Copy Gifted By Friend
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Developed by: Three Rings
Ok, since World Seeker is launching tomorrow, time to write another review of One Piece: Romance Dawn for 3DS (for italian readers, here’s my old review, if you really wish to read it, i don’t recommend doing so), which i’d say it’s the worst One Piece game i’ve ever played, and – maybe – the worst of them all so far (not counting crossover titles like Jump Force, i saw the cutscenes and i almost couldn’t believe that was basically launching in a week).
Why? Because while an action/adventure or beat em up game is maybe more fitting for the license/series, a One Piece rpg is a concept that shouldn’t take that much to work, especially since there’s a fuckton of material to adapt for the story, and it’s pirates, anime pirates, but still, the sense of adventure and discovering new enemies and friends is quite fitting for a game of this type.
And One Piece is basically the most fitting heir to Dragon Ball, which wasn’t first adapted as an action game, but as a series of rpgs (Japan only), and if a series about aliens that can turn into berzerker monkeys and beat the shit of each other (and other aliens) can make for a good rpg, for sure One Piece can. And – quite fitting – One Piece first videogame adaptation was a RPG for the ol’ WonderSwan, and others followed, but before this one (which is actually a port from PSP) they were all only released in Japan.
In retrospect i wish Namco Bandai kept this one for themselves.
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
Like the subtitle indicates, Romance Dawn tells the story of One Piece from the very beginning, when a young boy named Monkey D. Luffy makes friends with and it’s saved by the red haired pirate Shanks, which entrusts him with its straw hat, with the promise of returning the hat back when he’ll become the Pirate King. Luffy holds onto that promise, and trains to eventually set sail and explore the seas, in search of companions, because he also ate a Devil Fruit, a mystical fruit that made him a “rubber man” but also made him unable to swim.
The game follows the original story quite closely, from Fusha Town (the hometown of Luffy) to the story arc of Marineford, which is nice for fans, but the presentation is shite, which isn’t a small issue, since it’s a rpg, and the cutscenes are frankly embarrassing, so much you’ll resent the inusual fidelity to the source material. And in what seems like an odd recurrence – especially since it’s otherwise quite loyal to the source material – it skips the Skypiea arc as well (as well as the Davy Back Fight arc), i don’t what fans or developers have against it, but here we are. AGAIN.
I didn’t expect the game to have full fledged animated cutscenes as the sole means of telling the story (especially since there’s a lot of story arcs represented here), i really didn’t, but i also didn’t expect to see such a shitshow: badly drawn avatars of the characters pop-up and “vibrate” to simulate dialogue, with no voiceovers of any kind, often all projected over screenshots of the tv series, that the developer just took and slapped there, without polishing anything (and some frames really could have used it).
It looks like a bootleg, it looks like that smarthphone game, One Piece: Treasure Cruise, which is galling, and inexcusable for a full priced game sold at retail (or sold in general), especially since it’s a port from PSP that came almost a year late, so there was some time to – at least – fix some of the issues with the cutscenes, but why bother, it’s an anime game, suckers will buy it anyway, so let’s not even bother to center the text in the baloons. I can do that (and my graphic skills are basically non-existent), so there’s no fuckin excuse for this shit.
I have more to say about this (and i will), but let’s be frank, it’s shit, and some animated cutscenes remade from scratch for the game (and NOT just recycled from the TV series) aren’t enought to excuse anything, especially since the characters look kinda weirdly drawn in those. They’re nice, but do not excuse anything in this amateurish mess sold as a full game by one of the biggest publisher in the industry.
WIDE AS AN OCEAN
So, it’s an One Piece rpg, let’s talk exploration, avast! Or not.
Yes, you technically have the Going Merry, but it doesn’t translate to anything gameplay wise, since you move between islands like you would in a Super Mario overworld. Bummer, but i didn’t really expect it, as the Unlimited Cruise/Adventure titles came before for more powerful consoles, and didn’t had any navigation in the nautical sense… Actually didn’t had any navigation at all, but whatever, it’s not a deal breaker, even if it would have been quite nice and fitting.
What IS a deal breaker is the actual exploration you do once you arrive at the islands. IF there’s actually any gameplay for you there. Yes, some levels – like Whiskey Peak – are just a cluster of cutscenes (which isn’t exactly a tantalizing prospect, given what i’ve just said about the presentation), and are there just to take space and lengthen the playtime.
When you’ll eventually get to play the thing, you’ll realize this is one of those RPGs so linear it’s absurd, giving you a lot of samey enviroments that barely let you deviate a little from the obvious beaten path, so you’ll be glad to have a map of the area on the 3DS’ lower screen, because it all meshes together. This is a game that’s almost completely linear, and still puts down signs that say “go here” or “boss”… before what are clearly otherwise dead ends, so really you couldn’t go anywhere else (besides turning back for the sake of itself).
As to why, it’s a combination of levels more clumped together from a shallow pool of shapes than designed, and both the map and the compass being mostly useless, the first being so informative you’ll have to check the legend to even work out what some icons represent, the second often pointing in a direction that you can’t exactly reach, in some cases it’s actually a better idea to just guess where you’re supposed to go.
