It is with an undeniable tenacity that One Piece: Romance Dawn appears to strike fear into the hearts of many. Handheld conversions of One Piece: Unlimited Cruise SP and Unlimited Cruise SP 2 were such souring experiences, that my expectation had already been that this PSP-cum-3DS port would find itself sailing through similar waters. A prediction that it disappointingly fulfilled.
With 72 manga volumes and more than 600 anime adaptations behind it, Eiichiro Oda’s creation is in an enviable position in which it has an extensive bevvy of source material to draw inspiration from. So much so, that any gaming transition need only pluck a swashbuckling chapter, drum up a solid gameplay concept that can progress players through it, and then refine that idea toward perfection.
Developer Three Rings try just that with One Piece: Romance Dawn appears, selecting the introductory Easy Blue Saga to retell how Monkey D. Luffy began to pursue his dreams of obtaining the world’s ultimate treasure, One Piece, to become the Pirate King. This is accentuated by animated cutscenes remastered by Toei Animation, although these are soon undermined by ridiculously slow-paced manga-styled segments that will see players desperately trawling through conversational text as boredom quickly creeps in. These are accompanied by character portraits that fail to portray any emotion in response to the lines that they are delivering.
Beyond this, One Piece: Romance Dawn appears continues to broadly misfire in all directions. Once you’re eventually beyond the relentless text, you will be let loose on the game’s world. Sailing across the world map hides a rather linear progression, that sees you dock with individual islands on which you’ll blitz through dialogue before being thrust into a more explorative dungeon. Sadly these are limited to dull, uninspired corridors that see repeated use of the same assets meaning that they look the same no matter which direction you turn. Barrels and crates are strewn about becoming the latest incarnation of Hell on Earth until you discover an exit marked with dual “Boss” signposts. (Crikey.)
Whilst you can choose to run down most with relative ease, jogging to unlock any treasure chests that you may stumble across, these corridors are peppered with random encounters in an attempt to elongate your time navigating them. QTE ‘Grand Stream Actions’ help you bypass these, requiring you to quickly select the unguarded turning to skip any impending confrontation. Which brings us to combat situations, perhaps the game’s one saving, if underdeveloped, grace.
The result of unintentionally eating a Gum-Gum Fruit, Luffy’s rubberised body is the source of his battle prowess in a way that Stretch Armstrong could have only dreamed. Adopting the common turn-based approach, players wait for their opportunity to strike before choosing what to do. Action Points are expended for your basic combo attacks, which in turn generate Tension Points that are required for special skills that deal greater damage. Status effects switch things up, but these instances soon fall into monotony with bosses being little more than a grind to see whose HP meter is whittled down first. Levelling allows you to strengthen your party as expected, whilst a notable item crafting system lets you create equipment to improve upon their base statistics. Where console iterations have begun to get the fluidity of One Piece’s combat right, their handheld counterparts still continue to miss the mark.
Neither stereoscopic 3D nor StreetPass support reveals this for what it is, another hastily put together port that doesn’t even take the time to address criticism directed at its origin. Which is a shame, as there are glimmers of potential that are never fully realised to deliver the handheld experience that One Piece’s fanbase has long deserved.