One Piece Romance Dawn
One Piece Romance Dawn is, compared to other handheld JRPGs being released such as Bravely Default, a barebones and uninspiring game. Its main draw is the familiarity of its plot and characters of its license, covering the plot of the early volumes of the One Piece comic in close detail and using the building of the protagonist team to create a growing party.
In many ways the knockabout fantasy world of One Piece – translated well into video game form in Pirate Warriors – would suit an RPG; characters have defined roles and abilities according to the plot and form a diverse superhero team. However, a good RPG would require a significant aspect of world-building and environment design; the appeal of One Piece’s action is in its enjoyable cartoonish visuals and larger-than-life settings to explore.
Romance Dawn is best compared, on a gameplay level, to a game like Final Fantasy 7: Crisis Core on PSP; it has a similar form of arena-based encounters allowing limited movement within a battlefield, but replaces the real-time combat with a strictly turn-based affair with visible timeline of activations.
This is ultimately underwhelming; the selling-point of the game, according to marketing material, is the recreation of the series’ epic fights against a large and colourful roster of villains and thus a plain alternating-turns turn-based sequence is an inadequate representation. Real-time, or arena-based action RPGs in the vein of Crisis Core or on a more complex level Star Ocean offer a good compromise between traditional JRPG random encounter based gameplay and more free-roaming game design, meaning that turn-based games now have to work harder to stand out in a crowded genre.
Romance Dawn fails to do this; the fixed powers of One Piece heroes are limiting compared to the modern trend for job-based systems, and the rationing of special abilities creates slow-paced and tedious game design. Special moves are used by building up TP through normal attacks (similar to how some of the Tales games balance their “artes”), but those normal attacks are tied to slowly-animated fixed combos of moves that must be clicked through individually. The result is an inflexible game which feels lacking in strategy; new abilities are given out very slowly and enemy health is sufficiently high that battles take too long to be entertaining early in the game with the limited palette of abilities available.
Repetition of basic attacks because resources are too limited to use more interesting attacks is a frequent complaint levelled at JRPGs, and Romance Dawn is a particularly bad offender; characters begin with a large enough TP reserve to use their signature move once every other fight or so based on how slowly it regenerates. While the system does open up in time, it provides a very poor first impression to a game which should ideally offer mobile, fluid combat and frequent use of if not signature moves, at least more interesting abilities than simple punches.
What this also does is make the characters apparently indistinguishable save for small numerical changes; in Pirate Warriors, although the combat was still heavily based on predefined combos, the capacity for free movement and cancelling combos – as well as the significantly increased number of special move types and variants – made the fighting feel more cartoon-like and interactive. In Romance Dawn, the free movement may as well not exist; there is no punishing restriction of action as there would be in other games, and no discernable benefit to outmaneuvering enemies.
As a result it may as well be replaced by the characters lined up opposite each other as in a Final Fantasy game. The enemies themselves are also distinctly uncharacterful; the most frequently occurring are simple humans in different costumes, while the bosses – while visually more interesting drawing as they do from the One Piece roster – are overly difficult slabs of HP with no real banter or theming, fought in similarly empty arenas. What obstacles do exist in the battle arenas in fact work against the basic function of the game, causing pathing and clipping errors that make fights frustrating as moves do not connect despite apparently being correctly used.
For much of Romance Dawn’s early game – that crucial part of an RPG when it must lay out its mechanical selling-points – the player has nothing to do but click attack slightly too many times to fight each enemy. This problem is compounded by how there is almost nothing to do outside of fight these dull encounters; the dungeons are mazes of 90-degree angles much like a Persona game, but comparatively featureless and uninteresting because of what there is the unmet aesthetic potential for. They are undetailed and plagued by draw distance issues, compared with a title like Crisis Core which used similar map design techniques but created intricate visuals that made them seem less utilitarian. Cutscenes are simply text boxes over still images, giving a poor impression of movement in a setting based around it, and the retelling of the story is so faithful that any fan of One Piece will be bored.
As a result, it sits in an awkward position; it does not do anything to stand out as worth buying for anyone who is not a fan of the series but simultaneously offers nothing that a fan of the series would be interested in. The visual novel-esque method of storytelling could work for a game based on a comic strip – games like Comix Zone have experimented with using comic-panel based graphics – but Romance Dawn does not feel like a comic despite using the aesthetic. There are not enough of the full-screen images to depict key scenes of the plot, and too often important developments are reduced to screen shakes and sound effects.
This review is based on a 3DS review code provided by Namco-Bandai.
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