One Piece: Romance Dawn: Just Missed The Mark Of Greatness

By Laura . February 22, 2014 . 5:00pm

One Piece: Romance Dawn is an odd, unbalanced bundle of great potential and awkward execution. This, like One Piece: Pirate Warriors that came before it, focuses on retelling the story of One Piece prior to the Marineford arc. The events covered are mostly the same, so there’s still no Whiskey Peak, Little Garden, Skypiea and so on. Unlike Pirate Warriors, though, Romance Dawn is an RPG with a fighting system that is just as strangely balanced (or perhaps, unbalanced) as the storytelling is.


I believe what Romance Dawn excels at the most is in the cutscenes and dialogue. The translation is excellent, and I was actually impressed with how well most of the lines fit the characters. The redone cutscenes by Toei Animation are absolutely beautiful, although they may take some getting used to if you’ve rewatched the original animation lately. They’re more detailed and have more shading, and I can understand why the game wanted to redo the scenes.


It also helped that the scenes they chose to play out through the cutscenes were always the most dramatic and the most poignant of the series. All of the Straw Hat Pirates’ victories, the new beginnings, and the endings of the characters are shown in their full glory in the original Japanese voices rather than simply relying on dialogue to convey the emotion. This was easily my favorite aspect of the game, simply because it was also my favorite part of the anime.


The other scenes, though, were not given such royal treatment. The “skit” format they used for the dialogue was stylized nicely with the popping bubbles and the jumping portraits, but that’s all they are. Portraits. The emotions of the characters rarely change to match the dialogue and there’s only so much simple sound effects, well-written dialogue, and hopping portraits can convey.


One early example of a scene that fell flat on its face is the first time you meet Zoro. During this scene, a rice ball is thrown to the floor and stepped on by one of the Marines (to simplify things a little). This scene would’ve been easy to depict. Perhaps show the image of the action happening like with a still shot from the anime. This isn’t unreasonable because Romance Dawn does so, sometimes, with other scenes, such as Zoro being tied up or Shanks’s rescue of Luffy. However, instead you get an irrelevant background with dialogue consisting of “No!” and “How could you!” without any other aids to know what is happening except for a quiet “crunch.” Adding insult to the injury is the lack of voices during these non-animated scenes. Honestly, if I hadn’t seen the anime, I would’ve had no idea what was going on.


While one can argue that storytelling without images is done all the time in drama CDs, usually there is at least some indication of what is happening. A “Why did you throw that on the ground?” perhaps. However, no such adjustments to the original dialogue were made, which is why I am firmly of the belief that Romance Dawn would be difficult for newcomers to the One Piece series to get into. Romance Dawn expects at least some familiarity with the main events of the game for you to fully follow what’s going on. If that’s the case, though, why would you need to follow the events if you already know what’s going to happen?


To the game’s credit, though, the it really does choose the best scenes to showcase. It doesn’t give you every scene—not even the buildup to many of the fights—but instead it focuses on the emotional ones that are best exhibited through the great animated cutscenes. It’s as though the game knew what it wanted to prioritize on, and so it slacked off heavily on all the other scenes.


The combat and exploration works pretty much on the same awkward balance. The exploration can be boring, but once I discovered the Run button, blasting through the winding maps proved to take very little time. The main problem with these areas is that exploring every nook and cranny can be very long due to backtracking, and this is made worse by the emptiness of the areas. The environments, while pretty, are one-dimensional and unchanging, and the corridors themselves are only filled with the occasional barrel, treasure chest, or enemy.


On the other hand, some areas put the game on auto during Grand Stream Actions. Here, your main character dashes wildly through an area while you follow the QTE on the screen to determine the direction you want to take. Usually, one will lead you through a group of enemies while another will have you avoid them. Ultimately, all paths lead to the same destination, but the speed of these events gives the slow-paced game (Slow-paced! One Piece?!) a much needed kick. I found myself wishing that every one of the exploration sequences were like this simply because that just seems like something Luffy would do.


The fighting, unfortunately, goes just as slow as the exploration, although it also mixes the usual turn-based formula up a bit. Instead of just choosing your attack, you are given the opportunity to position your character, which can lead to strategizing knockback blows and squeezing that extra item from the enemy when you knock him into a wall. The attacking itself is also fun and quick, with each button press leading up to a different attack that you can mix and match. You can also quickly scroll through the attacks with L and R, assigning different techniques to your ABXY buttons, which greatly enhances the speed.


