With Ganbarion at the helm, the One Piece series is venturing out into an open world.
One Piece fans have been waiting forever for that one video game that does justice to the exceedingly popular Japanese manga. True, there have been interesting adventures, touching stories, and other attempts over the years which were okay, however, nobody has ever made a high-quality and definitive game that truly pleases the franchise's army of fans, at least not in the way that Rocksteady's Batman Arkham series or Insomniac's Spider-Man was able to. From the moment we first learned about World Seeker, we thought we might have found it, due to its sandbox set up and Ganbarion's level of ambition. So, is this the classic game that fans have been waiting for? It's close, but no, it's not.
At first, One Piece: World Seeker seems promising. The Japanese developer has built a mini world inside of Eiichiro Oda's big adventure. They've created their own island, Jail Island, and their own characters, in order to tell a story that could fit in any saga. Ganbarion has nailed the premise and the open world fits really well with the main character, Monkey D. Luffy, and his skills (his power is stretching his body like gum). However, the rest of the crew has been relegated to secondary roles. This decision might anger fans at first since most of them love the characters and it does impact on variety, but it makes sense in terms of how they fit in the world.
Jail Island is a great sandbox. It's got everything you need; villages, cities, harbours, beaches, bases, mountains, meadows, a mine, a lake... Everything is basically open from the get-go and you can get anywhere like a 'roketto'. The map size is optimal in the sense that it's not too big, and it has been designed with verticality in mind so you can jump around and climb. Moving around with the Gomu Gomu no Rocket is fun, kind of like swinging around the city with Spider-Man's webs in last year's stellar adventure.
World Seeker doesn't offer vehicles or other means of transport, but the studio has included a fast travel mode between points of interest which works well for those who don't want to waste time running around. However, you're going to want to look around for all the treasure chests and materials that are scattered everywhere. Of course, you'll have to beat up some pirates along the way too.
Jail Island has a lot of stuff, except for one basic thing: NPC variety. Ganbarion has only added a few models per faction, and they are constantly repeated in conversations, on the streets, and during combat. The design and definition of all these NPCs are great and fits the One Piece style, but we were hoping for more (or at least something to brighten up the streets and make things more interesting). This is a much bigger problem in combat, though, as there are only six different common enemies per faction and so we can't put many new tactics into practice.
One Piece: World Seeker is even worse if you take things too seriously, and it won't live up to comparisons with the latest big sandbox titles. Roaming around, you get this feeling of exciting discovery, like a small-scale The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, however, the lustre wears off once you've completed some missions. There is a lot of content linked to the primary and secondary objectives, and the missions that define the plot are offered up in well-designed blocks (although it's worth noting how the game makes the story work without needing to be linear).
Meanwhile, there are other secondary tasks that you can choose to do, but these are pretty much compulsory if you're going to get all of the skill points you need, and for Luffy to evolve. It's your typical in-game busywork and, although the studio tried to change things up with some quick collect and deliver missions, the combat quests become less interesting because of the battle system. Garbarion hasn't bothered with the Observation Haki or stealth either; we expected more innovation with regards to mission design, and at the end of the day we were disappointed with what was included herein.
The game's storyline makes the missions a little more bearable; it includes a bit of drama, with intrigue, combat, and external parties trying to exploit events for their benefit. This spin-off brings back some well-known pirates (Shichibukai, Marine's Admirals), and adds new, local characters too. Luffy's personality differs a lot from his new companion, Jeane, who always gets straight to the point. Moreover, her design is the weakest of the game. As always, it's a pity they didn't have enough budget for a full dub; the anime cast is complete, but they've only voiced a few sequences and some generic lines. If they wanted this to be the great One Piece game we mentioned before, it needed more.
As we've mentioned already, the combat is the worst part. Having Luffy as the only main character has allowed the studio to create a deeper system, as it takes advantage of the character's development. You have to unlock moves, upgrades, Haki skills, finishers, extra tactics... Again, the design is okay in theory, but it doesn't quite work in practice. All battles feel the same because of the aforementioned lack of enemies and moves. You can expect to spend your time either mashing enemies or avoiding and blocking their blows to quickly counterattack. Beware, when played on medium difficulty it gets complicated once you pass the second block, and you can die easily.
That's the other problem: dying and restarting. Usually, loading times for PS4 are between 30 and 45 seconds, which can be exasperating during a fight against an Admiral. The loading times also make us reconsider when we want to use fast travel, although it comes in handy when completing missions. However, load times can be worth it when you have a beautiful open world, and this colourful setting pops with bright yellows, greens, and strong reds. The cel-shading is also superb and the animations are perfectly exaggerated. The soundtrack is striking, although maybe less epic than expected, but it works. There's quite a bit of pop-in, frame-rate stability suffers at times, and it takes advantage of mist to cover up areas as they're loading in, but this doesn't impact on the otherwise great design.
In the end, we were hoping for this colourful world to be better utilised. We come from One Piece: Unlimited World Red, which gave us more boring action, but a better storyline and more characters. The shift into the open world format has worked out well, and it's the title that best visually represents the series. Nevertheless, it needed a better combat system in order to incentivise players to tackle the missions as much as they want to roam around the world. Anime fans will enjoy World Seeker, no doubt, but alas it's not the classic video game representation of One Piece that fans are still waiting for.
7 / 10
Jail Island and its variety of scenarios. Graphics and character design. Freely moving around with Luffy.
Weak fighting, waste of attack repertory. Lack of enemies and repetitive movements. Difficult evolution.