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Naruto: Path of the Ninja
Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: D3
Developer: Takura Tomy, TOSE
Genre: Traditional RPG
Format: Cartridge
Released: US 10/23/07
Official Website: English Site



Scorecard
Graphics: 75%
Sound: 73%
Gameplay: 78%
Control: 90%
Story: 81%
Overall: 76%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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The Grandia-esque point-and-click overland.
 
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Why would Naruto want to leave the ramen shop?
 
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Standard fare RPG battle commands.
 
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Spin that wheel!
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Neal Chandran
Naruto: Path of the Ninja
11/20/07
Neal Chandran

Believe it! Naruto: Path of the Ninja for the Nintendo DS is reportedly a North American exclusive that combines aspects of the various Japanese Game Boy Advance Naruto RPGs with a few DS specific touches. For those who do not know, Naruto is a manga and anime series that is quite popular with the 10-13 year old male demographic. It stars a young boy named Naruto Uzumaki, who is a ninja-in-training. Naruto has not had an easy life, because he possesses the spirit of a nine-tailed fox demon that terrorized his village twelve years ago. Therefore, he has lived his entire life as a hated outcast. Only one man, Iruka-sensei, truly believed in Naruto; and later on at the Ninja Academy a girl named Hinata Hyuga develops unconditional respect and admiration for the boy and has a long standing crush on him that he's completely oblivious to. What makes Naruto special is that he is not a mopey crybaby emo-kid. No, he is a hot-headed wisecracker whose irreverent wit and punk-ish style go against the longstanding traditional values and techniques of his ninja brethren. Although Naruto is the class clown, a bit of a pest, and notoriously thick-headed, he is a dedicated pupil with a heart of gold, whose never-say-die attitude and determination to become a hero often win the day.

Story?!?! The best aspect of a Naruto game (Control notwithstanding) is the STORY?!?! Believe it!

Regarding the story, Naruto: Path of the Ninja comes with some major handicaps. One handicap is that multiple seasons of the anime series (reportedly 80 or so episodes) have been compressed into a 12-15 hour RPG. Because of this, many details present in the manga and anime storylines are either glazed over, retooled, or omitted here. In addition, the Naruto saga continues well beyond the ending of the game. Though the game ends at a fairly reasonable point, it still feels incomplete, because there are unresolved plot points and more to tell. But like our plucky hero Naruto, the game does not let its handicaps stop it from providing a solid story with a great cast throughout its duration.

The game begins with Naruto and his classmates, Sakura Haruno and Sasuke Uchiha, waiting for the chronically tardy Kakashi-sensei. The three have finished their preliminary training at the Ninja Academy under Iruka-sensei and are now ready to begin Genin level ninja training. Genin ninjas are divided up into three person squads with a Jonin (high level ninja) for missions and these three, along with Kakashi-sensei, are Squad 7. After a few humdrum missions, this story arc caps off with Squad 7 and Kakashi-sensei taking on a very dangerous mission helping a bridge builder and his village stand up to a hostile corporate slimeball and a pair of elite shinobi. The next story arc is the Chunin Exam story arc where Naruto and his friends undergo the grueling trials to become Chunin level ninja. The final story arc of the game follows the Chunin exams where Naruto and company learn about, and hopefully foil, the plot of Gaara and the Sand Ninja. Although Naruto is not the most plot driven anime and manga series out there, I enjoyed the storylines presented in the game and was not ready for it to end as soon as it did. Some plot points may have been glazed over, but the vital ones are given proper due.

The main strength of the story lies in its cast. Not only are Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke nicely fleshed out and developed, but other player characters and even some non-player characters are given depth and development as well. Even some short-lived villains such as the rogue shinobi Zabuza display depth and development during their allotted screen time. The writers did an excellent job here. The dialogue is well-written, snappy, and wonderfully captures the hip flavor of the Naruto anime. Not only do characters engage in lengthy conversations with each other, but they frequently have lengthy introspections as well. One aspect I really like is that the game manages to capture important themes from the Naruto saga. For example, many characters in the Naruto universe have similar "societal reject/outcast" back-stories as Naruto does, but idiosyncratic circumstances alter each person's respective world view. Some of the most poignant moments in the story are when Naruto better realizes this. Certainly, the anime and manga flesh out and develop the characters and overarching themes more so than this RPG does, but as far as RPG characters and themes go, I have played some big name RPGs that did not develop or flesh out their characters or themes as well as Naruto: Path of the Ninja does.

An unconventional ninja kid in a conventional RPG? Believe it!

