Review by AK_the_Twilight

"A Ninja's Work Is, Sadly, Never Done"

When Naruto first hit North America, few knew what to expect. While it was a huge hit in Japan, unless you were a die-hard anime fan, not much was known for the folks across the Pacific. Soon after, however, Naruto was everywhere. You started seeing kids in your school wearing their little metal headbands, practicing their handsigns for their ninja jutsus. Pretty wild, huh? But Naruto's crazy anime legacy has begun to subside in North America, but that hasn't stopped Ubisoft from cranking out another open-world adventure featuring the knucklehead from Konoha. Grab your headbands, Naruto fans, because here we go again with Naruto: The Broken Bond for the Xbox 360.

The gist of Naruto is that after a nine-tailed fox demon attacked the ninja village of Konoha (Hidden Leaf Village), the village leader sealed away the demon into a newborn, but at the cost of his own life. The newborn grew to be Naruto, a loud-mouthed, overly-excited ninja boy, who aims to earn the village's respect by becoming the village leader, the Hokage. The storyline in The Broken Bond picks up immediately after the events of Rise of a Ninja. With Gaara defeated, Naruto and his crew of ninja buddies find their village under attack by Orochimaru. The first battle, in fact, is between Orochimaru and his former teacher, the Third Hokage. The Third Hokage, after injuring Orochimaru's arms, is killed in battle. After the Third Hokage's funeral, Naruto and his friends are sent out on missions, the most immediately important being the search for the next Hokage. The tale begins with Naruto and his sensei Jiraiya searching for Tsunade, the best candidate for the next Hokage. The game progresses throughout the different battles and encounters well, though the game expectantly doesn't do much for the Naruto newcomers. It's a good narrative, and the climactic finish is portrayed just as well as in the original anime series.

Like Rise of a Ninja before it, Naruto: The Broken Bond is an open-world game. Naruto and his crew can obtain missions from different characters, compete in minigame challenges, or simply leap from building to building to earn funds and find secrets. Unlike Rise of a Ninja, however, Naruto's techniques like running up walls or atop water are streamlined considerably, now focusing on well-paced presses of the X button. Naruto and his comrades can also use their ninja jutsus to break through barriers or reach secret items. These take place in minigames and can be generally fun, but they are used so much and they slow the pace down quite a bit. They are faithfully drawn from the anime, but having to use the Shadow Clone Jutsu at every downed bridge wears thin. Along with these minigames, the game has an odd emphasis on quick-time events, which can break up the cinematics too well. While these ideas are good for the first few times, they are ultimately boring and overused.

The battle system in The Broken Bond is a respectable translation from Rise of a Ninja. The combo system using the X and Y buttons is deep and mixing in guards and jumps make for a decent fighting engine. Players can use their favorite characters' respective jutsus in battle and the overall showing of the fighting system is surprisingly robust. The different characters' moves are strong translations from the anime and you're bound to find a favorite throughout the comprehensive collection of characters from the Naruto mythology. The big problem with the battle system, especially in the Story Mode, is the repetition. More often you'll have to fight a random thief, ninja, or enemy, and you'll more than likely use the same combo over and over again until the opponent falls. While the tougher enemies will use substitution jutsus more frequently and string combos together fluidly, the majority of the battles are overly drawn-out and much too frequent. Aside from the Story Mode battles, there's a good online support for players to duke it out over Xbox Live. The players online are much more collected and challenging, and just make the regular Story Mode battles even more of a disappointment. The fighting system is deep for sure, but the overuse of lame generic enemies and simple combos hurt the concept significantly.

Even worse is the missions themselves, which range from getting gifts for a random woman to gathering plants for your sensei. To be fair, the story-based missions are more robust and follow the anime well, but the side-missions (many of which are mandatory) practically force you to traverse through the forest and navigate the same old traps with the same old jutsus. The tree leaping minigame is far too overused; the lack of some sort of warp or quick-travel system is a real problem. The puzzles throughout the missions are typically switch puzzles, using your comrades' skills to see invisible traps, or simply jumping from a sinking platform to another. They're derivative and overused, and you'll find reaching a critical story point to be a serious blessing.

Naruto: Rise of a Ninja was a phenomenal looking game and The Broken Bond continues that stride with some excellent graphic design. The overall appearance of the city of Konoha captures the visual style of the Naruto anime perfectly. Naruto and his friends are shown with brilliant colors and visual effects, and some of the best anime-shading you'll find on the 360. The overall appearance captures the feel of the show perfectly; the intense Japanese kanji in battle are full of flair, the chakra power-up effects are smooth, and seeing how each character pulls off their individual Rage Mode transformations is a real treat. To follow-up the graphics, The Broken Bond offers up a huge amount of voice acting, with strict consideration to authenticity. If you've heard it on the TV anime, you're bound to find it in The Broken Bond. The serious moments are recaptured well and the humorous ones have their charm. The authentic Naruto theme music played during the anime are also played in The Broken Bond. The developers even allowed for Japanese audio, a great move for the Naruto purists who don't find the English cast to be sufficient. Overall, The Broken Bond packs plenty of cosmetic gleam and audio-based authenticity to capture the eye of 360 owners. From the stunning graphics to the excellently voiced writing, there's plenty to see and hear in The Broken Bond.

+ Excellent presentation
+ Good online battle system
+ Fighting mechanics are surprisingly deep
+ Main storyline follows Naruto legacy well

- Minigames and quick-time events are too plentiful
- Jumping and switch puzzles are overused
- Random battles in story mode are too frequent
- Storyline is saturated with boring side-quests

Ultimately, Naruto: The Broken Bond captures the feeling of the anime well, but stumbles when it comes to making the gameplay interesting or diverse. The mindless side-quests, especially the required ones, are slow and boring. The battle system, though surprisingly complex and varied, is brought down by the random and overused Story Mode battles between generic ninjas and thieves. However, the great presentation and faithfulness to the Naruto storyline must be commended. At the end of the day, Naruto: The Broken Bond is best when it's like watching an episode of the anime: over-the-top, action-packed, and enjoyable. But once you get to the gameplay, you'll find a generally disjointed collection of overused search quests and simplistic random battles. If you need a Naruto game with solid gameplay and great presentation, pick up a game from the Ultimate Ninja series on the PS2 or PS3. Naruto: The Broken Bond does little to solve the issues of the ambitious Rise of a Ninja, leaving a repetitive and generally boring game that looks great, but plays badly.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 07/30/09

Game Release: Naruto: The Broken Bond (US, 11/18/08)

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