I mean, they are mostly linear cluster of hallways and corridors, but the fact that you can still get lost despite being mostly a “on rails” experience is one of those hallmarks of bad game design, a coprolyte crown jewel, if you will. In any case, remember to re-center the camera every fuckin second, because it stays on your character, but never get the whole “change angle to let player see what the fuck is ahead or near”, so you’ll have to abuse the hell out of the shoulder buttons, just to see if there is ANYTHING close by.
Which usually is either enemies, crates that you can kick for items (but it’s mostly a worthless exercise in the ol’ crate genocide tradition), and chests with rare treasure and maps that unlock optional islands, which are even worse than the regular (and nominally varied) ones, since they don’t even end with a boss to fight. And if you were wondering, no, there are no hub areas with NPCs to talk with or obtain quests from, nothing to actually give you the feeling of exploring this world and not just going through badly made istances.
The level design is so amazingly pointless that in Enies Lobby you’re going through an empty corridor with no enemies or items to obtain, that ends with an “Up” arrow, as if i could go anywhere else. The game could have just loaded and bring me further in the level, because nothing – literally – would have been lost.
But NO, it’s there, just to take space.
The icing of the proverbial cake is the fact you can go back to the ship by using Snailphones (which double as a save point AND checkpoint), but – of course – you can’t just go back in the level where you left, you’re gonna do the whole fuckin island from the start, and they eventually become absurd in how excessively full of nothing these places are. Some islands do offer shops, but it’s just fiddling with menus from the overworld, and besides a basic economy and a really basic crafting system (that’s really not worth talking about), this is it. This, and beating the shit out of people.
Yeah, combat. Is kinda sad that the developer Three Rings actually tried something interesting, because it’s ultimaly a shitty combat system, but one that tries to mix turn based and moving around the battlefield area in real time, like Valkyria Chronicles.
Your and your enemy take turns to battle (and speed influences the attack order, like FF X), and when it’s your turn, you can move inside of the battle zone and decide if to attack, defend, use an item or a non-offensive skill. You can chain attack together and use special moves, if you have enough attack points, that recharge by using normal attacks instead of characters signature moves like Gum Gum Bazooka, etc.
In an attempt of balance, the game doesn’t limit your movement in the combat area, but lays two colored rings (one yellow, one red), that inflict penalties on attack points and attack priority if you end the turn inside them. This is also made to encourage use attacks that make the enemy fly or bounce away in order to smack them against walls (or invisible walls, which are plenty) for extra damage and a chance for more criticals if you keep at it. This is the basic gist of combat.
I would love to elaborate on that, but there’s really nothing more to this system of “smacking people onto walls”, besides the inconsistent way in which your characters will either parry the attacks or get sent flying. And the penalties from the aforementioned “rings system” are often so negligeable you’ll mostly forget about it, so…. good.
Then again, you’ll most likely forget about many things that should be important in a RPG, like most stats, ailments or supposed advantage of some types of attacks over certain enemies (or elemental effects), because you’re given so little feedback and info… because it ultimately doesn’t matter. Why bother telling you if all that matters is using the strongest special moves over and over and stockpile on healing items?
You can guess that fishmen are weak to thunder and (if you know something about One Piece at all) that Crocodile is weak to water, but like the fact that Zoro inflicts “slash” type damage, it doesn’t matter, it’s just a matter of numbers, and spamming the most powerful attacks (which often smash enemies into walls as well) as often as you can so you can use numbers to deplenish the enemy’ numbers.
That, and grinding like a ravenous cog, because levelling up is needed to unlock the really strong special moves, and while you can see the enemy in the stage and avoid some fights, this is a sadistic game that will punish you for skipping stuff made optional, like the the aforementioned “optional” islands, that are there to “let” you grind some more, otherwise the game will smash your face in the gravel in boss battles, which offer an impressive display of bad design.
CHEAP CHEAP NO MI
Sure, bosses do provide more challenge than the 4/5 types of reskinned enemies you otherwise fight, but they’re more often than not cheap as hell, with a ludicrous amount of health, and due to an unnecessary fidelity to the series, most of the times you are forced to use Luffy alone, doesn’t matter if you have to beat the same boss thrice in a row (often with the boss not even having new moves) or several ones, with the enemy regaining full health and action points, unlike you.
Hope you like redoing long ass battles, because in most cases you’re not gonna get a chance to save progress, it’s a fuckin marathon or nothing. The gamma of cheap arsery wouldn’t be complete with boss fights easy as piss but stretched to lobotomical degree, ones that are basically fake outs and end almost as soon as they have begun (with usually no rematch or reprise), and stuff that’s basically just endurance until a certain number of turns have passed, if it didn’t the boss fight of Luffy vs Aokiji, Kizaru AND Akainu would just be plain impossible.
And you can bet your sweet bippy that bosses just fuckin reappar in later islands, just recycled because this wasn’t already repetitive, frustrating, boring beyong belief as is.
