Review by Solid Sonic
"Play ninja with a 13-year old, orange jumpsuit-wearing, loudmouthed kid and his gloomy friend..."
BEST FEATURES: Faithful aesthetics and setting, music taken from the show adds to the mood, enjoyable adventure mode with plenty of nuances, good use of the three-person team both in and out of fights, authentic Japanese audio option.
WORST FEATURES: Iffy fighting engine.
Love it or hate it, a pretty big fixture in the world of anime (and manga) is the Naruto franchise. Get lost in a tale of a goofy, misfit ninja kid who wears all the wrong colors for his profession, never uses his inside voice, seems to have a rather severe case of ADD, and is hosting the soul of demonic beast inside his stomach all while seeking the acceptance (and/or love) of those around him. Last year, Naruto: Rise of a Ninja proved that not all anime games have to be shameful cash-ins on a successful license so now, one year later, the sequel intends to continue the trend.
Graphically, the game looks very similar to the last Xbox 360 Naruto title. Naruto and company are well-handled. While not AS accurate as I'd like (Namco's Naruto: Ultimate Ninja STORM for the PlayStation 3 has the edge as far as authenticity in 3D goes), the characters are sufficiently modeled and don't raise too many issues. Likewise, the locales Naruto visits over the course of the game match the anime's look and feel for the most part. The details of each environment have been properly researched and the game's setting will strike a chord with a diehard fan. The animation is the same as last year's game and the characters move with a style that brings the anime to life. It is a little same-ish in terms of aesthetics to Rise of a Ninja but RoaN got it right so there's no reason to really stir up what that game did graphically.
The music in this game is pulled straight from the anime's sound library, just like Rise of a Ninja. If you're a faithful watcher, you'll recognize all the background music used in The Broken Bond without much difficulty. The audio quality is high and the mood is always well-matched by the proper tune. True as well for the sound effects, which draw you into the anime's intrigue of ninja battles and crazy Chakra attacks. The ambient sound effects as you travel the world are a nice touch. Most importantly (at least to me), are is the dialogue. Naruto just wouldn't be "Naruto" without the blond kid screaming something every 3 minutes. Like RoaN, TBB includes English or Japanese voice overs (only this time they're actually included from the start, instead of having to download them). I always appreciate companies who develop their anime games to reach out to both audiences who want the original voice actors or who prefer the dialogue in their native language. In all, it's a quality package for those that value adherence to the source material.
The controls are mostly the same as Rise of a Ninja's. The main draw to the game's control scheme is the unique "Hand Seal" system. By using the analog sticks, you can "create" Hand Seals that allow you to use techniques (or "Jutsus", if you prefer) to aid you in both battle and in the field. Aside from this, the game's control scheme is intuitive and the game eases you into the various moves and abilities you have at your disposal. When the game switches to fighting mode, you have two attack buttons, a jump, and a guard button. Rounding it out are kunai and throw buttons mapped to the right shoulder buttons. The controls are sometimes a little stiff for my liking (particularly in the fighting mode, but I'll get back to that in a minute) but the game is still playable and it's not a major hindrance.
The Broken Bond picks up where the last game left off, starting around the "Chuunin Exam - Final Stage/Konoha Invasion" arc of the anime. The game opens with the death of the 3rd Hokage and then carries forward into the New Hokage and then Sasuke Retrieval arcs of the series. The adventure mode is much unchanged from Rise of a Ninja, asking the player to guide Naruto through the world while running errands/missions, getting into fights, and discovering hidden secrets in the world. There seems to be more landscape in TBB compared to RoaN and the locales that you visit are more diverse too (you don't really even see Konoha much until after the game's first arc). An improvement over the previous game is now the world can be explored by not just Naruto, but any of the other playable characters as well. Each character can lend their unique talents to help progress through the game or uncover secrets (for instance, Shikamaru can use his shadow to trip switches or help Naruto cross a trap-ridden field). The world can be crossed in a team of three (including Naruto himself), giving you two other sets of abilities in addition to Naruto's own. This new "three-man cell" dynamic also carries over into the fights. Characters can now switch in and out freely as they battle, allowing for more creativity and diversity while fighting. Unfortunately...this doesn't actually improve the fighting itself. The engine (called the "TAG Fighting Engine", same as Rise of a Ninja) used for the fights is still too stiff, too tap-tap-tap, and too cumbersome. At its core, the TAG Fighting Engine feels like a simpler version of the engine created by Eighting for the Naruto: Clash of Ninja/Naruto Gekitou Ninja Taisen series on the Nintendo GameCube/Wii but much slower and with everything feeling much heavier and sluggish (not comforting when you expect "ninja-ing" to be nimble and agile). The fighting feels like it could be so much more engaging but the engine limits you on how deep you can actually play. Improvements have been made to it over last year's design but the real root of the problem comes from the way it handles. Thankfully, the adventure mode takes up most of the single-player time so it's a minimal burden when playing alone.
Replay Value: 8
The main attraction is the game's single-player adventure/story mode. Naruto anime pursuits will know everything as it happens but the opportunity to live what they watched is the selling point. There's enough here to keep you busy for at least a couple of weeks. The game has a light level-building mechanic so boosting Naruto up to max can take a bit of dedication but it's nothing that'll drive you crazy with grinding (for the most part, you get the points you need to grade up during the game's normal flow). The new three-man cell also makes the adventure mode more engaging as you look for new ways to use your characters' special abilities to improve your chances. However, this is definitely a "once through" sort of game in that you've pretty much seen it all on the first run through. The game does have an online fighting component (like Rise of a Ninja) but, again, the fighting engine is very hit-or-miss so your entertainment with that element will vary. However, if you just want to immerse yourself into the trappings of the Naruto universe, this game serves that purpose.
Like last year's model, The Broken Bond was made for the Naruto fans. From exploring familiar locations from the anime to getting your "ninja" on, what is here is a shout out to all the faithful followers. So would a non-viewer/reader find this game fun? I'd say so. The adventure mode is not a thoughtlessly designed experience and, while the fighting engine is not as satisfying as I'd like, the fighting has it's moments. Even if you don't really "get" what's going on, from the standpoint of a gamer and not a Naruto fan, this is still worth at least renting. And who knows...you might find something you like in here...just don't let Naruto bother you too much.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/12/09
Game Release: Naruto: The Broken Bond (US, 11/18/08)
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