Review: Naruto Path of Ninja 2 (Nintendo DS)

Naruto Path of the Ninja 2
Publisher: D3
Developer: TOSE
Genre: Role Playing
Release Date: 10/15/2008

If anyone remembers my review of Naruto Ultimate Ninja Heroes 2 for the PSP, then they know I’m relatively new to the whole Naruto experience. Also, I’ve since become a pretty big fan, as the show is simply phenomenal in Japanese. I’ve watched most of the original series and Shippuuden since.

Anyway, I discovered Path of the Ninja a couple of months ago and decided a Naruto RPG sounded kind of cool. The first game followed the first half of the series up to the final battle with Shukaku. It wasn’t a great game, but it could be fun at times and had the excellent characters from Naruto to carry it. I couldn’t wait for the sequel that would deliver the incredible Naruto vs. Sasuke scenes from the show.

But apparently we missed that train.

Story

You see, this may say number two, but this is actually the third game in the original Japanese Naruto RPG series. The second game, with all of the Sasuke and Orichimaru interactions, has been skipped over so we can have an all new storyline.

The story goes such that a trio of baddies have broken the seal that contained the great Evil Spirit. Doing so causes a deadly fog to creep across the land and Naruto and company are sent out to reclaim five mirrors that can be used to recapture the beast.

That’s about it to be honest. The character interactions serve only to advance this paper thin plot and there are only a few lines with any character in them. Mostly you get some not so sly nods to the show, such as Hinata blushing around Naruto or Sakura wishing Sasuke was around when they need someone with a good fire jutsu. There’s no attempt to introduce any of the 15 or so characters you get in the game. If you don’t already know who characters such as Shino, Gaara, or Temari are, you’re not going to by the end of this game either.

What it boils down to is that even hardcore Naruto fans won’t find anything worth reading in this game. The closest to interesting the plot ever gets is when you’re forced to fight battles from your past. You’ll fight Zabusza, Haku, Kisamni, Itachi, Shukaku, and even Sasuke during flashback battles. Oddly enough, two of those battles are from the second game that we’ll never get.

So if the highlight of the game’s story is scenes from the previous games, there’s a problem. You will not enjoy this for plot. I promise you that.

Graphics

This being a port of a GBA game, the graphics are a bit outdated.

Actually, that statement is too generous. Except for the battles, the graphics in this game are about as low end as I’ve seen even for a GBA game. The sprites are vague colored shapes that have only a handful of animations. The environments are mostly bland featureless wastelands even if they’re supposed to be forests. The Village of the Leaf manages to look ok with some real attention to detail. The Sand Village on the other hand couldn’t look more bare bones. It looks nothing like what’s in the show.

The main problem is that this was the third game in the series, but it uses all of the same backgrounds and sprites the first game did. It is not nice to look at.

The battles are the best looking part of the game if only because the camera zooms in and the sprites are much larger and feature dozens of animations and even have facial expressions! Even still, there isn’t a single animation I saw that wasn’t recycled from the first game.

Audio

This is yet another case of recycling. All of the music was used in the first game and even then it was only ok. You’ll hear the same handful of tracks over and over and over again until you give up and just play with the sound off. You’d be better off listening to something else. The sound isn’t really important.

There is some sparse voice action in the game. There are maybe half a dozen moments in the story where a character will say something aloud. These show up at random. Elsewhere, the characters will yell out the name of whatever jutsu they’re performing as they do it. The voice acting is surprisingly solid for these parts. Being that I hated the American voice actors for other Naruto games, I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t spending the entire game wishing for the Japanese voice track.

There is a smattering of sound effects to round out the audio package. Most of these are simple yelps of pain from the characters or the sound of a punch landing. You get very few other sound effects such as one for when you cross water and a whoosh sound when you teleport.

The overall aural experience is underwhelming to say the least. You won’t hate it, but it’s not good enough that you won’t want to listen to some music instead.

Gameplay

There’s actually quite a bit of depth to be had for such a simple RPG.

You’ll move around a 2d plane with an overhead view and visit a few towns to get your next objective or traverse dungeons looking for treasure and enemies. All battles are decided by random encounters.

You’ll have three main party members and one alternate for each battle. At any point, you can switch out a party member for an alternate. They will also pop in if one of your team should fall. This essentially gives you for members to your team, but only three can act on any given turn. You’ll pick up about fifteen or so different characters during the course of the main story, but the only reason to ever swap out your starting cast is preference.