The gameplay is as traditional as typical linear Japanese RPGs get: walk around town, talk to people, buy equipment, go to the Grandia-esque point-and-click overland, click on an enemy infested area, explore, build levels, advance plot, peruse menus to check on your characters, and all that good stuff. As is good practice in any handheld RPG, players can save any time they want to outside of battle. The dungeon areas are not difficult to navigate, but the controls feel slippery during exploration. It is nothing that will hinder enjoyment of the game, though. Battles occur randomly (when will Japanese RPGs finally abandon random encounters for good?) and the encounter rate is medium-high. As long as you don't run from too many battles, there is a low need to level grind. However, sometimes a plot point may encourage you to grind and it is a good idea then to grab a level or two. I'm not a fan of the shared EXP mechanic (i.e. if a battle yields 60 experience points that means 20 for each of your three fighters), but it is less annoying in this game because enemies are fairly generous in doling out EXP.

The battles are turn based and intuitive to anyone who has played a Japanese RPG. Commands such as "attack," "item," and "escape" are self explanatory. "Move" and "Jutsu" are two interesting ones. The battlefield is a grid similar to that of the Mega Man Battle Network games for Game Boy Advance or Xenosaga I-II for DS. Up to 3 heroes (4 during a plot point where a guest joins the battle party) can participate in battle and are positioned on an invisible 4 x 3 grid with enemies on an invisible 4 x 2 grid. Selecting "Move" allows a character to move to a different square within the grid. Standing closer to an enemy allows you to inflict more damage, but if an enemy gets close to you, it can inflict more damage on you. In addition, if your party members are in particular formations, they can receive statistics boosts and sometimes status immunities. In the Naruto universe, "Jutsu" refers to special skills characters can do, be they offensive, defensive, or support skills. These cost "chakra" to use. To RPG veterans, Jutsu= magic and chakra= MP. In order to boost the strength of Jutsus, or even successfully execute them, players may have to perform tasks like quickly spinning a wheel on the DS' touch screen with the stylus or inputting a series of button presses in a short amount of time similar to Sabin's Blitzes in Final Fantasy 6. Players will mostly use Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke in battle, but later on in the game other characters such as Neji Hyuga, Shikamaru Nara, and Rock Lee can join the party. I am disappointed that Hinata Hyuga is not a playable character as she became a personal favorite of mine.

There are a couple of notable features regarding the gameplay. One is that a Whack-A-Mole style touch screen mini-game featuring Naruto clones becomes accessible after beating the game. The other is that Naruto can build chemistry between himself and party members for fun (chemistry does not seem to affect anything in the game.) Chemistry building occurs at the ramen shop, where Naruto can choose to dine with one other party member and their chemistry can go up or down depending on the type of ramen Naruto orders. Naruto is a ramen junkie so he likes it all, but the other party members have more discerning tastes. Party members will always comment on the ramen and some of the dialogue is funny when Naruto picks the wrong kind. However, these exchanges hardly compare to the dinner scenes in the Grandia games.

A new-school ninja with old-school aesthetics? Believe it!

The 2D sprite based graphics have a high-resolution 16-bit RPG aesthetic and do not tax the DS' capabilities at all. In fact, I don't think the graphics would tax the Game Boy Advance's capabilities either. The field graphics are brightly colored and easy on the eyes, but do not have any exceptional detailing. The battle graphics contain more vividly colored environments and larger, more detailed character sprites. Enemies, other than bosses, are generic and there is more palette swapping than you can shake a stick at. Although there are minimal battle animations on the bottom screen, anime portraits of characters appear on the top screen during special attacks. Anime stills also appear on the top screen during some story scenes. The visuals in the game look fine and the Naruto universe appears as it should, but the DS is capable of much more.

The music is standard fare 16-bit sounding RPG music with high quality MIDI. There are your requisite field, dungeon, town, battle, heroic scene, poignant scene, etc. themes found in any RPG. The music is not particularly memorable but it gets the job done without grating on one's ears. A few pieces here and there have a more traditional Japanese feel to them, but the soundtrack is mostly by-the-numbers JRPG music. Sound effects also sound like they were ripped out of a SNES RPG. During battles and some key scenes, there are very brief voice clips from the North American voice actors of Naruto. These voice clips are not high quality recordings. They are far softer than the music and sound slightly muffled. Even though the DS does not have the world's greatest sound chip, developers have proven that high quality sound can come out of a DS.

This review is almost over? Believe it!

The objective reviewer in me would sum up Naruto: Path of the Ninja in one word: mediocre. There isn't much here that has not already been done in Japanese RPGs before and if you keep up with the Naruto manga or anime, there is nothing you haven't already read or watched before. But as far as license based video games go, this one is actually decent. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the writing and the depth of the characters in the story. As far as Naruto video games go, this one is unique in that it is an RPG rather than a fighting game or platformer. It also stays true to the Naruto mythos without adding any unnecessary Mary Sue-ism (*cough* InuYasha: Secret of the Divine Jewel *cough*). Although Naruto: Path of the Ninja is not a bad RPG and was certainly better than I expected it to be, there are far better RPGs out there for the DS.



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© 2007 Takuya Tomy, D3. All Rights Reserved.


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