Whatever you do, DON'T believe in this game!
Despite all the fan criticism the series tends to get, I love Naruto. It is one of my all-time favorite anime series, despite its flaws and issues regarding plot development and character arcs. The games in particular have always been solid, despite their existence as licensed titles. Most notable are the fighting games that were released on the GameCube and Wii, such as the Clash of Ninja series. Hoping to get that kind of quality, I was excited to play Dragon Blade Chronicles. Boy, was I disappointed.
The story behind Dragon Blade Chronicles is akin to a side-episode of the series, taking place sometime during the "Hunt for Itachi" arc. A young girl has come into Konoha Leaf Village to seek assistance from the Hokage Lady Tsunade, the village’s elder. Just as that is happening, strange mud creatures called the Mugonhei have invaded it. As Naruto tries to plow through them, he comes to learn that he can only defeat them using a special blade. In accepting their mission, they encounter danger from the Akatsuki Clan and even more creatures.
This is where one of the game’s biggest problems begins: it is a very poorly-told story. Despite featuring the American voiceover cast, the delivery of dialogue is extremely dry and monotone. The cutscenes are poorly staged and animated, failing to capture the high-energy action and drama the series is known for. Characters will often just stand still and say their lines with an awkward 5 second pause between each one. What's worse is that the cutscenes are very long, so a great chunk of gameplay is spent watching these scenes. To put it bluntly, it was so boring that I tended to get sleepy every time I played.
Unfortunately, the actual gameplay doesn’t fare any better. The main component of Dragon Blade Chronicles is an adventure title mixed with exploration and combat, similar to the Path of Ninja series on Nintendo's Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS, which were side-scrolling, story based titles with emphasis on character development and light RPG elements. The problem here is the extremely basic execution; stages are very bland, and often you will be fighting the same type of enemy over and over again. Dragon Blade Chronicles tries to add some depth to the gameplay by giving Naruto various powers to equip and level-up, as well as side characters like Sakura and Kakashi being available to help out, but the blandness makes it hard to invest in this world.
Dragon Blade Chronicles also offers a versus mode, which can only be accessed if a second controller is connected. This mode's gameplay is similar to Capcom’s Power Stone series. Players run around in an open environment, using their attacks on each other until one is defeated. It feels tacked-on, as it only features two characters: Naruto and Sasuke. Even if it does play a bit like Power Stone, the fact that only two characters can be selected in a strictly two-player affair makes the mode feel like afterthought.
The Naruto games are also known for capturing the look and feel of both the manga and anime very well thanks to their usage of cel-shaded graphics, and menus that mimic the ancient Japanese tone of the series. Dragon Blade Chronicles nails the character design part, but fumbles in the animation department.The characters are very robotic, often displaying static animation and very little emotion. The stage design is pedestrian at best, using a copious amount of bland textures and uninspired concepts like crates and barrels that makes them tedious to explore. And again, the game features the original voice talents, but they are wasted thanks to bland delivery. As if these issues weren’t enough, slowdown often plagues the busier scenes.
Music, however, fares a bit better. The composition of the soundtrack is exactly as in the series, featuring flutes on top of energetic choruses, as well as other ancient musical instruments the series is known for.
The game's controls are fairly straightforward, with no motion control employed when using the default Wii Remote and Nunchuk setup. Players can use the Classic Controller as an alternative, as well as the GameCube controller. The only notable flaw with the control scheme is that it can be hard to place Naruto behind a object, as he tends to run extremely fast and is almost over-responsive. Otherwise, the controls are solid.
Ultimately, Dragon Blade Chronicles is a wasted opportunity. With such a solid following in gaming, it is unfortunate that the latest Wii title fails to deliver both a believable Naruto universe and engaging gameplay that makes full use of the license. Don’t let this game fool you, as there are much better Naruto games on the market. This one is a low point in an otherwise great legacy.