I’ll admit right off that I don’t have the greatest of familiarity with One Piece. I remember watching a bit of it when it debuted in the States back in 2004, but sadly never watched much of it, a decision I now regret as I’d like to get back into it, but I have a lot of catching up to do. As such I’ve only played one or two One Piece games and, like the series, never really got into them. However as I’m starting to have a renewed interest in the adventures of the Straw Hat Crew I’m hoping the same can be said for the games. With that let’s head for the Grand Line in the hopes of becoming the King of the Pirates in One Piece: Romance Dawn.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story of One Piece, the game does an interesting job of explaining the story of how Monkey D. Luffy, the series’ main protagonist, became a pirate…the entire first area is nothing but the story. When Luffy was a kid he wanted to go on voyages with a pirate named Shanks, but Shanks didn’t want to take Luffy with him due to the dangers of being a pirate on the high seas. Luffy didn’t care and after eating a treasure called Gum-Gum that turned his body to rubber, he actually stood up to a gang of bandits after they called Shanks’ pirates a bunch of wimps. After Shanks came to Luffy’s rescue he gave Luffy his straw hat and said that if he ever became a pirate to bring the hat back to him. Ten years later we see that Luffy is well on his way to becoming King of the Pirates, and this is where the game really begins.
As the game begins you only have one member of your pirate crew: Luffy. However as the game progresses you pick up more crew members, such as Zoro and Nami. You travel around the world map hitting up different towns and islands in search of the treasure known as One Piece and take down any pirates in your way. Each area allows you to take from one to three crew members with you depending on how many you have and which stage you’re on (for instance, “Episode 5” only allows you to take in Zoro for a one-on-one battle with another swordsman) and all you have to do is get to the end of each area and finally to a boss. Battles occur when you run into a group of enemies, so it’s not like a lot of other RPGs that have random encounters.
Combat is done using somewhat of a combo system. After choosing to attack you can line yourself up with your chosen enemy which can lead to some interesting attack ideas, then you have four actions you can take. As you level up you gain Skill Points to level your attacks to make them more damaging and can add options to your basic combos. There’s actually some strategy you can use for your attacks where you can target one enemy and use some characters’ special attacks to end up hitting a second or third enemy if they’re close enough. Each character also has multiple abilities that can help them in and out of battles, such as healing or reducing certain types of damage.
As you go through the stages (or Episodes as the game calls them) you unfold more of the story that spans the episodes of the anime. There’s a lot of story to this game, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Each episode or island ends with a boss encounter that can sometimes be a cakewalk while others can be downright difficult, especially the aforementioned one-on-one fight where you can only control Zoro. Now that we’ve talked about how the game operates, let’s see where the ups and downs are in this game.
What Bothered Me:
Oh boy, where to start. Well let’s get the big complaint out of the way. There’s a lot of story in this game. In fact, the entire first episode is nothing but text-based cut scenes where you have to press A to trudge through it. You can set it to auto, but it still takes some time to get through it if you plan to read it. After that, I’d say that 60% to 65% of the time I was playing was spent watching these cut scenes while the rest was actually playing. The levels are called episodes for a reason; it feels like it takes the length of an anime episode to read through the cut scenes.
It’s also not helped by how they’re presented. The few animated cut scenes are actually pretty good, but the text-based cut scenes are basically a picture of the characters that are talking with text bubbles that look like an elementary school kid wrote them (I swear multiple times a few words looked like they were blended together likethis). The expressions do change now and then, but it could have been done so much better. If they had stuck to the animated cut scenes or even kept it text based but used a couple of paragraphs to summarize things it would have been a lot better. If you’re a fan of One Piece and know how the story goes, you can probably just skip the cut scenes, but if you’re new to the series, get ready for a long explanation of how things went down for the Straw Hat Crew.
I’ll get more into combat in a minute, but there are a couple of things about it that didn't sit well with me. The first is how painfully easy it can be about 95% of the time. As I mentioned you can line up enemies and hit multiple targets with a special attack such as Luffy’s Gum-Gum Pistol. While I like that aspect, there’s really not much of a challenge for the basic fights. Even when you do get to tougher enemies a few episodes in you come across a wide variety of healing items to restore your HP, plus it seems like every crew member has a healing ability that you can use a certain number of times per level. In other words, unless you’re at a boss or deliberately go into a fight with barely any health, there’s not much of a challenge. Plus it gets tedious watching enemies just decide to randomly dodge your attacks a lot more than you can dodge theirs.
The other thing that bothers me about the combat is that it can get repetitive and the momentum can easily switch between various characters. While some like Luffy and Sanji have attacks that can strike rather quickly and keep the battle going at a fast pace, others like Nami and Usopp tend to either have slower attacks or attack from a range while doing less damage. In a lot of RPGs that I’ve played ranged attacks either do a decent amount of damage or they’re used from the back row to help protect that character. When enemies seemingly choose random crew members to attack each turn it really doesn’t make a difference and I just prefer not to use range. The other major momentum killer is that you can get penalized with longer wait times between turns if you move outside the colored rings on the ground. Seeing as how most of the time you have to move beyond them to hit anything it gets ridiculous really quickly. Not a major issue, but still an annoying one.
What I Liked:
So I complained about the story and combat, but is there anything good about the game? Actually, there is, and the first thing actually goes back to the combat. While most of the game seems like a momentum killer, I actually did enjoy the combat a bit. I know I keep repeating myself here, but the best part of the combat was being able to figure out how to hit multiple enemies in one hit. While it may seem repetitive to just hit A a few times with the occasional special move being used, several characters can hit multiple enemies with a single attack and while the normal encounters themselves aren’t that challenging, you can finish them more quickly by lining up your enemies in a way that Luffy or Sanji can use a special attack to take them all down.
The graphics, music, and animation are all pretty well done, though I find it ironic that for a 3DS game there’s no 3D, at least not that I’ve come across (the 3D indicator on the 3DS isn’t even lit). My only thought is that since this is a port of the PSP version maybe they didn’t decide to put in 3D. While that’s kind of disappointing because seeing some of the animation and combat in 3D would have been interesting, what we did get looks pretty good.
While One Piece: Romance Dawn does have its good points, there’s unfortunately quite a bit to dislike. If you’re a huge fan of the series and know the story inside and out then the cut-scenes probably won’t be too bad as you can just skip through them. For those like me who have little knowledge of the series outside of a couple random episodes, the story is kind of important to understand what’s going on and the game goes through it in a bad way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy they put in the story, but it could have been done much better and not as drawn out.
The more I play through the game the more mixed I get with combat, hence why I listed it under both things I liked and what bothered me. There is some skill involved in lining up multiple enemies so various attacks can damage more than one target, but at the same time it does get repetitive fast. When you think about other turn-based RPGs, while they can also be considered “button mashers” in a way, at least with those the battles are typically balanced in a way that you have to strategically decide when to attack and when to heal. With Romance Dawn I’ve rarely had to heal because the battles aren’t that much of a challenge. Even when faced with a 5-on-3 battle I’ve often taken out three or four enemies by the time all three of my crew members have attacked.
Bottom line, unless you’re a huge One Piece fan you might want to hold off on Romance Dawn. While it can be fun in certain aspects, having to spend more time with the story than with actually playing is a huge momentum killer. More often than not when playing for this review I wanted to just set the game down and walk away out of pure boredom. So many times a scene faded out and as soon as I saw the next come up I said to myself “holy cow, is this over yet?”. If the cut-scenes were done differently and the combat more challenging this could have been a lot better, but as it stands don’t be surprised if you get bored rather quickly.
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