, the game is both technically sound and developed with a lot of care. If you feel it’s worth the price of admission is something that’ll depend on how willing you are to invest in the concept of exploring an open world with Luffy, but to me the experience was completely worth it, even with the issues it had. I’ve had a fantastic adventure exploring this island and I’m very interested to see where Ganbarion takes the series from here on out.