Video version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Rh1hhyAugA
One Piece Odyssey has finally released, and I’ve had the opportunity to play it for over 40 hours. So in the end, what is the verdict? Does Odyssey manage to deliver on the promise of being the best One Piece game ever made, especially for hardcore fans of the series like you and I? Or does it fall flat due to some poor design decisions? Let’s find out!
One Piece Odyssey stands out among previous entries, which were usually more focused on action adventure, by being a very traditional turn-based JRPG. So essentially gameplay is split up between exploring very lineal levels and interacting with characters to advance quests and turn-based strategical combat. Particularly, a lot of DNA from Dragon Quest XI can be very evidently felt, as Odyssey was developed by a team that assisted with creating that title. In case you haven’t played it, Dragon Quest XI is considered one of the best JRPGs of recent times, so there’s certainly a lot of promise for a fantastic system here.
For starters, let’s get this out of the way, much like Dragon Quest XI the game looks really gorgeous. While it may not seem at first glance, seeing it in action this is undoubtedly the most beautiful One Piece game to date, especially with its environments, which make it a joy to walk through iconic locations of the series. Praise should also go to the UI and menus, which look incredibly stylish, as well as the fact that most of the game is fully voice acted by the original actors.
Enemy monsters also feature a fantastic selection of creatures from across the series, especially from Strong World, as well as even some designed by Eiichiro Oda exclusively for this game. Characters generally look great too, in spite of some slightly janky animations, but I have to address the Zunesha in the room: unfortunately yes, you are stuck with the ugly Fishman Island outfits for the entire game. You can unlock and change to pre-timeskip looks, but that’s about it, and this is is only for battle and field, meaning that all cutscenes will still play with the same generic outfits, which absolutely overstay their welcome.
That said, special mention needs to be given to the soundtrack, composed by legendary game composer Motoi Sakuraba. While at the cost of not feeling as One Piece-like as the anime’s OST, if anything it made me feel like I was playing a “Tales of” game at times, having one of the best composers in the industry made for a fantastic selection of pieces that resoundingly succeed at making you feel immersed.
But beyond that, surprisingly enough, from a purely gameplay perspective the game does deliver fairly well, at least at first glance. Exploration is incredibly fun thanks to very meticulously crafted level design, and the combat also presents a fairly interesting set of mechanics: Odyssey stands out from other JRPGs with what it calls an area-based battle system. Essentially, all your party members and enemy units are scattered across different areas. You can only attack enemies from separate areas with limited ranged attacks or by defeating all the enemies in your area first, and because characters are assigned a weapon triangle, you have to strategize on which areas to liberate first to help move characters to other areas where they can help. On paper this is a really cool system, and while it’s still fun, it unfortunately fundamentally falls apart by some glaring oversights.
For one, while the system is fun for normal battles, it doesn’t feel like it was particularly designed for bosses. Because there is no real area mechanics to play around with, boss battles essentially boil down to spamming your strongest attacks on the boss and nothing more. But beyond that, the entire area system can be broken through the fact that you can swap party members at any time. This sounds great in theory, but you can do it an unlimited amount of times with no turn cost. Meaning that you can easily switch out a party member and switch them back in another area where you need them, which basically trivializes the entire system. You outright need to avoid using this mechanic if you want any sort of challenge, but unfortunately that’s already quite a struggle as it is.
Even running away from most encounters and never grinding, I was simply always overleveled, and it took me several worlds until I even saw a party member faint once or had to start using healing items. There’s several ways to easily break the game, especially through its accessory system, and plenty of other mechanics that easily trivialize any challenge. For example Luffy later unlocks Conqueror’s haki, which insta-kills all enemies in one hit, which is really fun… but there’s literally no limit to it, so at that point you can end all battles in a single move. I’d much rather take a JRPG that is too easy than too hard, especially as that makes it more accessible, but this only helps illustrate not just how poorly balanced the difficulty is, but simply how shallow the battle system really ends up being in the long run. While the mechanics are fun, the area system is pretty much all there really is to it, as the game lacks the depth of strategy that defines a great turn-based battle system.
Regardless, I don’t think that’s even the game’s biggest problem, because what unfortunately really sours the experience is the decision to center this game around exploring old One Piece arcs. Essentially, thanks to the powers of the young girl Lim, the Straw Hats relive previous adventures in their memories, centering most of the game’s stages around old One Piece stories, a gimmick that was already used in several previous games. The issue comes in the fact that these aren’t accurate retellings, as not only are all areas you explore geographically and visually inaccurate, feeling completely different from canon in some cases, but so are the stories, removing entire characters, story sections, and events. This is justified through the memory world being unstable and changing things, but it doesn’t alter the fact that these simply feel like lesser adaptations than their original counterparts, sometimes deviating so much that they feel like borderline fanfiction.
And it’s a massive shame, because the main plot of the story that takes place in the real world is actually the best that a One Piece game has ever had. Without going into spoilers, it’s made very apparent from the start that it connects into lore of the main series, including the technologically advanced ancient kingdom, the D. clan, and the ancient weapons, and adds lore to a certain location of One Piece’s story that was fairly unexplored in the original manga. It doesn’t reveal anything new in canon like Film RED would, but it’s still a great way to complement existing lore, and the way it slowly unveils its mysteries and how the characters grew on me over time made me engaged to push forward to unravel the secrets of its narrative.
But that’s only about 10% of the actual plot, because 90% of the game is spent reliving awkward adaptations of the original manga that simply put just drag on. Odyssey is unfortunately plagued by a lot of the problems that JRPGs tend to suffer from, including excessive linearity, padded storylines, and a lot, and I mean a lot of dialogue. Expect a lot of a cutscenes playing, then you walk for 2 seconds, another cutscene plays, then you are stopped again with some redundant dialogue telling you where to go, over and over. And every single time anything happens, a brief 2 second black loading screen plays, which really add up very fast.
There’s also a ridiculous amount of obligatory sidequests and filler content that are required to advance the story, forcing you to go on menial tasks like helping Nami find her lost wallet, or helping a kid find some plants, or cooking soup for someone, which coupled with the excessive amount of dialogue and constant interruptions, just constantly brings the pace to a halt, even for JRPG standards. Some of the worlds are actually very short, but others are long, and can keep on going for well over 10 hours. And it doesn’t help that these are all stories we’ve experienced so many times, which makes the padding feel all the more tedious and uninteresting because we already know what’s going to happen.
Not to speak that because these are all just memory worlds, none of these people really exist, which makes helping out villagers with their sidequests or helping the people in these worlds feel utterly redundant. Characters constantly acknowledge that none of these worlds are real, but then proceed to help out the locals anyway, completely ignoring what they just said.
And that’s fundamentally the issue with One Piece Odyssey, because at its core this is a really good game, it’s a mechanically solid JRPG with fantastic presentation as well as fun exploration and a solid battle system. But its combat mechanics quickly show some clear oversights in balancing and a lack of depth, and the game is unfortunately marooned by a lot of the warts that come with poor JRPG experiences, especially in how its pacing painfully drags on at points, which is simply aggravated by the fact that you are experiencing poorly recycled retellings of old storylines that simply don’t do justice to the original stories, instead distracting you from what is otherwise a much more interesting main plot.
One Piece Odyssey is still at its core a great time, and I can’t deny that I still had a lot of fun with it. But alongside that fun also came a lot of tedium and boredom, as its flaws hold it back from being a truly immersive experience. Fans of classic JRPGs like me might still find a lot of enjoyment in the title as I did, but if you don’t have the patience to push through such a long and tedious experience that requires a lot of investment, then One Piece Odyssey may not be enough to hold your attention.