One Piece: Romance Dawn Review

So during Atlanta's two-inch snowmageddon last week, I had the chance to catch up on some games while waiting for things to thaw. One of those games, Toukiden: Age of Demons for PS Vita, wasn't perfect, but it did still offer some fun mixed in with the tedium. The other game I had to play and review was One Piece: Romance Dawn on Nintendo's 3DS handheld. I really don't know where to begin with this one. If you are looking for a review with something positive to say about Monkey D. Luffy's first 3DS RPG, look elsewhere. The only thing I'm positive about is that this game will entertain no one, and even the biggest One Piece fans should avoid this title like scurvy.

One Piece: Romance Dawn attempts to tell the One Piece story from the beginning, with Monkey D. Luffy's dreams to be Pirate King and his ingestion of the Gum Gum Fruit that gave him his awesome stretchy arms and legs. Notice the word "attempts." Any and all story sequences in Romance Dawn are told through awkward dialogue boxes and static character portraits, ensuring that only fans who know the tale by heart will be able to follow it. In my time as a reviewer, I've become more familiar with the One Piece story by playing and reviewing other games inspired by the series, and that is how I was able to decipher what was going on with the story. Without that background knowledge, it would be easy to miss the story completely as the seemingly unending dialog sequences that tell the tale give no clue to the actual story, just what unnamed characters might say to one another. It's a mess right out of the gate, and I struggle to remember any game that handled plot and story as poorly as Romance Dawn does.

As far as graphics go, the game is just below passable. This is a port of a Japanese PSP game, and somehow it manages to look about like a midlevel DS title. The graphics often appear fuzzy and out of focus, and fine details like character faces or objects look like they took a trip through a pixel SpinArt machine. Character models and areas are presented in 3D (though not actual 3D that takes advantage of the 3DS... no, there is none of that), but again, the corridors in Wolfenstein 3D had more going on in them than the endless halls of Romance Dawn. The only positive tick graphically is the little map you use to navigate from location to location. Its brightly colored and nice to look at, and surprise, it is one of the few new additions made to the game since its port from the PSP.

The sound doesn't fare much better. Limited voice acting and endlessly repeated sound effects hit the ear like they are being transmitted over some basement dweller's ham radio, all fuzzy and full of static. There is background music, but most of it fades in and out and doesn't really sound like it belongs in the game at all. The sound isn't as offensive as, say, the graphics, story and gameplay, but that isn't much of a compliment.

Oh, the gameplay. I've seen anime properties turned into quality RPGs before, and I often prefer that treatment over the usual fighting game or brawler exercises we get out of shows like One Piece, Naruto and my beloved Dragon Ball. Even side-scrollers work in my book, and I can cite all kinds of games from just these three properties that have done their source material justice. One Piece: Romance Dawn would not be on that list. The gameplay breaks down like this: You chose a location on your pirate map and travel there for... reasons. You then find yourself and your team in a series of generic mazelike corridors, populated by dozens of identical enemies and a few objects and treasures here and there. You fight the same sets of generic bad guys over and over until you haphazardly reach a destination. You are then treated to more awful dialog and sometimes a boss fight, only to choose another location and do it all over again. It's boring, lazy and an insult to One Piece fans and gamers alike.

At least the battle system seems fun - at first. You have full control over your characters in an enclosed 3D space, allowing you to run around and time attacks in a combo system that helps rack up damage. Using Luffy and crew's special attacks is fun, again, at first. Then you begin to see that no enemy is ever a real threat to you - the game is endlessly easy - and the attack animations are the same each and every time. Its cool to see Luffy use his stretchy armed punches a few times; by the 1,000th time, it gets really old. Every fight is essentially the same, every attack is the same and every enemy is, again, pretty much the same. Romance Dawn feels like an endless loop on a bad RPG simulator, some kind of fever dream that only exists in the heads of lazy programmers and the people who love games like RPG Maker on the PS1.

Believe it or not, I managed to make it all the way through the game's main story. With that out of the way, the game gives to some post-ending content in the form of extra dungeons to explore. Guess what? They look and play just like the dungeons you suffered through in the main game, and don't offer the tantalizing reward of being one step closer to being done forever with Romance Dawn. It's like being thrown down a flight of stairs and your prize for surviving is being thrown down the same set of stairs a second time.

It's easy to tear apart games when they exhibit lazy design and terrible gameplay. But games like Romance Dawn deserve to be raked over the coals even more than your average shovelware because they take a great property, suck out anything fun or interesting and sell it for thirty or forty bucks. I've seen some really bad anime games in my time - Dragon Ball Z: Taiketsu and Naruto: Shinobi Retsuden were among the worst - but neither of them can reach the depths that One Piece: Romance Dawn wallows in. As a major Dragon Ball fan, I understand the urge to purchase licensed games/toys/stuff simply because they feature your favorite property, but even serious One Piece collectors should steer clear here. You deserve better. As bad as it was being stuck inside for a week while the city thawed, cabin fever was nothing compared to my deep drive to get as far away from One Piece: Romance Dawn as humanly possible.

Final Rating: 9%. This Dawn should set the sun on One Piece games for a while.