Man, this could’ve used a few more pieces.
There are a million ways to tell a story, but most of those “major” rules you hear about can be twisted and warped by master storytellers to get across whatever they’re trying to communicate. However, there’s one rule that generally holds true across the board and across generations: “Don’t tell when you can show.” In the video game realm, this is the best rule to follow: Don’t just tell me that something in the story is happening; show me that it’s happening. It’s even an easier medium to show then tell, which is why it bothers me so much when developers disregard the entire notion.
This is the first—and biggest—fault with One Piece: Romance Dawn, a 3DS (without any 3D) port of a PSP game released in 2012. The second is that this was a game released to generally negative reviews in 2012. Polishing an ugly statue will make it shine, but it’ll still be ugly. And if you’re Romance Dawn, you’ll still be not-shiny. And still not in 3D… that’s right, this is a 2DS game on the 3DS. Hooray...
Romance Dawn is the beginning of the story of the anime One Piece which, like many other Shōnen Jump anime, is wonderfully ridiculous and generally incomprehensible for people starting more than two episodes or one manga entry late. Akin to Naruto existing in a world that apparently only consists of other ninjas and MC Hammer pants, One Piece is entirely about pirates, many of them “with a heart of gold” and the desire to fight, but not just fighting for the sake of it. Forget about moral conundrums and characters "evolving"—this one sticks to the formula like glue. At least so far as I can tell. I stopped paying attention to the story elements after watching two plot segments that took over thirty minutes of game-waiting.
Romance Dawn is a traditional turn-based JRPG with the element of physically attacking baddies in chains of lighter attacks and specials, but the “draw” of the system is that you can chain them together however you like… as long as you don’t do any of the specials before you’re ready to end your turn. For a game that presents options, there really aren’t many to choose from. Yeah, you can chain together three regular attacks and a special, but if you’re the type to save up and do a massive amount of damage in a single turn, you’re entirely out of luck.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll just keep using the one attack that works every single time. Why bother changing things up when not only that attack works, but it works on every baddie equally well… and on most groups of enemies? It’s like being handed a flamethrower and then “earning” a handful of pea shooters… why would I stop using the flamethrower?
To give credit where due, the character models are adequate and look like the characters they’re meant to be, but they’re the only thing worth looking at. The islands and caves and tundra and whatever-else you’re running across are barren and boring, and the repetition in the enemy models is annoying. I’m not saying I want to fight someone new every fight—this is hardly my first go-round in an RPG—just that I would like something more than “generic pirate #4” and his buddy “generic pirate with gun #3” attacking me sporadically across multiple maps. Hell, there’s a drought of female characters worth anything (the only one I found being Nami, the staff-wielding, near-useless one in my crew), so maybe let’s be equal-opportunity pirates?
I could continue to rail on and on like I’ve done with Naruto about the ridiculousness of every character everywhere being a pirate of some sort (again, how do ninjas get away with billowy, orange MC Hammer pants?), but I won’t. It’s part of the appeal. It’s insane or whatever—I get that much. As a game with those basic facts as an introduction, when you force me to sit through button-tapping blandness for twenty minutes at a clip and then give me battles with boring characters and a remarkable amount of options-but-lack-of-options, I just don’t care anymore.
It would have been fine to integrate the storytelling in the play—of which there is absolutely none—and had a “meh” battle system, because that would bring this up a few notches. But instead, it’s little more than an interactive manga with some battles tossed into some of the most boring environments this side of Dragonball Evolution. In fact, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but give me Dragonball Evolution instead of Romance Dawn. At least then I feel like I’m playing something.