Well, well, well. I didn’t think I would review another One Piece-related videogame. I’ve never seen an episode of One Piece, and yet I seem to have become the designated One Piece reviewer guy. I did volunteer for this one, but mainly because I can’t afford to buy games and also because 3DS games rarely come up for review, so sue me, alright?
Right, the game is called One Piece: Romance Dawn, it’s about One Piece, it’s got turn-based combat where you also get to run around, and it’s a surprisingly fun if not particularly innovative or exciting game. Let’s not piss about.
OK, so, One Piece, if you haven’t heard of it, is a beloved anime series focused on Monkey D. Luffy and his band of pirates. I’m not familiar enough with the series to give you a rundown of the backstory; it’s not something that either of the One Piece titles I have played goes into. In fact, Romance Dawn seems to be aimed squarely at people who already have a firm understanding of the plot – which is totally fair. You wouldn’t expect to dive into a Dragon Ball Z game and get exactly what was happening based on nothing else.
A little bit of narrative contextualization would have helped, though. The game begins in a bar, with Luffy talking to some pirate guy, who gives him his trademark straw hat. Unfortunately the cut scenes, in keeping with apparently EVERY Japanese title released this year, rely on thumbnail-sized portraits of the person speaking accompanied by comicbook speech bubbles. The scenes are really long, but also often nonsensical and poorly translated; when there is an in-game movie, the voice acting is in Japanese.
Not that the storyline is bad. If you’re a big fan of the show you’ll probably recognize the game’s events anyway, and I know from playing the Dragon Ball Budokai games that there’s something to be said for playing out the big moments in a very violent cartoon.
It seems to start at the beginning of the anime’s story, and progress through key plot points along the way. What I am saying is that if you aren’t familiar with the characters and plotlines and you’re still bent on playing this game you might want to do some research.
Once you’ve sat through the screens and screens of speech bubbles and shaking character portraits, the game actually does contain a decent amount of fun. You’re placed in a level where you can run about fairly freely, coming across groups of enemies at a time with whom you must do battle.
When you do get into a fight, combat is turn-based, with the option to roam around freely on your own turn. Each character has different abilities and combos, all of which can be upgraded to do more damage. It’s not the most unique or challenging of combat systems to master, but it certainly isn’t boring. Things do start to get a little repetitive after a while, but the addition of occasional quick-time events does mix things up just enough to keep Romance Dawn from getting stale.
Defeating enemies yields loot fairly traditionally, mostly consisting of healing items and equipment for your characters. Characters also receive experience points for kills, as well as SP which is used to boost abilities and skills. It’s a conventional system of leveling up, executed in a conventional way. It’s fine. It’s just conventional.
I was actually pleasantly surprised by the graphics in Romance Dawn. Not so much during the narrative portions, but in-game the graphics are actually quite nicely done. In one of the earlier segments you do battle with a Pirate Clown (I am assuming he is probably a well-known character in the One Piece world; as I am unfamiliar with him, and cannot remember his name or be bothered to look it up, he will henceforth be referred to as Pirate Clown), who pops up during conversations mid-battle in some artfully constructed still images that are just really cool. The free-roaming battles bring to mind Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII for the PSP, which was a weird surprise but not an unwelcome one.
From an aural perspective, everything is fine. Admittedly, most of the spoken words in the game are in Japanese, and everything else mainly consists of grunting and the sounds of weaponry, but they’re realistic sounds of weaponry, so it’s fine. If this were a huge title I’d be annoyed by the lack of English voiceover, but seeing as this is a game for a niche market of One Piece fans, it’s entirely forgivable.
This is a game that suffers from the same drawback as any Dragon Ball Z / Bleach / Naruto title: you have to be a fan to get it. And that’s absolutely fine, provided you are a fan. From a narrative standpoint, One Piece: Romance Dawn doesn’t so much tell you a story as show you a succession of pictures to remind you of the story you already know, kind of like a “in the last episode…” montage. If it’s familiar to you, you’ll understand that and it won’t bore you, but if you’ve never watched the show it’s going to mean almost nothing to you. Gameplay is fun.
Overall: If you’re a One Piece noob, it’s a 6/10. It plays fine but suffers from a ‘this is for the fans’ attitude. This of course could also be a positive thing, and if you’re a huge fan of the series it’s probably going to be closer to a 7 or even an 8/10.