Congratulations, Naruto. D3. You’ve broken the mold on license games. Naruto games have just kept getting better, and they’ve actually been taking bold new steps in their games’ respective genres. So now we’re sitting here, checking out Naruto: Path of the Ninja 2, and all I can do is sit here and be impressed. After sitting around at this laptop a few months ago, lamenting about the perfectly unimpressive original Path of the Ninja title, it’s impressive just how far these games have come. This is, quite possibly, the first anime license game that people who don’t like the source material can enjoy.
While the original PotN was mostly based on the anime series (though it lazily conceded everything that couldn’t be done with crappy, standardized, GBA sprites), PotN2 has a decent, albeit strange, story. PotN2 focuses in on a new village which sits upon a big, evil, gigantic catfish. Obviously, the townsfolk get attacked by a trio of evil ninjas, who want to (for some reason) release said catfish, as well as evil spirits that send everyone around them into a fit of uncontrollable rage. A lone survivor of the village stumbles to the Hidden Leaf alongside series mainstays Naruto, Sakura and Kakashi, who get deployed by the Village’s leader, Tsunade, to deal with the problem (obviously, they choose to send Naruto in rather than all the grownup ninjas with swords and lightning hands and such). (Note: the story ends up incorporating a huge block of the cast, as well, so fans of the obscure characters will be pleased to have the opportunity to pick basically whoever they want.
While the story is new, the gameplay doesn’t follow suit to the same degree, with fairly typical, randomly-encountered, turn-based battling. It has a few tweaks, first and foremost being how every battle takes place on two four-by-three panels (one for the good guys, one for the bad), which effect offense and defense (front row is high attack, low defense, vice versa for back row, and in the middle for both when in the center), and who attacks will hit (for example, Choji’s Human Boulder attack will hit two adjacent rows of the enemy’s panel, so if there are two badguys, one on top of the other, they will both be hit). While this sounds painfully unimpressive, there is a great, deep customization system in the same vein as Final Fantasy VIII that offers the opportunity to add new moves, and balance various resistances to enemy attacks. Add to this how there are slews of characters, and you get the shot to have a great big bunch of ninjas for any situation you can imagine. This is great for somebody like me, who loves having customizable characters. Add in a fairly compelling story, and you get a game that is hard to stop playing.
The graphics and sound department is what holds the game back from having a statistically impressive score, however. Most of the sprites and areas are leftovers from past, Japanese installments in the series (which came out on the GBA). The music may or may not have come over from the GBA, too. I’m not sure, but either way, it sounds like it. There are some randomly interjected one-liners recorded for the characters getting pumped up out of battle, or when they trade blows in-battle but those aren’t particularly important or impressive. Regardless, all this adds up to “lazy.” Not that it matters. It’s the game, right? Not the graphics?
Perhaps most impressive is the slick online battling mode, a la Pokemon Diamond/Pearl, complete with random matchmaking (and…you know…those goofy friend code things). It can be quite fun, if you can get somebody who doesn’t have a disgustingly powerful party (my first fight was bringing Naruto, Sakura, Choji and Ino against Guy, Kakashi and super-powered Naruto…it ended before I even got a move in), and there’s incentive there to put some extra hours into the game to find that perfect party and raise them to their maximum potential. Opponents are hard to come by, though, so it’ll be tough to do much through the matchmaking, but a forum is bound to pop up for competitive Naruto fighting. The only problem with it is how there’s only one place in the game to get online (compared to Pokemon having a place at every Pokemon Center). Other than that, it’s a potentially incredible innovation for the RPG genre.
Path of the Ninja 2 is basically D3 making the best with what they had, and doing something impressive with it. They took what could have been some goofy license and made a solid RPG with a unique online multiplayer mode and made an all-around solid title. While the graphics hold it back from being totally complete, it has enough there to hold any RPG fan over. So fans of the series should rush out and buy it right now, and RPG fans should add it to the list.