The most ambitious One Piece game ever has amazing graphics and a brand new story, but will it appeal to non-fans?
According to the record books, One Piece has been the best-selling manga for the last 11 years in a row. That’s quite the achievement, and with the anime being similarly popular it’s no wonder protagonist Monkey D. Luffy was given centre stage, alongside representatives from Dragon Ball and Naruto, in recent manga crossover Jump Force. But while the other two have had their fair share of decent, and in some cases genuinely great, video game tie-ins, One Piece never really has. Which is the injustice World Seeker is attempting to set right.
The reason for the lack of notable games is fairly obvious. While Naruto is about ninjas and Dragon Ball features superhero-like martial artists One Piece is about pirates, with a more complicated set-up and a generally more humorous tone. That hasn’t stopped a number of fighting games and simple role-players but none of them have proven hits outside the One Piece fanbase and most had only limited releases in the West.
World Seeker is clearly aiming higher though, and relatively unusually for a Japanese game, especially a licensed one, it features a large(-ish) open world environment and some clear inspiration taken from Assassin’s Creed and other Western franchises. The graphics are often remarkably good and a lot of effort, and attention to fan detail, has clearly been expended on the whole project. The question is though, whether the One Piece connection enhances the experience or subtracts from it.
The gist of the franchise involves Monkey D. Luffy, and his band of privateers, searching for the titular One Piece treasure, that will allow him to become the pirate king. Having previously eaten a ‘devil fruit’ Luffy has the ability to stretch his limbs like Street Fighter’s Dhalsim, which makes him extremely durable in combat and gives him the ability to perform a wide variety of unlikely special moves, including many that work at a distance.
Not only are his rubberised limbs useful for fisticuffs but Luffy can also use them like a catapult and fire himself across the landscape like Just Cause. He can also spin his legs like a helicopter propeller, allowing him to hover in mid-air. Particularly in the more built-up areas, these traversal abilities prove strangely reminiscent of Marvel’s Spider-Man – although considerably less nuanced and flexible.
Unfortunately, that description goes for most of the mechanics, and while there are a lot of stealth missions you’re forced to take part in there’s a severe lack of dedicated stealth abilities – despite the fact you can lose instantly if you’re spotted.
The combat isn’t quite as underdeveloped, but although there are plenty of extra moves to unlock, from a fairly leafy skill tree, and two different stances to switch between, there’s still only one melee button. Thanks to this and the simplistic enemy artificial intelligence fights almost always devolve into simple button-mashing, with the only thing able to wake you out of the stupor of combat being a series of frustrating difficulty spikes whenever a boss comes along.
The combat is something that developer Ganbarion really should have done better on but we’re less surprised to find that they’ve had trouble creating enough memorable missions, as that’s something even experienced open world creators can struggle with. Almost every mission in World Seeker revolves around simply going to a specific spot and beating up some enemies or collecting items or chests, something that gets so tedious it will quickly have you pinning for more forced stealth missions.
World Seeker’s plot revolves around Luffy being separated by his crew on the conveniently constrained Prison Island, which is in a constant state of unrest thanks to the occupying military forces and put-upon locals. Rather than adapting an arc from the anime it’s actually a completely new story written by series creator Eiichiro Oda, which together with the excellent cel-shaded graphics means this is one game that we can recommend solely as a piece of fan service.
However, many will likely be upset that so much emphasis is put on Luffy, with the rest of the Straw Hat Crew reduced to little more than cameos. Reuniting them always has some sort of benefit, and sometimes they come along with you on quests, both most of the time they’re just they’re to unlock things like an in-game shop or help with crafting.
It’s obvious that the developers have a great love for One Piece as a franchise, and they’ve clearly done their homework in terms of Western action adventures, but the two worlds have not come together in anything like a satisfying manner. Apart from anything else, everything always seems so long winded, from chests that take a good 10 seconds to open to mammoth load times and a lot of obvious filler content.
Despite the low bar we’re not even sure this is the best One Piece game, even if it is the most ambitious. But ambition doesn’t pay the rent and unless you are a seriously hardcore One Piece fan you’re better off seeking out just about any open world alternative.
One Piece: World Seeker
In Short: A loving piece of fan service that looks and sounds just like the anime, but unfortunately it plays like a bad Xbox 360 era open world game.
Pros: The graphics are great and One Piece fans will love the attention to detail and the all-new story by Eiichiro Oda.
Cons: One note (and one button) combat is extremely repetitive, with some nasty difficulty spikes. Mission design lacks variety and stealth is extremely basic. Poor pacing and long load times.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Release Date: 15th March 2019
Age Rating: 12