Naruto! RPG Style! Believe it! (Yeah, I did steal that off the back of the case.)
A long while back, I imported Naruto RPG 2 for the DS. I was very impressed with the game; the fact that I couldn’t understand a lick of Japanese didn’t seem to detract from my experience, and at the time was a good thing. I did not want to spoil the story, seeing as though I was reading the manga at the time. But, believe it or not, I got to a point in that game where I didn’t know what to do… because, you know… I can’t read Japanese. So I put it down and ended up selling it recently, and it was awfully good timing – for I received this game, which is the exact same format. I just had no clue at what point of the story this one kicked in from or whether it looked and played the same. All in all it was quite under whelming.
You turn on Path of Ninja and the title screen looks all right, but then you start up a new game and bam, you’re in Game Boy Color world. Considering this is Naruto, which is a pretty basic, solid but simple, colorful anime as far as its art style is concerned, it works to a point. But everything looks like it comes from the realms of a really well done GBC game, or a GBA game at best. This is an RPG, so there are a lot of moves to be animated and a lot of characters to be done. Compare it to a game like, say, Pokemon, an anime-style RPG game with hundreds of Pokemon and an insane amount of moves, and Naruto DS simply doesn’t look good. Then your team of Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke get chucked into a battle, and the graphics improve somewhat, but it still seems like a GBA game. Sometimes you get those games that aren’t impressive with the actual graphics themselves, but when you see the animations and they flow so well and they’re so varied, it works very well. Unfortunately, this game isn’t one of those cases. It's just too solid and stiff. That being said, the environments and characters look how they should, and as a handheld RPG it is passable, but you can’t help but squint somewhat and feel disappointed at the graphics.
The story is that of series one and starts the action off where the gang is going to survival training with their sensei, Kakashi. The dialogue is all from the show. So, you’re either going to be like "Haha, yay, it's like the show!" or like me, "Come on, come on… I know what's gonna happen…" Things are slightly different, but its all the same predictable stuff from the show, which it must keep true to for sure, but a there’s a limit. It’s like the writers of this game had no ideas on how to freshen up the stories told in the Naruto domain and simply stuck with the script from the show. All the characters from the show are roaming around, and most join your party. You can also go and buy them ramen noodles if you wish, which increases your teamwork and stats. Buy them one they do not like, however, and it has the opposite effect.
The battle system is your generic RPG style, and a well done one at that. Attack, Defend, Item and Flee are your battle options. What is cool about this game is that you can set up a formation. The setup is a three by four grid, on which you can move around. You can set this up prior to battle, and you can also change around when you want. Since Sakura is a bit weak in the defense department, you can keep her back, but if you need some extra power, you can send her forward. The closer you are to your enemies, the more damage you inflict, but (wait for it) the more damage you take when attacked. Jutsu (ninja techniques) are fun to earn and perform, and they all come from the series, giving you a smile when you recognize them. They’re all here too, like Naruto’s clone jutsu or everyone’s favorite, the sexy no jutsu. As you go through the story, more ninjas join your party like Neji and Rock Lee, all complete with their own unique jutsu. I give the game props for the amount of moves and how accurate they are. Even how it implements stuff like sexy no jutsu has to make you smile. The battles do get a bit repetitive, however, as certain jutsu require you to rub the screen or do a combo, and the better you do it, the more effective the jutsu is. After a while, you kind of sigh and wish you didn’t have to do it again. Certain things like combos are interesting. For example, after activating Sakura’s inner Sakura (basically, her inner voice that gives her strength), and you use Naruto’s (wait for it again) fart jutsu, you will do a combo attack that results in Sakura bashing Naruto into the enemies in frustration. There is also the system of lightning, fire, water, etc. that more or less follows "Pokemon" weakness and strength rules. These battles are usually of the random appearing sort and are neither hard nor easy. What’s good about this game is that it requires skill to beat the enemy, but the difficulty is not extreme. It is quite genuinely fun for a long time, if you overlook stuff like the rubbing no jutsu.
The sound and music need to be mentioned. The sound design is very good and varied, and it feels like you’re watching a episode of Naruto… if you were watching permanently from the ceiling. Sounds of "cha!" and the little voices-overs taken from the series are great and are what sets the game apart from that GBC/GBA realm. The sounds in battle are a little unimaginative, especially when using the attack commands, which all sound a bit like someone’s trying to quickly drink from a empty cup. Aside from that, the sound effects are all in place and amusing.
Naruto DS overall is a decent RPG game that keeps true to its series. The graphics and overall presentation let it down, and the story is kind of dull, since it more or less borrows the whole script from the show. The battle system is good but seems to be grasping at straws with the whole "rub the screen please" jutsu. It does not possess many flaws simply because the simplicity of the game leaves no room for any. Naruto DS is for fans of the series and for RPG fans, but is not to be looked at as anything remotely special at all. It is a simple, fun RPG wrapped in a Naruto franchise label.