Image courtesy of Bandai Namco Entertainment, Inc.

ONE PIECE ODYSSEY turns the popular manga into a rousing RPG adventure as a celebration of its 25th anniversary

Mike Williams |
March 15, 2023
Back in July 1997, Eiichiro Oda published the first chapter of ONE PIECE in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump. The series details the daring exploits of Monkey D. Luffy and his growing crew of Straw Hat Pirates as they sail in search of the ultimate treasure, the One Piece. 25 years, 1076 chapters of manga, and a whopping 892 episodes of anime later, ONE PIECE is still going strong.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the series, Bandai Namco Entertainment developed ONE PIECE ODYSSEY, an RPG that’s also a loving homage to the series’ past. On the mysterious island of Waford, players can take control of all of the Straw Hat Pirates and relive classic moments from ONE PIECE history. These moments are tied together in a unique adventure featuring brand-new characters designed by Oda himself!

We talked with Bandai Namco Entertainment and development partner ILCA about bringing the Straw Hats’ vibrant abilities to life in an RPG, creating a new island for this pirate adventure, and capturing the spirit of Eiichiro Oda’s enduring masterpiece.
 

With the ONE PIECE series celebrating its 25th anniversary, what were your major goals coming into the game?

Katsuaki Tsuzuki, Main Producer of ONE PIECE ODYSSEY:
ONE PIECE ODYSSEY started development as a title commemorating the 25th anniversary of the ONE PIECE series. As we were thinking about what a ONE PIECE game that would thrill fans all over the world might look like, we heard from a lot of those fans that they wanted to enjoy more of ONE PIECE’s adventuring aspects.

Up until this point, ONE PIECE games have been heavy on action, with an emphasis on the exhilaration of all the moves and how cool the characters were. In contrast, our main goal for ONE PIECE ODYSSEY was to create an RPG following the adventures of the Straw Hat Crew, set in a faithful recreation of the ONE PIECE world.

There's a long history of ONE PIECE video games, including a number of RPGs. How did the team approach making ONE PIECE ODYSSEY different from what came before?

Tsuzuki:
There hasn’t been an RPG covering the Straw Hat Crew’s adventures after the two-year time skip. And now with modern hardware specs and tech, I think we’re depicting those adventures very well.

Also, in the ONE PIECE series, the Straw Hat Crew encounter all kinds of mysteries on each new island they reach, kicking off one dramatic adventure after another. We thought a game that would let players have that same kind of experience would be a fitting title for the 25th anniversary. So this game is notable for allowing players to experience the adventures of the world of ONE PIECE, along with the escapades of the Straw Hat Crew after the last such game, ONE PIECE World Seeker.
Image courtesy of Bandai Namco Entertainment, Inc.
ONE PIECE continues to have a long run in both anime and manga. ODYSSEY takes place in the second half of the Straw Hat Crew’s ongoing adventure, some time after they’ve become accustomed to their new powers and the New World. Why did you decide to set ONE PIECE ODYSSEY in this particular period of the timeline?

Tsuzuki:
Development began on this game back in 2017, and we spent those first two years creating the main story that’s so crucial for an RPG. The general framework for that story was completed right about when the Whole Cake Island arc was published in the manga; it’s written to have no inconsistencies if you play with that timeline in mind.

Even at the start of this project, we expected development to run long, so we were able to include dramatic turns in the adventure plot while still keeping the timeline straight. So if you think of this as taking place right around the Whole Cake Island arc, there won’t be any continuity clashes with developments in the manga or anime afterwards, and you can enjoy the story on its own, all the way through.

Can you talk about the challenges of crafting a story-rich RPG from such a long-running series?

Tsuzuki:
I’d say incorporating events from the manga and/or anime into the game was challenging. From the player’s point of view, there’s captivating content in every chapter. But when a familiar story is included in a game as is, the player already knows what comes next. Figuring out how to avoid that issue and still let the player experience the charms of the manga and anime was a big challenge for us.
Image courtesy of Bandai Namco Entertainment, Inc.
Why did it make sense for ONE PIECE ODYSSEY to be a turn-based RPG?

