When it comes to games based on anime, there are more than a few examples of titles that play it too safe, falling back on what’s already been done to cash in on the series’ fandom. One Piece: World Seeker isn’t one of those games.
More often than not, anime games try their best not to rock the boat, relying on story beats, characters, and settings from the series they’re based on. Presumably, that’s an attempt to tap into the fan base and ensure there’s a foundation of reliable consumers. It’s been done in Dragon Ball Z games, most notably, which have seen players fight their way through all the typical haunts: Saiyan, Frieza, Cell, and Majin Buu, etc. We’ve seen those arcs too many times to count. Naruto is another offender, with iconic battles between Naruto and Gaara, Naruto and Sasuke, or whoever else, re-skinned over and over again in games based on the series. One Piece games aren’t innocent, either, seemingly offering interesting new stories on the surface only to rehash old settings and characters in the final version (think One Piece: Unlimited World Red).
To be fair, it’s not all bad news. Some of these games were great translations of the series into the medium of video games and are rightfully held in high regard by fans. Game series like Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm or Dragon Ball Z Budokai have been stellar examples of how to do anime games right, even if they reuse the story of the anime and manga. That said, there’s only so much content they could use, and eventually, they were forced to rinse and repeat or hang up the series once the final fight was covered. They didn’t try anything new; to create new characters, a new story or content that could play into the mythos of their respective franchises.
That’s where One Piece: World Seeker comes in. In the material that’s been shown of the game so far, there have been promising signs that it is something that does more, and wants to be more than just another cash grab or re-tread. An open world title made in celebration of the series’ 20th anniversary, World Seeker places players in an open world environment full of opportunities for them to swing, float and fight their way through obstacles using protagonist Luffy’s rubber-based abilities. Not only that, but it incorporates a cast of characters new and old into an original plot written for the game, telling the tale of how Luffy and his crew help an island besieged by corrupt prison warden Isaac to regain their freedom.
The amount of care and effort being put forth into this title by developer Ganbarion, and the risks the developer is taking as a result, are already clear from these scant details and trailers alone. Not only are they developing around a gameplay style and genre different from the norm – most past One Piece titles, and several anime games in general, stick to fighters or the Dynasty Warriors “1 vs. 100” battle arena design template – but they’re telling an original story, set in the brand new location of Jewel Island. This setting feels just as bright, vibrant and lively as a setting out of Eiichiro Oda’s manga, lush with exotic greenery and boasting a clash of modern and rural architecture. Likewise, the developers seem to be placing just as much emphasis on the drama of the character’s struggles and interactions with each other as on the super-powered battles, and the characters which make cameos from the anime all serve a purpose to the plot in some small way.
Of course, we’ve been down this track before. Plenty of anime games have touted features that sounded great, only to prove less than stellar in the final version. But in recent years, it feels as though the tide is finally changing. Recent titles such as Dragon Ball Xenoverse and FighterZ have seen original storylines and characters introduced, with some new additions, like Android 21, becoming fan favorites. Likewise, the Naruto series recently saw the release of Shinobi Striker, a multiplayer title focused on strategic team-based combat using original created characters. While it had areas where it needed to improve, it also showed potential for what a Naruto game could be outside of the established story and cast.
At it’s core, that’s what One Piece: World Seeker strives to do. Instead of falling into the same old archetypes of anime games, it tries to branch out into unexplored territory and give players a new addition to the beloved canon of its source material. Whether it proves a title worthy of praise and adoration, or fails spectacularly, won’t be clear until its release in 2019, but even then it’s already proved itself to be what every game based on an anime should strive to become: An extension of the series offered through another medium, expanding and building on it to create something fresh and original.