One would think that a franchise like One Piece, with its over-the-top action sequences and memorable characters, would translate well into a video game. Unfortunately, developer Three Rings has shown us what can happen when things go terribly wrong. One Piece: Romance Dawn has been released for Nintendo's 3DS, and is such an incredibly dull cash-in, it'll have you wishing you could throw your copy overboard the Going Merry within minutes.
Romance Dawn takes place during Luffy's early adventures, and begins the same way the manga did, with Shanks saving Luffy from a group of bandits, and giving him his straw hat. Unfortunately, these events are told in the absolute laziest way possible. Scenes play out with character portraits and speech bubbles superimposed over blurry, low-res screenshots from the anime. Action is conveyed through the movement of said portraits, so what should come across as an intense fight scene, becomes little more than faces slamming into each other. While we could forgive this on its own, these scenes also tend to drag on far too long, and still manage to gloss over major plot points. Those who are unfamiliar with this series may have to do a bit of research.
There are occasional scenes from the anime thrown in, Japanese voice track intact. Unfortunately, these are few and far between, and only serve to tease a show you'd rather be watching, instead of spending your time on this. It's also odd to note that this game ignores the “3D” part of the 3DS. Neither these scenes or the actual gameplay feature any 3D visuals. We realize this is a port of a PSP game, but Three Rings could have done something to better incorporate this system's unique features.
Things improve dramatically once the gameplay proper begins, though it's still a far cry from what this game could have been. Players will search through mostly barren halls, kicking boxes and opening chests for treasure and healing items. Areas are designed like mazes, with most corridors looping back to meet each other. One corridor is indistinguishable from the next, making it even more difficult to navigate without a map. Luckily, the new 3DS version makes things a lot easier by showing a map of where Luffy has traveled on the bottom screen. We honestly can't imagine playing this game without this feature.
Sets of enemies try to attack the player around each corner, though they don't give much of a chase. Upon being alerted, enemies will follow Luffy for a good five or ten feet before giving up completely, even if the player stops and zigzags right back at them. We made our own game partway through Romance Dawn, where we dodged and weaved repeatedly through groups of enemies as if they were angry little obstacle courses.
Citicisms aside, this game's combat is actually pretty enjoyable. Romance Dawn is a turn-based RPG, with many elements that will be familiar to veterans to the genre. Luffy and his crew will have a chance to attack their foes with either a combo or a special move. Combos are initially selected with the 'A' button, and are simple to perform. You won't have to master any timing to effectively land these punches. These attacks can be upgraded, though players will do just fine with their standard moves. Special moves require TP, which replenishes a bit every turn. These can be done alongside the standard combos, though players will usually find this unnecessary.
Players are also able to move within a small circle around their foes while selecting an attack. Enemies won't move or attack during this time, allowing players to get close to their target. Characters can also be positioned in such a way that allows them to hit multiple targets at once. This is a great strategy, but not one that players will likely have to use. Battles are generally won easily, even if players skip many of the possible encounters. Healing items are also plentiful enough where players shouldn't have to worry when their health begins to wane.
There isn't much left to say about One Piece: Romance Dawn. This port is a lazy, borderline insulting cash-in on a popular franchise. While it featured a few good ideas, the overall execution found a way to remove any enjoyment one could have from this title. 3DS owners who are craving a new RPG should opt for the far superior Bravely Default, while fans of the series would do better sticking with the manga and anime.