One Piece World Seeker Review: Monkey D. Sappointing
I hate writing reviews like this, I really do.
When a new, ambitious anime game like One Piece: World Seeker makes its way to the West, it's really exciting. It shows that studios like Bandai Namco see the benefit in localizing more and more games that were originally made for a Japanese audience.
And besides, the idea behind World Seeker is a solid one. The adventure-filled universe of One Piece screams "epic, open-world video game." But after playing it, this title is best left disappointingly dry docked.
One Piece: World Seeker starts with an opening cinematic that, to be fair, is pretty spot-on. The animations are true to the series, the show's Japanese voice actors all appear in the opening credits, and, thanks to a big title card, it's clear that series creator Eiichiro Oda wrote the story.
But as soon as you touch down on Prison Island, the place you'll be spending the 15-or-so hours it takes to complete the game, things will start to go wrong. Quickly.
You can likely tell from the screenshots here that One Piece: World Seeker's visual style has the classic Bandai Namco cel-shaded look, which helps the game really retain the feel of the show throughout its length.
The problem is that nothing else works the way it should, at least not completely.
The first thing you'll notice is that Luffy handles more or less like a car. On-the-spot turns are impossible even when you're not running, so collecting items and opening treasure chests is often a chore marked by skidding around in circles trying to get Luffy to both face the right direction and be close to the target item.
In general, movement in the game is sloppy. Luffy has two unlockable abilities that help him traverse the map: a tedious Spiderman-like grapple-and-launch move, and a hover move. Nine out of 10 times, the grapple and launch will send you flying into a wall or corner, causing Luffy to bounce off the surface to the ground or water, unable to recover.
The one time the movement options do work, and you do find yourself skimming across buildings, you'll be shot down by a sniper who hadn't even shown up on your radar yet. You'll spend the majority of the game fast traveling around the map to get from point A to point B.
Open World Woes
This reliance on fast travel would be a shame for most games. In titles like Breath of the Wild and 2018's Spider-Man, half of the fun is in seeing what happens as you're getting from place to place, taking in the world and making your own fun.
There is none of that to be had in One Piece: World Seeker.
The map is small for an open world game; I explored the whole thing in my first three hours. But beyond that, it's not alive. The only thing you'll find between points A and B are goons to beat up.
The only place that doesn't feel completely lifeless is Steel City, but there's really not much of a reason to go there outside of missions. You'll craft all your materials on the Thousand Sunny, which is also where you'll send your crew out exploring for crafting items.
There are no shops, no minigames, no diversions to be found apart from a few side missions. The map just feels empty, even for how small it is.
Sure, there are collectibles, but they're all clearly marked on the map and pretty easily accessible. Plus, with the exception of a few outfits, they're all materials to be used in crafting equipment, a system that is completely ignorable in this game.
If you watch one of the game's trailers, or you watch your friends play One Piece: World Seeker, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the combat was passable. The developers, to their credit, did a good job giving Luffy a variety of his signature attacks, and the animations are smooth and crisp.
Actually taking part in the combat is another story.
The camera lock system is archaic, so flying enemies are a huge headache. In addition, the stealth mechanic (that some missions require you to use, natch) is completely busted, with enemies spotting you from behind cover, or while hanging from a ledge, or from a billion miles away.
Once you're in combat proper, however, it boils down to mashing the attack button, then running away until your health regenerates. There's no seamless way to transition from attacking to dodging or blocking, so every fight is a war of attrition.
Hilariously, the game offers a Bayonetta-esque bullet time mechanic if you're able to precisely time the laggy dodges and blocks. At the end of the day, you'll probably do what I did: spam Gum Gum Bazooka and the Buster Shot in order to one-hit KO most enemies.
This culminates in a final battle that is equally brainless, with the player running away until a meter fills up, then using the same move over and over to destroy a giant robot.
You don't feel skilled when you take an enemy or boss out, it's a chore more than anything else. And it's a shame because Bandai Namco has released a pretty great One Piece 3D fighting game! I reviewed it! Why didn't they learn any lessons from that game?
