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One Piece Odyssey isn’t just targeting anime and JRPG fans

The One Piece series is no stranger to the world of video games. Throughout the years we’ve seen the popular manga and anime series become a multimedia giant, and that has taken it into the realm of gaming spin-offs. However, we’ve never truly seen it in the Japanese role-playing genre where it belongs. That’s changing next month with One Piece Odyssey.

One Piece Odyssey - Gameplay Trailer | PS5 & PS4 Games

When I initially saw One Piece Odyssey, as both a huge series fan and role-playing game lover, I felt that it was a step in the right direction. What other series is better suited to go after the JRPG formula than the manga that literally feels like one at all times? After getting the chance to try One Piece Odyssey and chat with its producer Rei Hirata, I found that my hunch was on point.

Odyssey isn’t trying to be just another cash-grab anime spin-off JRPG. It’s looking to be the anime JRPG and evolve the genre, just as its manga and anime counterparts have done for their respective mediums.

Like playing through the panels of the manga

Off the bat, one thing that immediately stands out about One Piece Odyssey is that it’s chasing the series’ vision more than any game before it. When I jumped into the demo, I was pleased to find that the Straw Hat Pirates were depicted with the absolute best 3D models they’ve ever had. Every character felt like they jumped straight out of the manga, with their cartoonishly exaggerated expressions shining. Producer Rei Hirata told me that this was one of the most important parts of the game’s development for the team.

Straw Hat Pirates standing together in Alabasta.

No One Piece game has ever had such attention to detail when it comes to the characters — I was in awe looking at it. This isn’t anything new for me with my love of characters like Nico Robin, but I was more mesmerized than usual with the rest of the cast. The action, scene composition, and impact of battles in One Piece are translated perfectly into a game for the first time here thanks to the cinematic nature of JRPGs. Watching a rubberman heat up his blood and fire a flurry of intense punches at giant crabs has never felt more satisfying.

Trust that the adventuring the series is known for shows up in full force here. I encountered all types of unseen creatures of the One Piece Universe: giant ice walruses, weird attacking monkeys, and a lot more. It immersed me so much in Eiichiro Oda’s grand world that I didn’t want to leave after the demo time limit hit.

Grab some popcorn

Jumping to the more theatrical parts of the game, the story begins with the crew landing on an island and losing access to their ship. They regroup and run into two mysterious characters who have vague intentions. After losing the expansive move kits they’ve learned throughout the series due to an inexplicable power from one of the two, the hunt is on. They have to find cubes that contain their memories, while learning the secrets of this island that is filled with callbacks to a past-explored island of the series, Skypiea.

The Straw Hats facing Adio.

It sounds like a great plot for a One Piece film because it may as well be one. So many times I’d sit the controller down and just enjoy the show, momentarily forgetting I was supposed to be playing a game. The hilarious character interactions, big plot twists, tear-jerker moments, and of course, Luffy’s badass battle scenes are all here. And what makes it better is that it never stops.

All the Straw Hats are constantly chatting with one another and letting their personalities shine, both in and out of battle. The conversations can either be quick jokes, a simple supporting quote, or a real piece of the story. This is also seen when certain characters help out others in battles, like when Sanji gives Nami items and yells his iconic, “NAMI SWAN!” pet name for her. It’s just oozing that One Piece style and love, and I could not get enough of everything it offered.

Another big push for RPGs

Though the fan service has me excited, it’s not what I’m most impressed by. It’s the fact that its director decided to go in such an admirable and ambitious direction with it in so many ways, including trying to make it accessible for non-One Piece and JRPG fans.

Battles play out in a new direction for JRPGs here. The headlining Straw Hat Pirates of One Piece are a crew that runs deep. There are eight playable party members here (as the game takes place before Wano) and that means battles can’t be limited to a party of four. How is that circumvented? Well, combat is cut into sectors. There are multiple areas where enemies can appear on a single field, with the highest sector count I’ve run into being four.

A screenshot of Luffy in battle in One Piece Odyssey.

Players can have up to four party members in each section and swap them out with others at any time. This adds a constant strategy and a more intuitive battle system than other JRPGs can boast. For example, I loved putting Luffy face to face with enemies, as he takes and deals out big damage. Meanwhile, I kept my healer, Chopper, and two ranged fighters, Nico Robin and Usopp, at a distance to lend a hand after taking out smaller enemies. Other times I’d just be concerned about who’d look coolest fighting what together, just because the game offers such tactical freedom.

What’s exciting is that an overabundance of these battles isn’t necessary. Producer Katsuaki Tsuzuki stated that the developers were looking to remove the grindy nature of JRPGs by giving players more opportunities to level up and take on strong enemies aside from being over-leveled. In true One Piece fashion, characters can party and gain an experience point bonus for the next ten battles. Usopp’s many tricky debuff attacks can be used to fight big enemies, scoring the crew a big level boost. Like Pokémon, everyone levels up together, so there’s no need to rotate everyone onto the field for the sake of grinding.

Zoro finishing an Onigiri strike in One Piece Odyssey.

One Piece Odyssey is an incredibly well-put-together package so far, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the finished product. It seems to be a strong entry point into both the One Piece series and the JRPG genre alike, or a simple vacation into something new for anyone looking for a quality gaming experience. Feel free to blame me if you pick it up and find yourself yelling that you’re going to be king of the pirates.

One Piece Odyssey launches on January 12 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

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