Unlike the majority of today’s popular long-running shōnen anime and manga series, Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece has, by and large, escaped widespread negative criticism. This is primarily due to its one-of-a-kind art style and sly subversion of overused action-adventure tropes that continue to devalue the likes of Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto and Tite Kubo’s Bleach. However, when it comes to One Piece’s video-game adaptations, the results have been far less satisfactory (think Dragon Ball Z, only worse). Following the disastrous One Piece: Pirate Warriors and its 2013 sequel, One Piece: Romance Dawn is the latest attempt to bring an interactive One Piece experience stateside, porting a 2012 PSP title to the Nintendo 3DS. Grievously, on all fronts, developer Three Rings refuses to do any sort of meaningful updating to the product, presenting an aesthetically revolting, monotonous, franchise-forsaking endeavor that should have Oda-sensei throwing a temper tantrum in response.
Even before delving into young, straw hat-wearing buccaneer Monkey D. Luffy’s quest to become the Pirate King, Romance Dawn fails in its visual interpretation of the source material, implementing lusterless dialogue boxes and elongated waves of text combined with square character portraits to tell the story. Without any voice acting, trudging one’s way through the loose translations of major plot points from Oda’s works quickly becomes a test of self-discipline; dozing off may be a common side effect of playing Romance Dawn, a game so uniformly lifeless that it bares scant tonal resemblance to the high-energy antics on display in many a One Piece chapter adorning the pages of Weekly Shōnen Jump.
Describing the game’s battles and stock dungeon-crawling sections as mundane is an act of tremendous generosity; Three Rings seems to believe that slapping on a no-frills, copycat RPG structure to a cherished property is enough to satiate the appetites of fans. Everything here, from the hackneyed AP-based attack and XP-gain procedures to the lazy application of abilities and collectables, is sophomoric in design and execution. Artificial intelligence is also a massive annoyance, as CPU opponents don’t appear to be penalized for the same battlefield blunders that players are, avoiding turn-ending consequences because of boundary-crossing support maneuvers. So many aspects are tacked on that’s it’s difficult to keep a running tally, like the dull item crafting and skill-expansion systems, which are woefully short-sighted in their efficiency, offering very few instances of genuine character enhancement.
If nothing else, Three Rings could have put in the extra man hours to salvage Romance Dawn from the germinating trash heap of poorly actualized One Piece games by at least paying tribute to Oda’s spirited creation. Yet, since they abstain from doing so, apparently with almost every fiber of their being, they’ve put forth a product so systematically undercooked as to make even the most unflappable One Piece zealots question their faithfulness.