Publisher: Bandai Namco
Release: March 15, 2019
Rating: Rating Pending
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
A few years ago, One Piece very quietly hit the milestone of the best-selling manga series by volume of all time, surpassing even the classic Dragon Ball. Yet this success never really permeated the American zeitgeist the way some contemporaries and rivals have for whatever reason. Bandai Namco is hoping that their newest One Piece game, titled World Seeker, will help turn that tide and expose the series to new people in the west. Ahead of the game’s release in a few weeks, I finally got to go hands-on with the core gameplay in Bandai Namco’s open world title.
The game’s intro sets up its story: during a heist on an island, the Strawhat pirates realize they’ve been tricked, and Luffy pretending to surrender to the Navy and the World Government turned out to be quite real. After things go sideways, the crew is scattered about around the Prison Islands under the jurisdiction of the powerful Warden Isaac, from whom Luffy only barely escaped with his life after a fight. Once Strawhat wakes up, he meets a rebellion group lead by a woman named Jeanne that wants to take the islands back from Isaac and promises to help Luffy find his crew.
In terms of authenticity, Bandai Namco and developer Ganbarion are pulling out all the stops with World Seeker. Not only are Jeanne and Isaac designed by One Piece artist and writer Eiichiro Oda, but Oda oversaw the game’s story as a whole. While there’s no English dub for World Seeker, all of the characters have the same voice actors from the TV show, so fans won’t suffer any soundalikes that don’t sound quite alike.
In the first section, I was tasked with crossing a long bridge to meet with a Devil Fruit user that Jeanne suspects might be one of Luffy’s crewmates. While the game has stealth mechanics, they’re not incredibly involved, and mostly center around sneaking up to enemies using a barrel or just dropping in before they know what hit them. Enemy vision and hearing ranges aren’t short, however, so sneaking is usually a better option. Eventually, Luffy discovers the Devil Fruit user he heard about was Smoker, a Marine officer who doesn’t particularly like young supernova pirate. The two do battle and Smoker gets called off somewhere else before he can get serious.
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During battle, Luffy can change modes between his standard exploration mode and a more-battle focused mode. The exploration mode has dashes and quieter stealth takedowns, while the battle mode applies haki to his limbs for slower and stronger attacks. This also exchanges his dodge for a block and is good for larger explosions that you can’t fully dodge out of the way from. Proper switching of both styles can be key to fighting off bosses.
The second section I played was to free Franky, the Strawhats’ cyborg-like ship engineer who was being held in a multi-level underwater prison. As Luffy is a Devil Fruit user himself, he can’t swim at all, so he has to deactivate locks on his way down to drain water from the building. You can sneak your way down by hiding around corners and avoiding lasers and confrontation or do what I did and just go as loud and fast as humanly possible. Fortune favors the bold, as the last three locks had to be activated within three minutes and any interruption to the process restarts it, so wrecking house seemed the best way to do it. At the bottom of the prison was a Pacifista, a robotic miniboss that shot laser beams at you, but it is pretty easily disposed of.
Finally, I just got to swing around the various parts of Prison Island. The open world game is surprisingly large and Luffy’s main method of traversal is to grab onto various anchor points and slingshot his way across the island. While it may be tempting to want to swing around like Spider-Man, it doesn’t really work that way, and a lot of your more finely tuned movement will have to be done on the ground using Luffy’s feet. As the game progresses and you earn skill points, you can invest them into traversal to earn things like better swinging or short hovering bursts.
While exploring the open world, I could burst into small Marine forts and take their treasures, which usually held crafting materials. Crafting lets you make different kinds of items to equip, like a choker that increases attack power or a ring that gives Luffy more critical hits. There’s also a cooking minigame with Sanji and Chopper, but it was not yet unlocked yet in the save I played from.
Dotted across the islands are villagers which have sidequests, most of which are extremely simple requests for certain numbers of specific items. World Seeker has a karma system wherein the more sidequests Luffy does and the more people he helps, the more the island’s populace will come to count on and appreciate him and thus offer more quests. Calling it a karma system might be a misnomer, though, as I do not believe there’s any way for Luffy to get the populace to actually dislike him.
I stated a few months ago that I believe World Seeker feels influenced by Metal Gear Solid V and, now that I have gotten a fuller picture of the game, I still think that comparison holds. That said, it is nowhere near as polished as a game like that, despite the delay it received into 2019. This is a game that will still benefit from keeping expectations in check, even if it is one of the most ambitious anime action titles I’ve seen yet.