No, the sluggishness in the battles comes from other aspects. Scrolling through menus is always a time killer, and there are at least two of these you have to pay attention to in battle. Romance Dawn is also programmed such that you have to pay careful attention to which enemy you’re targeting, so checking this also takes some time. And, perhaps worst of all, merely waiting for the time bar to scroll up to determine whose turn is next takes the most time of all. It’s a shame a fast forward button wasn’t included for the battles because this combined with waiting for enemy actions add up to a lot of waiting time on the part of the player.


I wouldn’t be so bothered if it weren’t for the fact that, again, One Piece is supposed to be a fast-paced series. The way the attack system works seems to support this, with characters whipping out one attack after another. However, it looks like there was again a lack of effort to streamline the rest of the battle to make it just as quick and snappy.


There are some other areas that add a much-needed twist to the game, though they are nothing new to the RPG genre. Each character can learn a different set of abilities as they level up—none of which make sense in the context of the show, but it mixes things up from a gameplay perspective. You can also use Skill Points you earn at the end of each battle to enhance your regular attack combos or to power up your techniques. Speaking of which, techniques are learned both through leveling up and through reaching a certain point in the story. This makes sense since some of the attacks are essential to the cutscenes and it wouldn’t make sense to learn them early.


There is also an item crafting system that is simple, but kind of fun. While by no means necessary, the game doesn’t give you nearly enough money to buy equipment. Instead, it focuses on giving you ingredients so you can craft stronger equipment than those you can find in shops. The catch is that these ingredients are usually dropped by enemies, which only happens when you smack an enemy’s face into a nearby wall. This means that strategizing where you position your characters actually becomes important. This balancing was something I liked—I think it shows that there was some thought going into designing this system.


In addition, you can unlock optional areas to explore by finding Treasure Maps. These places are long, arduously winding areas with a few treasures that may or may not be worth the huge amount of time you’ll be spending on them. Some of the places, though, contain a rematch with a boss you’ve already faced, and these can be fun if you want something more than the usual pirate standing in your way. I haven’t played nearly far enough, but I wonder if there’s a Boss Run area in Romance Dawn.


All in all, I enjoyed Romance Dawn, but I speak as someone who’s already seen (or read) One Piece. The game suffers from heavy prioritization of some aspects while leaving others in the dust. That said, at the very least I take comfort in knowing that the facets of the series it emphasizes are the ones that are the most impactful and characteristic to One Piece.


Food for Thought:


1. Reading the manual is essential (unless you want to play around with the buttons yourself). Romance Dawn doesn’t do hand-holding and provides very little explanation on what some of the controls and menu options are. I didn’t know I could run through dungeons until I got through at least 3 maps, and most of the options on the world map were Greek to me until I played around with them a little. There are tips that appear during loading screens, but they don’t appear nearly fast enough.


2. As you probably know, there is no stereoscopic 3D in this game.


3. The difference in animation style between the background images (when they appear) and the animated cutscenes is astounding. I’m not sure if Toei did both, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the background images were from the original anime.


4. Is it just me or does Nami’s portrait look a little flat and far too boyish…?

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  • Stryker_X20

    Says you Siliconera. But I bet you wouldn’t be saying that if say like One Piece were to debut on PS4 with likes One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3 or if PW3 were to still come to PS3.

    • Ferrick

      and how does that relate to anything ?

    • DaiRaiOh

      You say that like they’re making up something about the game. I played it when it first came out on the psp and they’re right on the ball about it. It’s always been a slow game that didn’t love up to it’s potential, especially in boss fights as keeping to the story makes most of them boring 1v1’s with no real strategy at all put into things. It’s not the worst game, but even as a huge fan it was a chore for me to finish as it never really goes anywhere. Plus the PW games have absolutely nothing to do with this article so it makes your statement all kinds of nonsensical.

    • mockturtle


  • subsamuel01

    Huge one piece fan, from what I heard the game wasn’t very good. I just bought it because it they only released 16,800 limited edition copies in North America.

    • Jason Ryer

      its digtal through eshop though for 3ds…

  • bimmyz

    One Piece Unlimited Adventure and Cruise series on the Wii are the best One Piece games so far.

    • British_Otaku

      Ganbarion’s Gigant Battle series can give their Unlimited Adventure + Cruise line up a run for their money. It is like Jump Super Stars but 100% One Piece.