Battles are all turn based affairs with character’s speed determining who goes first. On your turn you can move, fight, perform jutsu, use an item, or flee. Moving is essential to strategy as you need to chose whether to have each character fight in the front, middle, or back. The closer you are, the higher your attack bonus and lower your defensive bonus. If you are in the back, your defense will be much higher but your attack will suck. You can also set the characters in various formations that will grant them bonuses. For instance, placing them all in a vertical row will grant an attack bonus. A flying V formation will give you increased defense. Also, some weapons are more effective in different positions. Swords are more useful up close. Hook and chains are most effective in the middle while battle fans can attack every enemy on the field from the back position. Formation is also important to your jutsu attacks. These are basically magic attacks that use up MP. Some jutsu are meant to heal or buff you team, but only work in a small area. If Naruto is up in the corner by himself, you might not be able to include him in the jutsu.

Beyond healing, jutsu provides your most powerful attacks. Most of them are useless, however, as attacking with your weapon will often do just as much damage without using any MP. However, some jutsus are exceptional such as Naruto’s shadow clone jutsu which allows him to attack three times in one turn and Sakura’s inner Sakura attack which highly damages one enemy as well as boosts her stats. You’ll learn new jutsu attacks at a furious pace as you level. Even still, you won’t use half of them as they just aren’t worth it. You’ll need to save your MP for more expensive attacks against harder enemies.

Each character can equip a weapon, armor, and a pair of greaves. Each character can only use certain types of equipment. For instance, Choji only uses hammers and women are the only characters who can use fans. Ten Ten is the exception, as she can use any weapon. Most weapons just offer attack bonuses, but some can add special affects such as being able to attack multiple people or having a higher chance for a critical attack. Armor tends to just increase your defense, although some can lower speed if they’re too cumbersome. Greaves increase speed. You can also find ninja tags that can grant you new jutsu attacks, boost your resistance to certain types of attacks, grant you special abilities such as being able to absorb an attack for an ally, or even allow you to summon a familiar to fight for you in battle. These are unlimited though. As you level, you gain NIN. The amount of NIN you have is the total worth of ninja tags you can have equipped at any time. You can have a few really powerful tags that grant you abilities like Rasengan, or instead utilize cheaper tags that greatly boost your stats. It’s pretty flexible, even if there are tags that are exclusive to certain characters.

The gameplay is pretty straight forward. You fight in battles. You gain experience. You level up. All increases in stats are done automatically. The real customization comes in the use of the ninja tags and equipment, not in assigning stat points. You’ll also notice how horribly linear each dungeon is. There’s usually only one way to go. If the level does end up branching, it’s only for a room with a treasure chest in it. The game’s puzzles are very puzzling at all. The most you’ll be tasked with is pressing a switch or blowing into the mic.

The only other thing worth mention is that you’ll occasionally need to use the stylus to give boosts to jutsu attacks. You’ll either have to rub the screen or draw spirals as quickly as you can to build up chakra to increase the effects of some attacks. Since you can play the entire game using the stylus to select attacks and move on the over world, this isn’t much of a problem. If you use the d-pad and buttons, you’ll still have enough time to whip out the stylus and rapidly rub away. It’s a tacked on gimmick, but it functions properly.

In the end, the battles can be intense and there is enough customization to keep you satisfied despite the bland presentation and level design. It’s the solid formula that RPGs have been using for years to great success.

Replayability

The main quest will take you no longer than ten hours tops. That’s about as short an RPG as you can find. There are little to no side quests, so it’s easy to burn through this without any problem. If you’re looking to extend the life of the game your primary options are to run around looking for those last few pieces of armor or grind until you’ve leveled up all of your characters. Thankfully, the game lets you keep going after you’ve finished the story so you can keep your team intact.

There’s also an online option that’s sure to hook a few people. You’ll be able to battle friends via friend codes or compete in random matches against people across the globe. Winning can net you new characters and your win loss ration is kept track of. The matchmaking is suspect though. I brought in my team of level seventy characters that I had just used to thrash the end boss. The game matched me up with what was supposedly a comparable team in terms of level and experience. Instead, I got every last member of my team, including my alternate, killed in two hits. I never got a turn. You see, my opponent had unlocked The Third Hokage and Jiryia and they were unstoppable. He’d also had nearly one hundred battles worth of experience. I never had a chance. Still, for those ready to dive in, you’re sure to find some intense battles against your fellow fans.

Beyond that, I can’t see any reason for replaying the story. There aren’t branching storylines or alternate endings. It will be the same dull plot and endless grinding every time. Sure it’s only ten hours long, but wouldn’t that time be better spent elsewhere? I think so.

