Western-style open world games are pretty rare from a Japanese studio. When a Japanese developer does make a sandbox game, it comes out like the Yakuza series. More about the content in it than the fun of exploration. It's even rarer to see a Japanese sandbox game based around an anime. No, Fist of the North Star doesn't count, that's just Yakuza playing dress-up. This makes One Piece World Seeker a bit of a strange beast. It's an open world sandbox, based on an anime and with a focus on exploring the world and stealth combat.
One Piece World Seeker follows the exploits of Monkey D. Luffy, the future king of the pirates. His crew, the straw hat pirates, have made their way to a mysterious place known as Prison Island in search of a rumored treasure. When they arrive they find out it was a trap and become embroiled in the struggles of the island's people. Luffy must use the powers of the gum-gum fruit, which turned his body into rubber, to save the island before it's too late.
One Piece World Seeker's development duties went to Ganbarion, a company who has worked almost exclusively on anime-based titles recently. This is the first time that they've been in charge of developing a sandbox game. Their lack of experience shines through, at least a little bit. There are puzzling aspects of both the open world and the exploration. It's full of minor niggles and rookie mistakes indicative of an inexperienced developer.
The first of these niggles are the upgrades. Starting out, you have access to the ability to zip towards buildings and other objects by throwing your arm at them. What this means is that you end up having to smash your face into walls and hang from ledges a lot while trying to get around the map during the early gameplay. This makes it impossible to build up any momentum and makes you an easy target for enemies.
The other exploration powers available in One Piece World Seeker do make things a bit better. Even so, there are some weird choices there too. You can unlock the power to slingshot your way over the top of ledges making it easier to string together grabs. Of course that only really works when you're near buildings or trees, so when you slingshot yourself into an open plane you just have to run along the ground with a feeling of 'I meant to do that'.
There's also a gliding ability, but that has its own problems. The move comes straight from the One Piece anime, but unlike most glide moves it moves you forward insanely slowly. If the glide ability had been just a tiny bit faster it would have made the exploration infinitely better. It would have been easy and fun to string together multiple ledge-grab launches and glides together. The flow already feels pretty good, but with a decent glide, it could have been legendary. Instead, the developers included a painfully slow glide move, which feels untimely like it's more about making an anime reference than being a good decision.
Regardless of its many problems One Piece World Seeker still ends up being fun to explore. Linking together launches to move around is a lot of fun and exploring towns or cities without ever touching the ground is a great feeling. If you ever need to travel longer distances, there's a fast travel system in place. There is a moment where you have to move around the island without fast travel. When this happens the holes in the traversal become more obvious. Luckily it happens only once throughout the entire game.
Exploration isn't the only thing that One Piece World Seeker has going on. There's obviously going to be combat, and weirdly there is a considerable focus on stealth. There are two different styles with the combat, based on a concept from the show called Haki. Haki is basically internal energy which gives users various powers such as hard skin or the ability to sense others. Observation Haki has fast but weak attacks which are more suited to stealth or fighting one-on-one. Armorment Haki is a lot stronger but also louder and works best when facing off against groups of enemies. Not that the game tells you how to use the Haki modes properly. You'll probably end up getting pretty frustrated by using the wrong Haki at the wrong time until you manage to figure it out.
That's not the only frustrating element about the combat in One Piece World Seeker. A lot of the time you will end up fighting a strong boss enemy during a mission. While the fight might go well for a while, enemies have a horrible tendency to bust out powerful new moves at the last minute. These can come out of nowhere and deal enough damage to drain your health, even when you've got all the upgrades. This sort of cheap attack is also common with other enemies, unfortunately. This is mainly due to their reliance on ranged weapons which can stun-lock you into taking huge amounts of damage.
During melee combat, you're constantly peppered with bullets that deal damage and stun you. Enemies that use Gatling guns are particularly bad for this, and there's not much you can do about it. Block and dodge moves don't work while you're taking damage. You just have to tank and then run away and hope to live. Unfortunately, the ranged attacks are a constant threat even during exploration. Bullets will hit you while zipping through the city, stopping you dead. Most of the time you won't even know where they came from at all. Then you end up spending your time on the ground just to stay safe.
For the most part, the stealth in One Piece World Seeker is functional but only occasionally necessary in big chunks. It is helpful when you're facing overwhelming odds to take out enemies one by one without their friends noticing, or to pick off a single powerful enemy. However, for a lot of the stealth missions, it's not actually a requirement unless the game explicitly says it is. For the most part, you can just punch your way through every enemy in the place without consequence. In fact, doing so will probably cut down on how long you're waiting around for enemies to move.
Visually, One Piece World Seeker is actually pretty impressive. Often times with anime based games the visuals either look completely different from the source material or come out weird. This time around, the graphics do a good job of looking like the anime without visiting the uncanny valley. The game sort of feels like you're playing a filler arc from the show, and a good one at that. The story is of at least passing interest, and the character you meet feel like the sort of people that should exist in the One Piece universe.
Overall there is a lot of stuff wrong with One Piece World Seeker. There's frustration from the cheap enemies, the stealth is forgettable and the exploration abilities have a lot of basic mistakes. Having said that the game just has moments where everything clicks together and it feels amazing. Those times where you slingshot into an area, take out four guards then switch to Armorment Haki and take out the remaining enemies instantly overshadows the game's issues.
TechRaptor reviewed One Piece World Seeker on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher.
- Fun Exploration
- Looks Like The Anime
- The Combat Is Great When It Syncs Up
- Some Cheap Enemies
- Rookie Exploration/Power Mistakes