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Review: One Piece: Romance Dawn

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Short-lived romance

I've got some major love for One Piece. On top of keeping up with it on a weekly basis for about eight years, I've spent a good amount of money on merch. Figures, manga, art: I've sunk a lot of hours into getting all that stuff into my room. The only thing that I haven't really been satisfied with are the One Piece games. In general, they've been sub-par experiences that seem quickly pushed out to make a quick buck on the backs of fans.

The only one I've enjoyed at all was Unlimited Adventure for the Wii. It was a straightforward action game with a stand-alone story that was fun for a while. Unfortunately, it eventually outstayed its welcome with boring level design and little else to do besides run around, switch characters, get lost and punch things.

With some hesitation, I was looking forward to the release of Romance Dawn, an RPG for the 3DS. Hey, I love One Piece and I love RPGs. That's sure to be a great combination, right? Uh, well, let's just say that it leaves a lot to be desired. Hit the jump to find out why.

One Piece: Romance Dawn (Nintendo 3DS)
Developer: Three Rings
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Release Date: February 11, 2014
MSRP: $39.99 (Gamestop Exclusive)


Romance Dawn is a role-playing game that covers most of One Piece's main story, from the start of Luffy's adventure through the War of the Best at Marineford, minus Skypeia. That's close to 600 chapters of material crammed into one game. That right there should tell you that you'll be spending a lot of time absorbing dialogue and action. Well, just dialogue really. The vast majority of story in the game is told through portraits silently speaking to each other with tinny music playing in the background. Expect to wait dozens of minutes between action sequences when you're in the midst of story-heavy portions.

When you're not watching a static screen shaking with implied action, you'll be running around in various themed maps trying to get to the exit. Impeding your progress are enemies walking around, who will instigate battles upon touch. Much like Chrono Trigger, combat takes place on the map. Unlike most RPGs, each round is turn-based while allowing free-movement. Turns are displayed on the side of the screen, similar to Final Fantasy X's battle structure. Characters are encouraged to stay in one of two concentric circles in order to avoid movement and recovery penalties. Character attack options are based off Action Points, which deplete with every attack you perform. Every attack that connects will increase the amount of Technical Points you have banked, which opens up the options for potentially longer, damage-dealing combos.

The idea is that you move one of your three party members into a starting position, knock the enemy toward one of your other party members that's supposed to go next, finish them off and knock them off the sides of the level to increase treasure drop rates and get bonus experience at the end of the fight. The problem starts right away with the enemy evasion rate. From the start of the game, enemies will often dodge multiple attacks in a row. This not only keeps them from getting damaged, but it limits the amount of TP you gain and cuts you off from using your stronger attacks. So you're often stuck using a lot of weaker attacks until you luck out and hit enemies enough times so you can use a special attack that does more than 20 points of damage. Every encounter is artificially extended due to imbalances place on you.

There's also the issue with spacing. The movement rings are supposed to prevent you from being able to run around the entire screen during a conflict. That's fine, as it has the potential to force you to strategize how to position each member of the Straw Hats during their turn. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the enemies. Aggressors are free of any sort of penalty and are able to attack you from any point on the field with no repercussions. What's the point of being able to knock enemies away if they can just walk right up to you and smash you in the face? This, once again, makes fights last entirely too long.

The fights that last the longest are the boss encounters, which are some of the worst I've had to face in an RPG. In One Piece, each arc eventually devolves into each Straw Hat being forced to battle an enemy on their own. In Romance Dawn, this means that the character has to fight a one-on-one turn-based battle with an enemy that cannot be stunned and can hit you from any point on the field. You, on the other hand, are limited in healing items and abilities. Even if you are joined by another teammate, you are usually still outnumbered and have to desperately hope that you can dodge the bosses attacks. This is exacerbated by your tiny party. There are nine Straw Hats and only three spots in your active party. After the third area, you'll almost always have somebody sitting out on the sidelines. Anybody not currently with you doesn't gain experience, so if you aren't constantly switching out your party members, you might reach a point in the game where you can't continue. I had a fight with Usopp and Chopper that lasted over an hour because I hadn't had much of a chance to level either one of them and only survived because I stockpiled a ton of healing items.

Outside of the busted combat and long-winded story progression, you'll occasionally be forced into short quicktime events. It turns into an endless runner, with Luffy hauling ass through whatever locale he's currently in. You'll have to hit Y or A to avoid fighting people in your path and you'll have to hit another button to either jump over branches or punch through walls. Completing levels will punt you out to the world map, where you can select new story segments or generic locations to grind out levels. There's also an item synthesis system, but there's little it does to add to the game besides occasionally upgrade the strength of your equipment. You might get a slight bonus to your stats and be able to deal some extra bonus damage, but it didn't really do much to help me at all. The ability upgrades are what will make you life somewhat easier. Increasing the level of your special attacks will allow you to do more damage and increase your combo chain when maxed out. The problem still remains that if you can't connect with your attacks, you won't be able to use these nifty moves. 

Romance Dawn is one of the few 3DS games where 3D is not an option, which is fine by me. Everything runs fairly smooth, so if making any sort of adjustments into three dimensions would have ruined it, it's better for it to stay flat. Besides that, the graphics are nice and bright, though the maps you run through are pretty generic and uninspired. As previously mentioned, the music is pretty awful, lacking any sort of personality. One highlight is that all the original Japanese voices were kept. Instead of dubbing it, the cutscenes are subtitled and the random grunting and battle jabber is in the original language. While it was probably done more as a cost-saving measure, I always love hearing the original voices at work. It made the hours of grinding levels somewhat less annoying.

So is there anything of merit in this package? Well, there is about 30 minutes worth of reanimated footage from early in the series. You'll get to see everybody's dynamic crying moment redone and looking quite nice. Characters have their modern designs in older stories, which can be jarring if you're used to the old stuff. The world map looks nice, giving a bird's-eye view of the world of One Piece. The combat is occasionally fun, giving you hope that maybe, just maybe, things will get better.

Sadly, those moments are few and far between. You'll spend most of the time wondering how every enemy in the game gained the ability to read your thoughts and dodge your attacks. I spent most of my time with Romance Dawn simultaneously angry and sad. Angry because this game is so thoroughly the antithesis of fun and sad because it sometimes shows glimmers of new ideas. Even One Piece mega-fans will be hard pressed to find anything good in this disaster.

3 -- Poor -- 3s went wrong somewhere along the line. The original idea might have promise, but in practice the game has failed. Threatens to be interesting sometimes, but rarely.


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One Piece: Romance Dawn reviewed by Pedro Cortes

3

POOR

Went wrong somewhere along the line. The original idea might have promise, but in practice it has failed. Threatens to be interesting sometimes, but rarely.
How we score:  The Japanator reviews guide

 
 
 

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Pedro Cortes
Pedro CortesAssociate Editor   gamer profile

Pedro Cortes has been known to swoon at the sight of a robot. This is understandable, as robots are pretty awesome. more + disclosures


 



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