Balance

For one thing, you level up FAST in this game. This is one of the shortest RPGs I’ve ever played and yet I was hitting the kind of levels reserved for dozens of hour’s worth of content. There was a part in the game where I was literally gaining a level every three battles. However, these didn’t matter. Leveling up doesn’t seem to make much difference. Sure it will raise your stats, but you don’t really see that affect in battle. Equipping new weapons has a much more noticeable affect. If I were to take those off I don’t think I would have done much more damage than I did at level 5.

Even still, the game is a piece of cake. Random encounters present little to no challenge even at the beginning. This is why I found it to be a waste to use any jutsu attacks on them. You can just wail on them with even your weakest characters and expect victory in a few turns. I often played without looking simply because I knew there would be no adverse affect. I got a surprising amount of time watching TV while playing this game.

Bosses are the exception. These guys have come to fight and one wrong step can cause defeat. You need to make sure you have a healer on the field at all times and you need to keep a fresh stock of restorative items so that you won’t run out of chakra. Mindlessly attacking is far too slow and you’ll rely on your powerful jutsu attacks to make it through. There were many boss battles that took me a few tries before I got it right. They are fun and challenging. These were the kinds of battles that people play a RPG for.

On the whole, the game is a piece of cake with a few tough battles tossed in so that you don’t feel completely talked down to.

Originality

It’s time for me to sound like a broken record.

This is the same game as its two predecessors. (Only one of which we got here in the states.) There are a few new gameplay features tacked on, but for the most part there is nothing to distinguish form Path of the Ninja 1.

I wish more classic turn based role playing games would take a look at this and take some ideas from the battle system. It does a good job of involving the player rather than making you feel as if you’re just navigating menus. The ability to move around the field adds a surprising amount of strategy that I just don’t see elsewhere.

Even still, I wish the stylus controls weren’t the same kind of tacked on mediocrity that we’ve seen in just about every port to the DS. If you’re going to port a GBA game, don’t add one thing and expect us to pay full price as if it was a DS game all along. It’s not fair.

Addictiveness

As I said before, the game can be a ton of fun during boss battles when you’re hanging on to your life by a thread, but the rest of the game is so easy that it is boring. I had to push myself one night just to sit down and finish this game. The random encounters were so easy and the level design so straight forward that I couldn’t help but yawn in a few places.

A good RPG can make a player anticipate the next level with glee and rewards them for their hard earned work. Since you level up so fast and it doesn’t really matter in Naruto, leveling up has no real impact and you find yourself going “oh hey. Guess I got another level. *yawn*”

That’s just doesn’t translate to a good score here.

Appeal Factor

I’m not sure, but I think there are close to ten different Naruto games for the DS by now. The market is saturated to a breaking point and with bigger name games for the Wii and PS3 having come out recently, few people are going to notice this GBA port on the DS.

This game will not appeal to anyone who’s never seen the show thanks to the lackluster story and boring design. RPG fans should look elsewhere.

If you’re a huge Naruto fan looking for a game that’s not a fighter, this is for you. You’ll get just enough fan service out of it to be worth the buy and if you really get into the online battles, the life of the game will be great extended as you try your hardest to unlock all of the Sannin and Hokages.

Miscellaneous

It is entirely possible that I was less than wowed by this game partially because I had played Path of the Ninja only a few months before. They really are so similar that it hurts and I felt like I had just spent thirty dollars for a game that I had already beaten and had no intention of ever playing again.

A lot of companies and franchises get accused of recycling the same material game after game. Considering this game utilizes all of the same locations, sprites, and items, I’d say the shoe fits here. It feels like an expansion pack rather than a sequel.

I also can’t stand the fact that we missed the real Naruto RPG 2. I was hoping this game would allow me to relive the epic battles between Naruto and Sasuke but alas, this was not meant to be. It’s saying something that the best part of this game was getting two battles from that one.

The Scores

Story: Very Poor
Graphics: Bad
Audio: Below Average
Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Poor
Originality: Very Bad
Addictiveness: Very Poor
Appeal Factor: Very Bad
Miscellaneous: Poor
Final Score: Poor Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Naruto Path of Ninja 2 isn’t a bad game per se. Rather; it suffers the stigmata of being nothing more than a poor cut and paste job. For an RPG, it is far too easy and doesn’t last nearly long enough. You’re left to wallow in mediocrity for about ten hours before you head online to watch yourself get your butt kicked by someone who’s spent a lot more time leveling than you. Only the most hardcore fans of Naruto should bother buying this game. For anyone else, this is a pass. You’ll have better luck with the console releases for your Naruto fix.

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