An Ensemble Failure
The new story for this game is mediocre-to-passable, a tale of two siblings struggling with new leadership roles after their mother, the island's previous leader, was killed. The Navy shows up and takes the island hostage for its resources, and the island is divided based on who supports the Navy and who doesn't.
It's not a great story, but it's not bad either. The one unforgivable aspect of the story, however, is how it deals with the rich cast of characters in the One Piece universe: it just, kind of, doesn't.
If you don't do any side quests, you'll see Zoro maybe twice or so over the course of the whole game. Ditto for Robin and Chopper. Luffy's rivals show up one after the other, make cameos in the forms of boss battles, and then immediately disappear as if they never came.
The characters are all watered-down versions of themselves, distilled to their most recognizable personality traits: Brook makes bone puns and wants to see panties. Zoro gets lost a lot. Sanji has a crush on every girl. There's no nuance, no subtlety, and no respect for what drew fans to the characters in the first place.
One would think that the game's Karma System, by which the player can level up their relationship with characters, would remedy this somewhat, but it doesn't. All of Luffy's crew is collected under one heading in the system, meaning you get closer to the group as a whole, not the characters individually.
And despite the game's insistence that leveling up a character's karma to 100% would unlock a special scene, I completed two karma meters (one for Jeanne, one for the Anti-Navy faction) and nothing happened.
It almost feels like this was a different game at some point, that it was reworked to be a One Piece game three-quarters of the way through development.
And that might be the biggest problem here. Despite all of the flash, and the fact that the game does look pretty good, the game really isn't a One Piece game. Or at the very least, it isn't the One Piece open-world game anybody wanted.
It's called World Seeker, yet you spend the entire game on one island. There's no sense of adventure, no feeling of exploration because the map is so small and so dead.
And worst of all? You never sail anywhere in this game. I'm not an expert on One Piece by a long shot, but it seems kind of wrong to have a game about a group of pirates where you can't sail the open seas. Luffy can't even swim! If you drop into the water, you'll be plopped back where you jumped from!
How hard would it have been for the developers to base the game on The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker?
Most, if not all, of the game's shortcomings — the small map, the laggy combat, the paint-by-numbers story — could have been forgiven if the game could capture some of the spirit of adventure that has made (and continues to make) the One Piece series so successful.
As it stands now, the sad truth is that I am going to forget this game exists about two days after I finish writing this review. Though there are some fun moments to be had, there was nothing memorable about the time I spent with the game, and I'd bet that even if you're a One Piece hyperfan, the same will be true for you too.
- The visuals really do look pretty great, at least in terms of the character models for the main characters of the game.
- Sometimes you'll be zipping around the map with Gum Gum Rocket and you'll realize that you're actually having fun, right before you're sniped out of the sky from across the map.
- The open world is lifeless.
- Beloved characters don't have anything to do.
- The combat alternates between brainless and frustrating.
- WHY CAN'T I SAIL A PIRATE SHIP
- THAT'S ALL I WANT
- BANDAI WHY HAVE YOU TAKEN THIS FROM ME?
The question is: who is this game for? It's obviously not for fans of the series. It's not for fans of open-world titles. And it's a horrific introduction for new One Piece fans as characters will flippantly make references to events from the series without ever going into further detail.
So who's left? Is the game for relatives or friends of One Piece fans who are looking to get a thoughtful gift but are sadly ill-informed on how to research the quality of a video game? Is it for uber-rich, uber-bored people who simply want to creep 18 hours closer to death with no memory of how they have done it? Is it for game developers, so that they can have a case study in how not to lay out a map?
The prevailing emotion that anybody who plays this game through to the end, as I did, will have is a dejected sort of disappointment. It's the disappointment of a sports fan who knew their team was going to lose before the game started but dared to hope anyway. It's a disappointment that's edge been dulled away by hours of tiny disappointments until it becomes heavy, blunt, and expected.
Hey, folks: Don't play this game.
[Note: A copy of One Piece World Seeker was provided by Bandai Namco for the purpose of this review.]