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One Piece Odyssey’ is an enjoyable JRPG journey through well-charted seas, Digital News

One Piece Odyssey’ is an enjoyable JRPG journey through well-charted seas, Digital News

The JRPG formula is well worn, so it’s always refreshing to have new elements thrown into the mix. Just like how the Straw Hat Pirates have ventured to the various parts of the One Piece world, the franchise’s games are no strangers to sailing new seas – and the proof is in the history.

One Piece: World Seeker, for example, took on an open world, while Pirate Warriors 4 found its roots in hack-and-slash action. With One Piece Odyssey, Bandai Namco sticks to the exploratory tradition again, as it dips its toes into the JRPG genre for the first time in the series’ history.

And it’s a promising adventure, if a three-hour preview is any indication. As with all franchise titles, it primarily targets the existing fanbase, but there are also enough fresh and friendly elements to please newcomers to the fold. More notably, the story is written by series creator Eiichiro Oda himself, giving it an edge in the appeal factor right from the start.

The game starts in a linear fashion, leaving very little room for free roaming in the first chapter. Luffy’s crew find themselves washed up on the shores of a mysterious island called Waford, with their ship completely destroyed and the Straw Hat Pirates scattered about. When all the characters are gathered, another problem presents itself – Nami, separated from everyone else, is in danger, and the group must save her from the clutches of a giant monkey and other hostile forces.

Between these film sequences and the narrative exposition is where the learning begins. One Piece Odyssey is generous with its tutorial sequences, doling out bits of guidance rather than overwhelming players with a barrage of information. Here, Luffy is able to traverse the environment with a grappling hook mechanic that uses the elasticity of his arm, and it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it.

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He’s not the only playable character either. The game’s character swap feature allows for a seamless switch between crew members, each with their own overworld abilities carried over from the source material. Zoro, for example, is able to cut through walls and blockages to reveal hidden paths or chests, while Chopper can enter small, tight spaces with his diminutive size. Usopp proves useful for hitting objects from high ground, and there are points in One Piece Odyssey where you need to take control of a certain character in order to progress.

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The entire crew can also be used in battle. Players can choose between Luffy, Zoro, Sanji, Nami, Robin, Frankie, Chopper, and Usopp, and select four of them to form the main party, as well as swap them out at any time during the match. In fact, it’s on the battlefield where things get more interesting – unlike traditional JRPG titles, the title presents several fresh elements that challenge the conventions of the genre.

While still a turn-based mechanic, the addition of a Scramble Battle Area feature, rock-paper-scissors system, and dramatic cutscenes provide a refreshing gameplay style. The first sorts the characters into different zones, where they have to go up against their own set of enemies as opposed to fighting together as a team, which is a nice touch that accurately mirrors the fight sequences in the anime.

That doesn’t mean you won’t be able to team up and defeat enemies together – as long as they’re defeated early, characters can move out of position and help nearby allies; the order they attack can also be set.

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The rock-paper-scissors dynamic, meanwhile, should be familiar to those familiar with the Pokémon or Fire Emblem game series. Each hero, skill, and monster has its own combat type (strength, speed, and technique), and choosing the right counter will deal the most damage to the chosen target. There’s also attack range to consider: some skills can only target enemies at close range, while surrounding forces won’t be affected by long-range attacks.

Dramatic scenes liven up the battles even further by offering a bonus objective that acts as a special challenge. In one example, Usopp must be rescued before a group of enemies knock him out; in another, players must use Luffy to defeat enemies without switching out. These sequences introduce an extra layer of difficulty, especially if you’re not used to playing that specific character.

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Between managing everyone’s turn order, health and mana, and taking into account your party’s positioning and attack range, the battle system can seem intimidating to newcomers. Fortunately, One Piece Odyssey offers some help, providing indicators of ability effectiveness, and bringing players into the heat of the action with a clear, easy-to-understand tutorial.

That is not to say that the system is perfect. There is no indication of the damage that the characters will deal before they actually attack, which can make it difficult to plan for the attack sequence or choose the type of ability for the final blow.

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It would also be welcome if there was an option to skip the cutscenes that activate every time a character’s special move is selected, while keeping track of all the enemies and their types, along with that of the crew, can get tedious over several rounds – especially in boss fights with multiple targets.

Still, the game offers an extra layer of complexity that JRPG veterans will likely appreciate without getting too deeply rooted in strategy like Fire Emblem. This mix of newness and familiarity is nicely woven into other parts of One Piece Odyssey as well, starting with the addition of two original characters: Adio and Lim, who are important to the overall narrative.

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In a show of dramatic irony, the pair are revealed to be responsible for stealing the crew’s power (unbeknownst to them) and spreading it across Waford in the form of cube fragments. Embarking on their journey to regain their powers, the Straw Hat Crew end up in various locations, including Alabasta, which was first unveiled at the Thailand Game Show 2022.

It’s also when the world starts to open up a little more. Where One Piece Odyssey would previously set players on a directed path, the city marks the start of offering more room for exploration. Here there are side missions to complete, bounties to deliver and enemies to hunt down, all of which can be done in no particular order.

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An earlier cave sequence offered a small taste of player choice – they can choose to check out nooks and crannies in the terrain, sneak up on enemies to gain a combat advantage, or outrun them altogether – but it’s in Alabasta that the links to linear gameplay begin to loosen the grip.

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It is not only the countries that want to merge both the new and the old. Familiar faces from the anime are set to appear throughout the story, with the game’s introductory sequences serving as a crash course for newcomers. For One Piece enthusiasts, these moments will be a welcome homecoming, and it’s reassuring to know that the game also shines a spotlight on the crew’s diverse personalities.

In fact, there are plenty of character interactions to go around in the game. Even outside of frequent cutscenes, the entire crew is constantly engaged in background dialogue, and their dynamic is further accentuated through the new Camp feature reminiscent of Pokemon Scarlet and Violet’s Picnic mechanic, where players can rest, feast, and throw a party to reap certain battle benefits.

The three-hour preview session barely scratched the surface of its 40 to 60-hour runtime, but One Piece Odyssey looks set to be a fun journey for players, and especially for longtime fans. It’s interesting and entertaining enough, and makes the compelling case that the JPRG format might be the best presentation for a One Piece game.

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One Piece Odyssey will be released on January 12, 2023 for PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S. The PC version will launch on January 13.

This article was first published in Geek Culture.

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