Besides boring shite battles and atrocious navigation in badly designed levels, there are some QTE-laden “run sequences” where you have to choose which way to go in a pseudo-autorunner style, with the idea being to avoid enemies and obstacles to reach the goal before your pursuer catches up. They are a break from the normal gameplay, but aren’t good either, and eventually the game abuses the shit out it anyway, Impel Down is expecially laden with too many of these sequences, just to lenghten the gruel.
And there’s a lot of slop, that’s for sure, even though a good percentage of it is made of crappy cutscenes, but even with me just skipping them just before or after Arlong Park (due to sheer boredom and wanting to see the end asap), i ended up clocking a whopping 30 hours, which might sound like a small runtime for a RPG, but with the crap we’re dealing with, it feels like dropping a year’s worth of time.
Even IF you’re masochistic enough, even if you manage to get to the end credits, there’s very little to do after beating this pile of obscene, besides searching beaten levels for maps of optional islands that are all the same, or getting all items (which is pointless since the game doesn’t even keep a list for those), or maxing the characters.
All for naught, since there’s no new game plus or extra mode that may entice a completionistic masochist fan of One Piece, or nothing that utilizes the 3DS features, i don’t care for gimmicky uses, but there’s no Streetpass usage either, and clearly nothing else has been enhanced in this port from PSP, a low budget looking PSP game, with low quality grainy textures and assets that are endlessly recycled, inexcusable amounts of pop-up , unjustified slowdowns, locales that lack any aesthetic gusto.
It’s so bland and recycled that Thriller Bark is essentially the same as the Marine bases interns, now with brick walls and a violet fog surrounding the bidimensional trees at the border, but still clearly the same assets used as foundation.
And invisible walls, a lot of those.
Almost forgot, bugs. Not counting being one of the few games that made my 3DS crash, there is stuff like the fire sphere attack of Ace not showing the ball of fire in an instance, and bugs that hinder gameplay, because either ally or enemies characters may end up stuck (in a wall of some kind, mostly) while moving to execute an attack, which results in the characters moving just short enough to make the attack or special move fail because the move didn’t make contact.
Given how the ports of Unlimited World Red (originally a 3DS game) to home consoles turned out quite good, there’s simply NO excuse for any of this, Namco Bandai.
An One Piece RPG sounds like a difficult concept to fuck up, but here the proof you didn’t need.
I kinda wish Namco Bandai kept this one in Japan, and didn’t bother to port an extremely late PSP release (the PS Vita – requiescat in pace – was already out when this came out) to the 3DS, without even bothering to polish or update any of the low budget textures that frankly were barely acceptable on the PSP.
Besides being obsolete, archaic, really cheap and janky from a technical standpoint (and a no-assed port, especially compared to the home consoles releases of Unlimited World Red) for a 2013 release on 3DS, One Piece: Romance Dawn is the textbook example of a crappy anime licensed game, pushed out with no regards for quality (in a time where Steam wasn’t the hellhole that is today, at least), boring as hell, repetitive and stuffed with the same recycled guff over and over to falsify content.
When you’re not watching some of the worst presented and “animated” text cutscenes in a JRPG sold on consoles for money (so amauterish that sometimes the text isn’t even center or well aligned in the balloon), you’re exploring islands made mostly of corridors that manage to be both almost completely linear AND confusing to navigate, given how everything in a island looks the same (and even nominally different levels still look the same, just with slighty different textures and furniture), and you can’t really trust too much the map or the compass either.
That is, IF an island/level doesn’t just exist as cluster of cutscenes with no gameplay in it, and being overall more loyal to the original story than most One Piece videogames doesn’t excuse it, given how this title still skips the Davy Back Fight and Skypiea. AGAIN.
Outside of that, crappy “auto-run” esque sequences and a really barren & basic array of rpg mechanics (all done via menus, there’s no town to freely explore, quests to get, NPC to talk to, zero sense of you belonging in the world), you fight. Badly. The combat system shows at least some effort, as it tries to mix turn based and real time mechanics, with a system in place to use the enviroment as a weapon… in theory, at least. It all boils down to “use a special move that knocks the enemy onto a wall – one of the many invisible ones will do as well – or surface for extra damage”, grind like hell to level up and obtain the aforementioned special moves, and stockpile on healing items.
Don’t bother to search for depth beyond this, because there really is none, which “solves” the issue of the game don’t giving you any useful info (or method to get info) on enemies, it doesn’t matter if a character has a “slash” type weapon or piercing, all it matters is how much damage it does. You’re gonna need to exploit the systems to counter the impressive cavalcade of cheap tricks used for the many boss battles: obscenely long health bars, bosses that need to be beaten thrice in a row with them regaining health on the next round and you not recovering anything, etc.
IF you don’t encounter a common glitch that hinders combat, or the game won’t just make your 3DS crash, freeing you from this obscene (and obscenely long, 30 hours – and a little more – to see the end) cornucopia of Sea King droppings.
Don’t fuckin bother.