Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Review: Naruto Rise of a Ninja

System: XBOX 360

Rating: Teen (Blood, Suggestive Themes, Violence)

Players: 1-2

With the most recent Naruto Shippuden game now on store shelves, I thought I'd go back and revisit an older Naruto game that deserves a lot more credit than it gets. Rise of a Ninja is a unique foray into the world of Naruto and his quest to become Hokage.

I'll be the first to admit I was a Naru-tard way back in the day.  I couldn't get enough of the show.  Then I backed off a bit.  So, I went into this game with a bit of a chip on my shoulder.  Right away, however, I found out how wrong that assumption was.

The game's story mode follows the first three seasons or so.  Gameplay starts with graduation from the academy and ends with the Chuunin Selection Exam.  In between plot points, players can explore Konoha Village, which was painstakingly re-created for this game.  Honestly, I was really impressed by the level of detail put into the village. All the major locations from the series are included, as are some side locales that got maybe a short scene in an episode (bookstore with Konohamaru, anyone?).  This was a welcome suprise to me, and goes to show just how much detail went into this game's development.

The background audio was ripped right from the series, and fit into every part of the game just right.  "Bad Situation" is the main fighting theme, and "Naruto's Daily Life" plays in the background of Konoha Village, amongst others.  All the music from the first soundtrack in included, along with some original tunes composed specifically for the game.  I thought this was pretty cool, because it tied the anime series and the game together.

Someone's in trouble, and it ain't me!
Adding to the depth of the game, Naruto Rise of a Ninja also includes all the original voice actors from the anime series reprising their roles.  Much like Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill coming back to Arkham Asylum for Batman and the Joker, respectively, this adds to the feel of the game.  Watching Kakashi chastise Naruto while hearing the same voice actor doing it is just plain awesome and adds to the ambience of the game.  My only complaint is that they didn't include the Japanese dub, which would have been an easy inclusion.  Personally, I don't like Naruto's voice in the dub.  The other characters are fine, but Naruto had an entirely different sound to him in the Japanese version.  He was whiny all the same, sure.  But there was something about the way his character was voiced that was more redeeming in the Japanese version.  But that's a rant for another time.

Naruto's combat might feel like a fighting game, but it has a definite RPG influence.  Naruto has a set amount of HP and Chakra to use during fights, but this can be increased by completing main and side missions.  In addition, you can earn special currency from missions to unlock new techniques, weapon power-ups, and recovery items.  Not only that, but special techniques, like jutsus, are done using the analog sticks.  The implementation of this is surprisingly solid, aside from having to remember which way to point the sticks. Timing a Kage Bunshin (Shadow Clone) jutsu to trigger right before the enemy hits takes skill, not to mention a lot of luck.  Jutsus look crazy awesome, too.  The level two and level three Shadow Clones use four and six barrages, respectively, and have shorter reaction times to press the buttons.

The other nice thing about Rise of a Ninja's combat is that it's simple, yet engaging.  There's no insane combos to memorize, no wacky special inputs (well, aside from the jutsus...), and yet there's enough nuance for fighting game fans to latch on to.

As characters take damage, they unlock what is called "rage mode"  During that time, players are invincible and do more damage, but have they a limited time to do it.  If the opponent attacks them, their meter runs out faster.  Rage mode is a perfect time to land some serious damage, without risking loss of life.

Naruto Rise of a Ninja also includes clips from the series as breaks between game play.  While it's cool to see those get screen time, did they have to require the english dub?  Like I said above, they could have included the Japanese and brought together a lot more people into the fold.  Sure, synchronizing another audio track takes time and resources, but CyberConnect2 did it for .Hack.  It's not that tough to implement.

There is an online multiplayer component to this game, but hardly anyone plays it anymore.  That makes getting most of the achievements near impossible.

All told, Naruto Rise of a Ninja is a fun little romp, and definitely worth checking out. Even for people who have never had anything to do with the orange-suited brat, there's enough in this game to make it worth your time.

For the old fogeys out there who remember the early days of Naruto, there's enough nostalgia to go off of to make this game worth your while.

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