Tsuzuki:
We’re using the familiar command battle system in this game so that more people can enjoy it. But it’s not just there as a basic feature: a command battle system is also a good fit for conveying the sensation of a Straw Hat Crew encounter, thus fleshing out the game’s concept of adventuring in the ONE PIECE world. An action game ends up having to focus on the actions of only one character, but the appeal of a turn-based command battle is in the ease of portraying multiple characters’ actions all at once. In that sense, turn-based command battles are ideal for experiencing the adventures of the Straw Hat Crew.

However, while creating a standard command battle system, someone mentioned that it wasn’t very ONE PIECE-like to have your allies lined up facing the enemy, attacking over and over. That led us to come up with a handful of features for this game’s original battle system that give the player a better sense of battle as a member of the Straw Hat Crew.

ODYSSEY has four Memoria Arcs where players revisit past arcs in the ONE PIECE universe. How did the team decide on those four arcs?

Tsuzuki:
I find drama and experiencing the world to be extremely important in an RPG. To my mind, drama is when a game can make its themes resonate with the player and gives them a real sense of satisfaction when they make it to the end.

That’s why the basic story in this game involves the Straw Hat Crew adventuring through a legendary island called Waford. When thinking about experiencing ONE PIECE though, we knew we had to use engaging settings from the manga and anime, so we made it so the crew could visit Alabasta and Water Seven.

Since an RPG with familiar stories that have known endings takes all the fun out of wondering what will happen next, this one explores what happens when the Straw Hat Crew revisits past adventures two years later. And because keeping those experiences separate from each other is no way to build an RPG plot, we had to trim each one down to one thematic story. We chose these four arcs as stories that best fit the one theme we went with this time around.

Grand Logs are animated sequences that retell the past history of the ONE PIECE series, while sticking to the art style of ODYSSEY. Can you explain why the team added these to the game?

Tsuzuki:
We added the Grand Logs as a refresher on the Straw Hat Crew’s experiences from the manga and anime, conveying them as only this game can. ONE PIECE is beloved by fans the world over, and not everyone can be expected to have the same knowledge about the series. The Grand Logs help those players who aren’t familiar with the source material to relax and enjoy themselves, while inspiring fans to go back and revisit the manga or anime once they’ve completed the game.
Image courtesy of Bandai Namco Entertainment, Inc.
Your team worked with series creator Eiichiro Oda to create two new characters, Adio and Lim. Can you talk about the process of crafting these new additions to the ONE PIECE universe?

Tsuzuki:
These two are new characters that the Straw Hat Crew encounter on the legendary island called Waford. Adio is a brotherly explorer who washed up on this island, while Lim is the pirate-hating young woman who lives with him. Though the game’s drama does revolve around an original story, the player can adventure into the worlds of the ONE PIECE manga and anime: the World of Memories. As mentioned earlier, we had to make those experiences converge into one story theme in keeping with the consistent characteristics of the Straw Hat Crew.

We’d always expected that Adio and Lim would be crucial characters with the role of embodying the story’s themes. Once the main scenario’s plot was complete, I went to Mr. Oda for advice, and he gave us these really appealing designs. We fleshed them both out even more afterward, using the main story’s writing to firm up their character traits based on the designs we’d received and diving deeper into their personalities in surrounding side stories.

Can you talk about how you approached adapting the teamwork inherent in the Straw Hat Crew into a turn-based RPG format?

Tsuzuki:
We looked back on ONE PIECE’s battles to see what had made the Straw Hat Crew’s past fights special. For example, a lot of the battles in the anime involved Luffy taking charge as the captain and each crew member playing their own part. Zoro would be tasked with taking down some mighty foe, Nami and Chopper would solve problems together, and Usopp would provide covering fire. No matter how long the arc, each member of the crew fulfilled their own role while creating a path for Luffy to move forward. We decided to include that aspect in the game.
Image courtesy of Bandai Namco Entertainment, Inc.
The Scramble Area Battle system places your party and enemies in different areas of any combat encounter. What inspired this specific combat system?