      • DaiRaiOh

        To be honest Gigant was nowhere near as good as the Jump games. Things were a bit too floaty, many battles were just outright not fun to play because of conditions, and the balance was all over the place. Fun games with decent fan service, but they did a much better job with Ultimate Stars as far as making a good game is concerned.

        • British_Otaku

          I haven’t played Ultimate Stars recently, but I’ll agree that they made a number of missteps with both Gigant Battle games as far as in game balance and overall progression go. I was pleased to have a 20/45 character roster, chain-able supports with interesting attributes though I did probably play and have more fun with JSS (perhaps it was getting to see multiple series or friends to play with)…

          JUS sorta scared me away, maybe it was the unlock system being currency driven and the 1 Koma seeming useless… >_> I should get back to it as I’m familiar with more series now.

          • DaiRaiOh

            The currency honestly gets thrown at you a s long as you do all objectives, and the 1 koma are there to increase your sp max for the special 3, not to mention some are damn strong with certain characters

  • 3PointDecoupage

    Its not a great game but the combat system is really fun.

    • The combat system is really fun but it’s used on lots of battles which are all the same and really simplistic, so I never really felt like we were reaching the potential of what’s on offer.

  • ninjabart122

    I’d be really interested in One Piece Unlimited World Red since it looked really nice.

    • British_Otaku

      World RED being localised for you guys (assuming you are from NA), at least for retail perhaps depends on how well this does in North America even if the game is kinda awful.

      On how good Unlimited World RED is, finished the story and most of the quests (not buying any of the DLC *grumpy face*), it is definitely highly polished, has a nice open world and much better than this but it may disappoint you if you played a previous Unlimited series title.

      • ninjabart122

        Fortunately or unfortunately, I haven’t ever gotten to play any of the previous Unlimited games, so I wouldn’t hold anything against UWRed for not living up to any previous experiences.

  • Rayhan PromisedGallery

    This game is still most complete One Piece game up to date though.

    Maybe next they should do game like Ultimate Ninja Storm series, with stories being cut in the middle and continue in the sequel. The story in One Piece is just too massive to be told in one game.

    • DaiRaiOh

      Honestly, I’d be fine with them just telling the current arc and a few back. No need for them to do absolutely everything as it would make the story mode a bit, well, long. That being said, if such a game were to exist, there better be the older villains in there. I want playable Don Krieg dammit

      • British_Otaku

        Don Krieg and/or numerous older villains are playable in Unlimited Adventure, Cruise, Gigant Battle and Gigant Battle 2.

        Ganbarion pile up the fanservice but sorta dropped the ball on Unlimited World RED.

        • DaiRaiOh

          Unlimited I don’t care much about and Gigant had all the older villains as support attacks so no idea what the hell you’re talking about there

          • British_Otaku

            Gigant Battle 2 had Smoker, Wapol and Buggy among the 42 others *shrugs*. Perhaps I was easily won over as the first one didn’t even have the whole crew playable. >_>

            My point was that the Ganbarion titles collectively had Don Krieg, Arlong, Kuro, Buggy, Vivi, Coby and Gaimon as playable characters. If you feel like you have been missing out, start by playing more of those if you haven’t.

            If you are indifferent to the Unlimited series, fair enough, you will be missing out on a ton of people so far still exclusive to Adventure and Cruise. Unlimited World RED has the worst roster in any Ganbarion game… >_> Bandai Namco’s moneygrubbing finally got through 100% with that one.

          • DaiRaiOh

            I’m talking about Romance Dawn era characters. Kuro, Krieg, Aarlong, etc. Plus Smoker and Buggy are still relevant to the recent story which is why they were in there. And I’ve played pretty much every One Piece game and it’s been so long since one has let me play Krieg and Arlong much to my disappointment. And I’m indifferent to the wii entries. I’ll be getting Red as that’s more of a Hunter game so I’m more comfortable playing it than the rest

  • ThatGuy3190_7

    I am very divided on this. Some people say it’s a great game, some say it’s not so great. I want to buy and see for myself, but I also don’t want to waste money on a game that actually turned out to be bad.

    • mockturtle

      You could always just get a physical copy, and then if it sucks, sell it two years from now when it’s a collector’s item (it’s a numbered limited edition of 16,800).

    • E.T.993

      It’s an enjoyable game.Not great, not bad, but good.

