Everything I know about One Piece, I’ve learned from playing One Piece Treasure Cruise. That might seem crazy since the manga is insanely popular, but I’ve never read it or seen any episodes of the anime series. The nice thing is that it doesn’t matter, as Bandai Namco’s free-to-play action RPG is packed with story, with just enough new facets to its tap battle system that it doesn’t feel like multiple other games you’ve played before.
At the risk of being corrected by nice folks who are huge fans of the franchise, One Piece Treasure Cruise presents the tale of Monkey D. Luffy, a young man who grew up idolizing pirates — who in this world are still outlaws, but not all as brutal or cutthroat as in real life. Aided by his consumption of a Devil Fruit that gives him stretching powers a la Mr. Fantastic and a general fearlessness that borders on naivete, Luffy sets off with the goal of becoming king of all pirates.
In the game, that means assembling a crew of five characters from throughout the manga run in order to battle past a colorful and ever-changing cast of antagonists. Some of the game mechanics owe quite a bit to Puzzle & Dragons, including the rock-paper-scissors relationship between character types and the leveling and evolution system. Those are the parts you’ve likely run across elsewhere.
But there’s no match-3 to be found here. Excelling in combat requires stringing together properly timed taps in order to get all of your party members to combine for devastating combos. There’s a risk-reward element to every attack, since waiting for precisely the right time can do the most damage, but waiting too long can end your turn and hasten enemy attacks. Special abilities that activate after a certain number of turns fill the screen with over-the-top action sequences, and the tandem attacks you can access by having certain crew members together are suitably ridiculous (in a good way) in both name and effect.
In-between stages, you can level up characters by sacrificing unwanted ones in the classic card battle game style, and max level crew members can often be evolved into more powerful forms. A cost system prevents you from fielding a crew full of ultra super rare characters too early in the game, with the cap rising steadily as your overall pirate level increases. You’ll also progress from the small dinghy Luffy inherits at the start of his quest to bigger ships, each of which can also be leveled up to provide various bonus effects.
There is a stamina system, which is the scourge of many a mobile game, but it’s barely a factor early on, unless you choose to play some of the daily or weekly quest levels that use up a bunch of it in one fell swoop. The free-to-play elements also aren’t overbearing, as you can earn the premium currency that gives you chances at rare or better characters during the course of normal gameplay, buying more only if you want to give yourself more chances on the premium spins.
We’ve talked a lot about the gameplay and still haven’t discussed the best part of the overall package, which is the way the story is integrated. Though I’ve read enough user reviews to realize that One Piece Treasure Hunt is giving you a CliffsNotes version of the One Piece saga — and that would almost have to be the case, given that the manga is at 76 volumes and counting — it’s still a fantastic ride, introducing you to a ton of characters who all get a bit of time to shine. Some stages have comic-style scenes leading both in and out of them, and the end of each chapter is always interesting. Plus, if you’ve seen this before, you can simply skip it. I’d say something about the music too, but again, my knowledge of the source material is basically nil. It adds to the overall experience whether it came right from the anime or Bandai Namco cooked it up just for the game.
It’s worth mentioning that this is not a game for younger kids, as enticing as it might be, as it does have plenty of violence, some semi-questionable language, and some implied sexuality. For everyone else with even the slightest manga/anime leanings, you’ll want to give One Piece Treasure Cruise a shot. With simple but fun gameplay and a narrative that could definitely get its hooks into you, it just might encourage you to seek out the rest of Luffy’s story. Now if I only had the time for it …