Tsuzuki:
After speaking with the team about the approach I mentioned earlier of recapturing the vibe of the Straw Hat Crew’s fights, we decided to break the battlefield up so the party would be fighting across four quadrants. This way, the player can make use of each character’s unique affinities and skills as they fulfill their own roles in their own quadrant, while also occasionally moving into other quadrants to fight or provide backup. I think the battles are a good recreation of the Straw Hat Crew’s fights.

Players have the entire Straw Hat Crew available to them, but there's always a lead character when you're exploring the island and only four characters can be in your combat party at any one time. How did you balance their abilities to encourage players to use every character?

Tsuzuki:
In order for players to get the most out of the Straw Hat Crew’s battles, we’ve considered enemy affinities and statuses and, to some extent, set up the system and balanced it to encourage switching out party members. This gives the players the added fun of choosing starting characters for the battlefield and deciding where and when to swap them out depending on the enemy type. Then there are the Dramatic Scene events that pop up out of nowhere, along with the Bond Gauge and other features, that contribute to a strategy of skillfully picking and choosing from the entire roster of characters.
Image courtesy of Bandai Namco Entertainment, Inc.
ONE PIECE ODYSSEY has the Dramatic Scene system, which adds character-specific challenges to certain fights. How did you design Dramatic Scenes to add to the overall experience?

Tsuzuki:
Although I did feel the turn-based command battle system itself was a good fit for ONE PIECE, the team was always wondering if there was a more ONE PIECE-like approach than just implementing that system as is. In order to keep players from getting sick of the battles in this RPG, we decided to include the Dramatic Scene system with these ONE PIECE-y events that are triggered out of the blue. We also added voice-acted conversations among the Straw Hat Crew members involved in these battle challenges.

ONE PIECE ODYSSEY takes place on the all-new island of Waford. How did you approach the design and art style of this environment?

Koki Mogi, Lead Concept Artist at ILCA, Inc.:
Since Waford is an original creation, we designed it to feel like an extension of the world in the source manga and anime with that same ambiance in mind. It contains a number of assets inspired by the source series. With Waford’s setting and design, including the designs of the roving monsters, it wouldn’t look out of place in the ONE PIECE world. Our team used the art style of the anime and source manga as a jumping-off point for many investigations into what look would be most appropriate for this title.

We incorporated hatching when recreating the manga’s freehand images as 3D renderings; adding that hatching to the shadows lent the visuals depth and warmth. Each asset has its own specific amount and type of hatching. Recreating Mr. Eiichiro Oda’s distinctive cloud shapes also did a lot to bring that ONE PIECE ambiance to this game.
Image courtesy of Bandai Namco Entertainment, Inc.
Why was Unreal Engine the correct choice for ONE PIECE ODYSSEY?

Isana Kurokawa, Technical Artist at ILCA, Inc.:
We’d used Unreal Engine to develop RPGs in-house before. One big factor with Unreal Engine is that we were able to imagine our path, drawing on our experience to produce the quality our clients demand. The way we combine it with Enlighten for lighting iteration speed and our accumulated knowledge of graphics creation.

Working on a large-scale title, we appreciated the active sharing of Unreal Engine knowhow as well as information on The Unreal Developer Network (UDN) both in Japan and abroad; their stance on publishing info from Unreal Fest and their Deep Dives in particular proved really helpful.

Ultimately, I think Unreal Engine was the right choice because of the active publication of knowledge for large-scale development, where one individual’s knowledge can’t really accomplish much. A game engine developed in-house has plenty of advantages, too, but an engine that’s in such wide use lets us have this environment where each of us can learn easily—and that’s huge.

Did the team have any favorite Unreal Engine tools or features?

Kurokawa:
The Editor Utility Widgets were a big help for the team. As a technical artist, I support the designers, although I lack the programming skills to create a user interface myself. The Editor Utility Widgets were a real favorite since they gave us an easy way to provide tools that allowed us to work more efficiently, right in the UI.

Another favorite would be the Collections function. At first, we tried to create a tool to filter certain assets in the content browser using Editor Utility Widgets. Then we noticed that the Collections function was able to save your filtered search results, so we switched to using that instead. It also made it easy to share your search results with other team members, making it an unexpectedly useful feature and a big hit.

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