Naruto: Rise of a Ninja

It’s tempting write an obligatory introduction to what exactly Naruto is, but instead of trying to condense years of the popular manga and anime into one paragraph, I’ll simply link you to the Wikipedia article and you can read up on it for yourself. And, to be honest, if you haven’t at least watched one episode of Naruto before, this game isn’t aimed at you.

If, however, you are even a tame fan of Naruto, if you know what I mean when I say “chidori” or “sexy no jutsu”, then this is the game for you. Developed by Ubisoft Montreal, the same folks behind the excellent Assassin's Creed, Naruto: Rise of a Ninja is a sandbox adventure game with fighting elements that’s a lot more enjoyable and a lot less messy then it sounds on paper.

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The game takes place between the very beginning of the series and ends after the invasion of Konoha. That means you get quite a few seasons’ worth of content to play through. Everything here occurs in the same order it happened in the anime, so don’t expect anything new. There are some sub-quests, but they usually revolve around fetching and collecting and nothing more.

The game follows a certain pattern in regards to the gameplay. Players start off in the beautiful, cel-shaded rendition of Konoha and must run and jump their way to their objective. In this regard, the game is a lot like Assassin’s Creed. However, it lacks the reactive free-running, and Naruto doesn’t have the feeling of weight that Altaïr has, which makes controlling him difficult at times.

Once players reach their objective, they will engage in battles similar to the current Naruto fighting games. The battle system isn’t particularly deep, but it is accessible and enjoyable, with its relative simplicity keeping things feeling fast and fun. You can also engage in a mode simply based around the battles, if you want a more traditional fighting game experience with a Naruto license. It’s a good bonus, but not worth purchasing the game exclusively for.

An especially fun part of the game is the ability to execute the various jutsus by using the analogue sticks in various combinations. Executing a jutsu will then trigger quick-time events in which the action will be viewed in a dramatic fashion similar to the anime. It really does a good job of getting the adrenaline pumping. You can also execute the jutsus while exploring the city, sometimes opening up hidden areas or quests.

There isn’t a whole lot to the game outside of the main quests and the battles, but the narrative really carries the game and stops it from becoming boring and repetitive. As you gain experience, you can purchase new combos, skills, attributes, and items, but it never really escapes the fact that the adventure parts feel like a glorified map. By itself it would be boring, but with the addition of the battle system, Rise of a Ninja never feels like half a game. It’s as if there are two undercooked elements to the game, but the combination certainly makes a tasty experience.

In terms of presentation, though, the game is definitely a winner. The game looks gorgeous, with the cel-shaded graphics really capturing the feel of the mange and anime. Naruto is a charming series, and that charm is captured here with grace. It’s actually almost a shame that the low-res animations cut straight from the anime stand out so badly against the beautiful high-res graphics.

Given that this is the first Naruto game to be developed outside of Japan and has been clearly developed with a Western audience in mind, the sound is based on the English dub. This might displease purists like myself, but the English voices do a good job of replicating the Japanese originals. However, for those who really can’t stand the English dub, Ubisoft has released the original Japanese voices for download on XBL. Given that the soundtrack remains unchanged from the Japanese original, everyone wins.

There isn’t really a lot to do in Rise of a Ninja, yet it never feels that way. The charm and presentation of the game is what really saves it in the end. It is, for better or for worse, an interactive tour of the anime series. Consequentially, the game is a double-edged sword: if you don’t care about the license, there is nothing to inspire you to play Rise of a Ninja; if you are a fan of the series, you might be a bit bored at having to revisit events you know well.

Still, some people - like me - will find it blissfully refreshing to revisit the earlier events in a series that has come quite far. There is an innocence to it all that is hard to describe, as if the game comes from a time more pure and simple. Given that the narrative is as strong as it ever was, that the charm and the humor is all still intact, and that the gameplay does a pretty good job of capturing the series more dramatic moments, it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan. Everyone else, however, should probably try before they buy.

"It’s really one for the fans."
- Naruto: Rise of a Ninja
Follow Own it? Rating: PG   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 30 Min


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