One Piece Thousand Storm: Can it sail clear of danger?
Before we progress with this review I’d like to state that I am a big fan of the One Piece franchise as a whole and I have been pretty excited to review this game since I first heard it was going to sail over from Japan.
You start off as a rookie pirate looking to make your name on the high seas, aided by members of the Straw Hat crew such as the ship’s navigator Nami, as well of course by the indomitable captain Monkey D.Luffy. One Piece Thousand Storm (OPTS) is a Gacha Action-RPG in the vein of One Piece Treasure Cruise or Naruto Ultimate Ninja Blazing and is free to download on Android and iOS. As you progress you can power up existing characters as well as acquire new ones through quests or by spending in-game currency to get a chance to draw one at random.
Visually the game is bright and bold, staying true to One Piece creator Eiichiro Oda’s artistic style, even in 3D. The characters have been given more ‘cutesy’ proportions to help appeal to a younger audience while remaining stylistically consistent with the vast franchise. Played from a top-down viewpoint, you move up the screen attacking groups of enemies as they appear, clearing a number of stages before taking on the end of level boss.
The game mechanics are quite simple and by default, most things are controlled automatically. Only one character can be controlled at a time, although they can be swapped out with a tag-team partner, and two computer-controlled allies follow you to lend a helping hand.
Your character will auto-target enemies, run over to them and attack by themselves. A number of special moves can be unlocked, which you use manually, and you are able to override the auto-target if you have another tactic in mind. The auto-target can be turned off completely but once an enemy is chosen your character moves and attacks by themselves regardless.
The RPG element consists mainly of ‘scene cards’ which are collected as you play. These cards can then be equipped to boost your baseline stats as well as sometimes providing new special moves. It is these ‘scene cards’ which you must level up and evolve in order to improve your character’s chances of making it to the end.
Where OPTS differs mostly to its predecessor is in its wealth of multiplayer options. You can join others’ quests or lead your own, gaining Friend Points and forming Alliances with other players around the world.
This, however, is one of the two potentially fatal flaws of this game. Since first downloading it 4 or 5 days ago, I have not yet once been able to join or lead a quest with others nor have I even been able to chat with other players. Any attempt to connect socially fails and the connection drops regardless of my internet signal. Many other players also complain about being unable to connect with each other. Bandai Namco (Bamco for short) have apologised and sent players free gems but, given that social/multiplayer gaming is OPTS’s main selling point over its franchise partners, this gives a feeling of the game being rushed out and ill-prepared. I hope this issue is resolved soon but it begs the question of how long people will persevere before moving on and spending their money on a game which already works.
The second, and perhaps greatest, problem with OPTS comes in the form of frequent, lengthy loading screens. Almost every button in the already crowded menu system prompts a loading screen and each one lasts for around one minute, sometimes more. One minute for every button press in a linear menu system can turn equipping a new scene card or loading the next quest into an arduous process. For any game this can be a deal-breaker, but for one whose principal depth lies in that RPG-style character customisation, this could be an insurmountable problem. ‘Literally unplayable’ is a common refrain on OPTS message boards and its app store pages right now. The glacial loading is not restricted to the menu screens either, many players complain of in-game lag and the delay between activating a special move and its actual execution often render the act futile. Again I must stress this is a critical issue as activating special moves tends to be your main moment of interaction.
As may now be apparent, my initial excitement for this game has turned into disappointment. It has had a clumsy global release and basic problems render the game effectively broken for many players. It isn’t too unusual for server issues or optimisation problems to occur when a new game is released and they could potentially be resolved with a couple of updates and patches, but by then how many people will still be playing?
Ultimately it’s hard to tell what this game adds to the genre or franchise, as the loading and lag problems are a real impediment to discovering everything this game has to offer. As a gamer, I gravitate towards turn-based games with tonnes of character/team development and plenty of strategy to help me feel clever, so I must concede that I may not be the exact demographic targeted. Still, I was excited by this game for good reason and the failure to deliver so far stems mostly from the fact that the game feels broken rather than bad.
Where this game can succeed is by introducing the world of One Piece to those who haven’t (yet) been enthralled by it. It is accessible, attractive and the scene cards turn a standard RPG mechanic into a way to show off some of the amazing artwork and writing that has helped make One Piece such a success. That elusive multiplayer and alliance-building also promise some of that depth, longevity and fun I was so looking forward to.
Despite tripping catastrophically straight out of the starting blocks, there is still plenty of potential for One Piece Thousand Storm to dust itself off and catch up with the pack. Don’t let this sloppy start determine your whole race, Bamco, you owe it to Oda!