Publisher: D3 Publisher
Release Date: October 15, 2008
Whether you love it or hate it, Naruto has proven to be a lasting phenomenon, potentially on par with the still-strong Pokémon. Even before it made its way over to the U.S., the TV show had garnered a loyal following from otaku everywhere, and any licensed games that developers could churn out has flown off the shelves. Naruto has seen 21 games with his name in North America alone, and he's appeared in well over 30 titles internationally. It's getting difficult to find a niche that Naruto has not invaded, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that this second RPG for the Nintendo DS is generic but competent, much like its predecessors across all genres.
While Naruto: Path of the Ninja 2 is in no way awful or uncreative, it manages to come across as little Timmy's first RPG. The game may claim in its opening screen to be an S-rank mission, but nothing about the main story line of the game reaches anything above a B-rank in the Naruto mission hierarchy.
PotN2 starts out with a lengthy cut scene that introduces a major dilemma: An ancient "spirit beast" has been unleashed by some pretty nasty ninja, apparently with the intent of bringing the world to chaos. When a little girl escapes the ninja thanks to the help of Naruto and friends, she informs them of the coming disaster and tells them the only way to seal the monster again. With that, Naruto's quest begins, and he must find all of the Hope mirrors and stop evil spirits from taking over the world.
If it sounds like bad filler, well … there's no denying that it is. While it's not as big a disappointment to hardcore Naruto fans as, say, an arc about cooking ninja, it's still nothing spectacular. The dialogue is similarly bland and devoid of inspiration, with the requisite 20 scenes about the importance of friendship, and Naruto getting so hurt that he has to call out the power of the Nine-Tails, which is slumbering inside him. For an RPG, a weak plot and lame dialogue are about the biggest weaknesses you can have, but compared to some of the drivel that Naruto anime writers have pushed out, this may as well be Shakespeare.
So PotN2's plot is passable, but what about the other RPG essential, the battle system? Once again, there's nothing wrong with it, but that doesn't make it right either. It tries to innovate with a nine-tiled battle grid that you can move your characters across, as well as a "switch" system that lets you essentially substitute a fourth character into your three-person ninja squad. Your space on the battle grid has two impacts; your column affects your attack and defense, and certain enemy jutsus have area effects that can damage multiple characters if you've placed them next to one other.
While the battle system should add an interesting flair, there's very little reason to mess with it once you find a perfect formation. Even substituting characters only comes into play in desperate situations, which is where the battles really shine, so it's too bad that they're so few and far between. The bosses present the only real challenge, and that is mostly due to them having a bunch of hit points.
What you're stuck with in between is a series of short and simple dungeons, without much room for branching paths and secret items. There are some things that you'll only find if you wander off the prescribed path, but you'll only need to wander about 10 feet off-course before you can return to the simple path and keep praying for less annoying random battles. Never have random battles felt so plentiful, and those ninja you're in charge of have never walked so slowly.
The overworld maps are childishly simple and lazy. The overall look of PotN2 is of something from the SNES era or before, and the layouts could've been designed in the original RPG Maker for the PlayStation. Although the unique battle system says otherwise, it's easy to believe that this was a fan-made project downloaded off the Internet or a friend's memory card about five years ago. Your sprites are so squat and immobile that they don't even have run and jump animations, so even classic obstacles for all RPG protagonists apply to these ninja, who should be able to run up walls, walk on water and do other ninja-like things.
Just about the only segments that feel vaguely ninja-ish are the action-themed High Speed Maps, where you enter a running and jumping mini-game and try to collect as many scrolls as you can. There are only five maps in all, but they can be exploited for items as often as you feel the urge to play them. The running is automatic, so you're just controlling where you want Naruto to be located on the moving screen. You can move him forward, backward, and jump around obstacles, all in a nicely animated 2-D fashion. It's the best-looking part of the game.
Other than that, PotN2 is a perfectly boring, if competent, RPG. All of the mainstays from the show are present and accounted for, and for the dedicated fans, almost all of the characters can eventually be unlocked and made playable. Sadly, the multitudes of characters are handled poorly, or not at all. The characters don't level up equally, and there's no incentive to level up any but the very best characters, so odds are that once you find a party you like, you'll be sticking with them throughout the game. The only reason to keep collecting characters is to fight online after you've completed the main game.
The online mode is just as crippled as with any other title on the DS. You and your friends need to confirm friend codes, get on Nintendo WiFi, and be playing the game at the same time to interact. Random matches weren't even considered, and there aren't any leaderboards to compare stats or victories. Much like the rest of the game, there's just enough Internet interaction here for it to be passable.
In just about every regard, Naruto: Path of the Ninja 2 is repetitive and average. There's nothing that really makes it a pain to play, and it flows pretty smoothly, but so does a milkshake. If you or your child really can't get enough of Naruto, then nothing would stop you from laying down a few bucks on this passable RPG. Anyone else probably won't give this title a second glance, and that's the way it should be.
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