Well, here it is. The first RPG based on the rapid-fire Naruto is finally out on the Nintendo DS with Naruto: Path of the Ninja, and as with pretty much every other Naruto game thus far, PotN is a perfect addition to some sort of purgatory for gamers. The fastest way to get a grasp on PotN is to just think of what a generic handheld RPG would look, play and sound like. Thing is, despite how perfectly mediocre PotN is, that still puts it above most license games, and many RPGs on the DS.
We all know the story for the Naruto series, yet I’m contractually obligated to summarize it in this review. The Naruto series is about a boy between age 12-16 (named Naruto), depending on who you ask and how far they’ve read, and his life as a ninja. Naruto lives in a town called the Village of the Hidden Leaf where, essentially, everyone is a ninja (but not really, it’s just that there aren’t any non-ninja characters). Around the time of Naruto and co.’s birth, a giant demon attacked the Leaf village. The Fourth Hokage, head of the village at the time, used some ninja magic, and pulled the demon’s soul out of its body and stuck it in Naruto. Naruto grew up, not knowing that he was carrying the demon, and since everyone else knew he harbored the monster that killed hundreds, they came to resent him. He hangs out with his crew of fellow ninjas, Sasuke and Sakura, and is lead by Kakashi, and together they go around doing organized mercenary work through the Hokage, which sets the stage for the various adventures that the team gets pulled into.
As stated, PotN is quite possibly the most average RPG you’ll play. The battle system is very simple turn-based RPG fodder. Random encounters occur when roaming around certain areas, and then a battle begins. From there, the typical attack, defend, jutsus (magic) and item options appear, and are chosen by the player during one of the party members’ turns. The game attempts to make a couple additions to distinguish it from being a completely bare-bones RPG. Battles take place on two three-by-four planes, one for the enemy and one for the party. Different jutsus take up a certain number of blocks around the opponent; Sasuke’s fireball jutsu, for example, takes up a three-by-three square, with the target at the center and any opponents also caught in the jutsu’s effective range take damage as well. Jutsus are also accompanied by a silly little touch screen rubdown or a press-the-buttons session to boost attack power, though it adds very little to the gameplay.
Both playable characters and enemies can move around before they attack. Additionally, there is a silly little “chemistry” system that manifests throughout the game and in-battle. Much like in the recent Final Fantasy games, various actions, simple things like answers in conversations and using items, but mainly a between-mission ramen-eating thing between Naruto and a party member, all effect chemistry between party members. When chemistry is high, party members can sometimes attack in unison during battle, as well as other, less-important things. Both the chemistry and the movement-influenced battling fail to really distinguish it from any other typical RPG. There are some issues with over-the-top bosses as well, necessitating in a few level grinding sessions, but none of this really results in it being a bad game. The game focuses in on mission-centric plot advancement.
The game ends up being the most plot-accurate Naruto game yet, with most of the story, up to the Chunin Exam. However, some of the early phases are chopped up, edited and placed out-of-order in terms of the story as a whole, but this isn’t especially important. There are other random missions added to the game, which mainly boil down to getting to the other end of an area, fighting a boss, then getting some money, and their main function is to pan out the story. The game lacks the punch at the impactful moments like the anime or manga, but fans will appreciate it if they’re looking for an accurate adaptation of the anime.
In terms of graphics and sound, the game falls short of pretty much anything on the DS. PotN was initially a GBA game – and it looks and sounds like it. Some of the battle animations were taken from the more-recent DS game, but most of the time, the game will be played with 32×32 pixel sprites and maps. The sound is mainly comprised of midis and the occasionally-interjected bit of voice acting from the anime. Needless to say, this is dated beyond measure. In all seriousness, I play the game with the volume off.
PotN is one of those license games that will be greatly appreciated by fans and will be disregarded by everyone else. Its average battle system and unimpressive graphics really doesn’t do much, and there isn’t anything to really appeal to the average gamer. There is some value there for RPG fans with a fairly lengthy amount of playing time for a handheld, but for the most part, this is a for-fans-only endeavor.