    • It’s a fun nostalgia trip, but I wouldn’t suggest it if you want a deep game gameplay-wise.

    • It’s not great. It robs the awesome story of One Piece of feeling as it retells the story with stock smiling face pictures and no character development. It gives you random dungeons that are all winding empty corridors. It gives you an awesome battle system but gives you basic simple fights that barely use the features and strategy that could have been on offer. It makes you think “if only this project had been implemented a bit better, this game would have been amazing”.

      • ThatGuy3190_7

        That’s really disappointing. I’m assuming Red Dawn, or the sequel after Romance Dawn, is much better?

  • Spirit Macardi

    I was going to get the game, but I ended up asking around on Miiverse and found out that it only has Japanese audio.

    If it was a discount title that wouldn’t be an issue to me, but this costs the same as any other brand new 3DS game. Pretty inexcusable, since not only is there a full official English cast available, but even budget releases like Liberation Maiden have an English track.

    • DaiRaiOh

      Well to be fair, a ton of the characters in it haven’t been voiced yet at all in the dub on account of it being so far behind, not to mention it’d be pricey to get that many voice actors. Pricey enough to likely kill any chance of the game making a profit

      • British_Otaku

        A ton of characters not being voiced yet isn’t an excuse if you look at how FUNimation handled Unlimited Adventure in 2008, though it would be costly and slow down the release schedule.

        • DaiRaiOh

          Funimation only had to deal with a few for Unlimited. There’s about 30-40 new characters to find voices for, for this game. A big difference overall.

          • British_Otaku

            That implies that a lot of characters here are going to be voiced in cutscenes… This game is mostly unvoiced… >_>

            One Piece Unlimited Adventure needed them to cast: Franky, Young Franky, Smoker, Mihawk, Don Krieg, Kaku, Spandam, Arlong, Crocodile, Ace, Shanks, Rob Lucci, Aokiji, Paulie, Calgara, Monster Chopper, Whitebeard aside from unplayable characters and generic enemies like the Evil Guardian/Master Beast (who is non-canon), Young Zoro and at least one of the Usopp Pirates who appear in a cutscene.

            Yes, Unlimited Adventure released before they started the TV series DVD set release proper, before they even cast Shanks (and let us hear him). Some of them were recast, but most of them were maintained.

          • DaiRaiOh

            I remember many of them being voiced when I last played. And regardless, even if one needs to voice 10-15 characters, it’s costly, especially if there’s not enough local talent around because then you’re stuck paying to fly people in along with accommodations for something that most One Piece fans can live without. Would be a very pointless expense for what is honestly a niche game that is lucky to even be localized in the first place.

      • Warboss Aohd

        solution? find VA’s to play as them temporarily.

        • DaiRaiOh

          Even temporarily, it’s still costly to do so and they aren’t looking to spend a lot on what is essentially a niche game. It’s not something that’s gonna get them much as far as more sales go, so no point in making such a bad business move

          • Warboss Aohd

            true, but it solves the ‘haven’t been voiced yet’ problem.

            and that’s all i was referring to.

    • Eric Harris

      Now I already bought mine of course being an RPG collector. But hearing it has Japanese audio only would make ME personally, MORE likely to buy it. Very rarely do I think the English dub in an RPG is better than the original. The last dub I loved more than the original is way back to the Slayers anime series.

      • AuraGuyChris

        The 4Kids Dub was horrible.

        Don’t diss the Funimation Dub. Nami is hilarious to hear when she’s super angry.

    • Most of the dialogue in the game is completely unvoiced, there’s only a small amount of talking and it’s mostly in short video cut scenes.

      Maybe the video and audio are not separable?

      It was priced pretty much as a discount title here in Europe, they are just gouging you guys.

  • Harvey Tejada Loto

    op pirate warriors2 on ps3 is better than this

  • Eric Harris

    Here I thought this game was supposed to be crap but if it just missed greatness that must mean it’s a pretty good RPG. I look forward to playing my copy, after Bravely Default that is.

    • It more means that you can easily pinpoint what could be fixed and they had the right idea. They just … skimped on the execution.

  • ragingmerifes

    I almost fell asleep playing the PSP version once. This game is terrible.

  • Brandonmkii

    Grabbed two physical copies. No regrets.

  • I’m glad I saw this article… I have heard mixed reviews so this was very helpful!!!

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