Legendary U.S. Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks once said, “Great moments are born from great opportunities.”
It’s a good quote — an all-timer, some would say. It’s a shame to think that opportunities often aren’t afforded to the most deserving. No matter your talent, work ethic, or longevity: sometimes the powers that be simply don’t budge. Such is the case for One Piece, indisputably one of the greatest comics — heck, perhaps one of the greatest stories — ever told.
The world’s best-selling manga has been running continuously since 1997, spawning more than 1,000 weekly chapters in Shonen Jump and a long-running anime series. One Piece ranks among the best-selling comic series worldwide — just behind Superman and Batman, and a smidge ahead of Spider-Man. Creator Eiichiro Oda’s decade-spanning series has inspired plenty of video games up to this point, but most of these are just average enough to satisfy fans without any substantial effort.
One Piece deserves far better.
The December 2020 trailer for Season 11 of the One Piece anime, via Funimation.
Imagine a massive One Piece RPG spanning dozens of hours, one that would make the Final Fantasies and Dragon Quests of the gaming world jealous. This is precisely the adaptation the franchise was born for — it has all the essential ingredients for a sweeping, immersive fantasy epic. One Piece has a massive world dripping with interesting lore, a mind-boggling variety of eccentric characters, and plenty of unique magic and superpowers.
At its heart, One Piece is about adventure. It begins with our main character, Monkey D. Luffy, on a quest to become the king of all pirates. He assembles a crew named after his headwear of choice, the Straw Hats. Things start small — Luffy meets the samurai swordsman Zoro, makes him his second-in-command, and they set sail on the tiniest of boats. A later member of his nine-person crew is a literal skeleton named Brook, who becomes the crew's musician. The Straw Hats are quite the eclectic bunch, and their willingness to work together as a family is what makes them so enduring and memorable.
This idea of a huge crew is pretty similar to how many classic RPGs operate. Something like Final Fantasy X could be the perfect mold for this hypothetical grand adventure. More contemporary examples, like the Persona and Yakuza franchises, could prove even better blueprints. Persona 5 is an addicting, critically acclaimed RPG that spices up the turn-based formula to offer deeper strategy and complexity, and is brimming with fast-paced action and resplendent visuals. On the other hand, the bravado and energy of Yakuza, a nearly unrivaled confetti explosion of delight, could more than match the equally zany and unpredictable personality of One Piece, especially with our main character and his rubbery self.
Spending time choosing which members of the Straw Hats you want to bring to a battle, each with their own attributes and unique abilities, would be the perfect love letter to fans. When your party consists of a boy made of rubber, a navigator with the ability to control the weather, a half-cyborg shipwright, and a reindeer doctor with several transformations, the nerdy possibilities are endless. As long as it’s not your repetitive, button-mashing brawler with only the most basic of RPG elements forcibly incorporated, that’s what matters.
The RPG potential extends even further. Why not take advantage of Oda’s notoriously lengthy story and expert world-building? The world of One Piece encompasses giant castles, bustling cities, islands in the sky, and snowy mountains. At one point, the Straw Hats even visit a kingdom where sentient toys and humans live together. There’s no single environmental aesthetic in the series that overstays its welcome, wherein lies the potential for side quests and other activities. The Straw Hats have gambled, partaken in remarkable binge-drinking and eating sessions, gone fishing, partaken in motorboat races, and even a more extreme iteration of Rollerball. Each place has a unique story to experience, with its own rules to abide by.
There’s plenty of relationship and progression potential, too. A running gag with One Piece is Luffy’s completely sincere love for meeting quirky new people and asking them to join his crew, despite knowing them for literally twenty seconds. The further along the story progresses, Luffy’s fame increases to practical celebrity status. A more refined version of Dragonball: Kakarot’s Community Board system, with side quests and other tertiary characters yielding benefits in the long run, would add some depth even if it isn’t them literally joining your party as a playable character.
Character progression for the Straw Hats could mirror every wild thing showcased in the manga. It doesn’t have to be limited to stats and level-ups, and could include some of the series’ dramatic visual tweaks and transformations.
Sanji, the crew’s cook, goes from fighting with simple kicks to literally being able to set his foot on fire with his strength and fly through the air by kicking. Usopp, the crew’s sniper, goes from wielding a basic slingshot to summoning giant ensnaring plants. Luffy goes from looking like an stringy village boy to absolutely jacked. Ignoring such a rich world, and characters, such as this is a loss for not just anime fans, but gamers, too.
In a way, the mediocrity of anime games echoes a trend that used to be found with comic book adaptations. Growing up, movie tie-in games were often half-assed titles that you’d regrettably purchase or get as a gift from that relative who didn’t know better. Most recent anime games aren’t vastly better than that old-school shovelware.
As comic book movies and TV shows have grown in prestige in the last decade, the games inspired by them have seen a dramatic jump in quality — Insomniac’s Spider-Man series, Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham series, NeatherRealm’s Injustice series. Even if some fall short, like last year’s divisive Avengers from Square Enix, there’s one common thread: the effort. Finding talented developers passionate about the subject matter while also giving them the freedom, resources, and time to create something special is key — and almost certainly financially worthwhile.
Sure, there have been some solid anime-to-game adaptations, like Dragonball FighterZ, but the majority have been depressing disappointments. But who knows, maybe someday when the decade-spanning One Piece story has finally concluded, we may get a game to match its monumental success.