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One of the most popular anime shows on American TV these days, Naruto tells the story of a young boy who, as a baby, had some kind of demonic fox-like creature sealed within him. Oblivious to this, he sets out to become a master ninja, and thus must train, complete exams and take on missions in order to advance in rank. It has been translated many times into video game format, including several roleplaying games, but this 2007 release by D3 Publishers marks the first time a Naruto RPG has reached the United States.
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Graphics and Sound
The graphics aren't amazing, but they are decent for this type of game. On the whole, I'd have to say they're essentially on par with Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. There's a certain old-school, Super NES vibe to the character sprites and environments, and longtime RPG fans may appreciate this title's throwback qualities. The bottom screen contains the characters and the environments, while the top screen is used to keep track of the party, with avatar-sized character portraits resting next to their name, hit points and special attack or "Jutsu" points. The music, again, certainly echoes of the 16-bit era, which might actually be a good thing, if you appreciate the old-school classics. Characters are voiced during combat, though for the most part it's just short quips and painful grunts when wounded, and there is some voice acting during the animated introduction sequence. On the whole, the game looks and sounds just fine.
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Path of the Ninja follows the early portions of the Naruto story fairly closely. As mentioned above, Naruto himself is working to become the next "Hokage" (essentially the head ninja), and to this end he is attending a Ninja Academy in a town called the Hidden Leaf Village. He becomes a part of Squad 7, teaming with fellow ninja trainees Sasuke, his rival, and Sakura, for whom he has an unrequited crush, and the three of them must work together to solve a variety of missions. The plot is passable on the whole, but the thing is, I can't tell who this story is supposed to appeal to. If you're a Naruto fan, you're likely already intimately familiar with the events that transpire, and you'd probably be more enthralled by an original quest starring these familiar characters. If you're not a fan, you won't be dazzled by the writing, as the plot itself lacks the kind of depth found in many other DS roleplaying games.
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Take away all of the anime-inspired layers, and you have a rather traditional roleplaying game here. Combat is turn-based, and the game features random encounters. The touch screen is used to manage inventory, equip items, change the party's formation, and so forth. Once you receive a mission, usually from the Ninja Academy in town, you exit the village and emerge on a touch screen map, where you use your stylus to tap your intended destination. There, you wander around, seek out treasure chests, and engage in combat. In battle, you're presented with the basic attack, defense, flee, and item command prompts. You can also move around on the battlefield and use Jutsu special attacks. Occasionally, party members will combine their efforts for a team attack as well. On the whole, the gameplay is rather solid, although the difficulty level can be unbalanced at time.
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One of my nephews is a big Naruto fan, so I've seen and played a lot of video games based on the anime series, but I have to say this is the first one that I found myself wanting to play. I enjoy the old-school feel of the game; it hearkens back to the Super NES golden age of the genre. I have to admit that the unbalanced gameplay was bothersome, as running into an uber-powerful assassin with the ability to wipe out two party members with a single Jutsu attack tends to get annoying. Likewise, the story was no great shakes in my opinion, although fans of the cartoon will likely get a kick out of it, even if it does tread familiar ground. So the game is flawed. Nonetheless, it is a serviceable RPG, and while it doesn't do anything to make it stand out amongst a crowded collection of Nintendo DS roleplaying titles, it is certainly worth at least a rental.
A collection of articles about Naruto.