Reviewed: January 13, 2007
Released: November 14, 2006
Want to be a ninja? You get to risk life and limb to protect your village from bandits and rival ninja clans all on a salary of just rice balls a day. Not enough for you? Act now and your training in all the ways of ninjitsu will be included absolutely free. Learn the powerful Shadow Clone technique, and who can forget the beguiling power of the Sexy Jutsu? Yes, thatís right, all this can be yours for the low, low price of $39.99, oh and bout 30 hours of feeling totally ripped off.
You heard correct! All your favorite characters from Naruto have come to your console with 25 missions of fighting frenzyÖ or something very nearly like it, in Naruto: Uzumaki Chronicles, the latest installment in a growing franchise that hopes to compete with the success of Dragon Ball Z.
Naruto: Uzumaki Chronicles plays surprisingly like a 3D fighting game rather than an action title. Itís due mostly to the level design, which consists mostly of circular arenas populated with a small group of enemies. You beat down the bad guys; collect the XP and items they drop, and pop back to the world map.
Iím getting ahead of myself though. To start, Naruto:UC is the newest title based on the popular Shonen Jump comic. This title lets you actually live the depressing monotony of daily life for a ninja. After your training (Available from the main menu or through the story. Itís necessary, so do it at some point, but unfortunately, awkward to get through, and fairly descriptive of the overall game experience.) you can accept missions based on your level, with the first being distressingly simple and getting progressively harder. After accepting a mission you then leave the village and travel around a world map (think the world map from Final Fantasy: Tactics, but much slower) to get the job done.
It sounds simple, and when you throw in the ability to team up with other ninja from your village and switch out on the fly it sounds fun too. It doesnít quite work out that way. The first problem I had was from the missions themselves. The first on is a simple, protect the cart full of stuff on the way to the shop. You get into a few fights and then the cart is delivered. Ta da! End of story.
The next mission is a little murkier though, as you just have to go out and beat on bandits for an unspecified time. Then you return to the village to see if youíve handed out enough knuckle sandwiches. The problem that I had was you are never told that you should return to the village to check how well youíre doing, so I spent something like 90 minutes repeating the same three or four random encounters waiting for a ĎMission Completeí to be thrown up on the screen. That never happened, and what probably should only take four of five fights instead took 30 and I was completely bored. Even if the mission was supposed to take that long, thatís excessive considering every other mission of the same level took like 10-15 minutes tops.
Aside from the mission objectives being vague at times, theyíre also repetitive. Protect the cart. Protect the cart again, but this time itís fragile so you have to be more careful of it getting attacked. Maybe itís just me, but protect missions are such a pain, and no, there are no missions you can skip. You just have to keep butting your head against the same brick wall until it comes down or you have a nice concave shape to your skull.
The game does have a few things to brighten up the drudgery. The combo and fighting systems, while not groundbreaking, are slickly executed and fun despite how limited they are. You also have the ability to equip Ďplatesí which can have Ďchipsí placed in them to increase your stats or increase your abilities. So the game makes an attempt at being an action/RPG, but doesnít really get too far with it.
After your first few missions, you get the ability to team-up with other ninjas from your village and can switch out with them on the fly during a fight. It is limited in that they can only remain in combat while for a short time, before Naruto subs back in while their meter recharges. So while they each offer unique attacks and abilities, you are mostly going to be playing Naruto.
At first glance the character models look like they just took the two characters and gave them some volume. The characters are faithful to the style of the cartoon or comic (wherever you may know Naruto from), but on closer inspection they look plastic. Itís like the game has been animated with cheap action figures molded out of a single piece of material. While the animations are good and give them a sense of weight, you canít help but feel that they are hollow somehow. Itís hard to explain, but basically they look more like characters you would see if this game were a release title for the PS2 and not one coming at the end of the consoleís life cycle.
The cinematics are all done using in game graphics, so they are nothing remarkable. The colors pop and the effects are nice, but nothing Activision or Square-Enix would feel threatened by.
In game the effects are also good, but after going through training youíve seen pretty much everything; now spend the next 30 hours or so repeating them ad nausea. The same can be said for the arenas you fight in. They arenít bad, but you can only repeat the same fight on the same mountainside so many times before you just feel like chucking this glamorous ninja lifestyle for a cubicle and TPS reports.
As for the world map and menus they arenít much. Worse, you almost spend as much time there as you do actually fighting because of how slow the animation is for moving from point to point on the map. In fact the menus seem almost tacked on, like the programmers forgot they needed them and then just grabbed code for them from a NES game.
Musically, how should I put this, itís not quite as bad as listening to a cat being sawn in half with a band saw, but itís close. The music is pretty quiet and can be turned down in the options menu, so donít go tearing your ears off just yet.
As if this werenít enough pain though, there are voice actors. I think a total of about three of them, maybe a few more. I say this because the bandits sound exactly like the shopkeeper who you deliver your first wagonload of goods to. That sort of ruins the whole suspension of disbelief thing, but budgets are nasty things I would imagine. Donít even ask about the dialogue; that will make you want to go all Van Gogh on yourself.
At 25 missions the game has plenty of content to keep your button mashing heart content, but at what cost? With random encounters built into the game you can get your moneyís worth out of it, but most likely you will have satisfied yourself with about 3 or 4 hours of play. Anything after that is either because you are that big a fan or you have that high a tolerance for repetitive activity. Might I recommend a career with the IRS if that latter is the case?
This is your typical franchise title. It is on the market as a loss leader for the company because the series is popular at the moment and it could be put together on the cheap. There is nothing severely wrong with the game, but there are more entertaining ways to spend a buck.