The quality of game design and fun that can be found in a Naruto video game is largely dependent on its genre. The fighting games are often regarded as some of the best anime fighting titles since the Dragon Ball Z series and are pretty decent fighting games in their own right. On the other hand, the adventure games have wavered between fairly good to mediocre takes on platforming and brawling. For the most part, PSP owners have been spared the adventure games since all of their Naruto games have belonged to the fighting genre. This changes with Naruto Shippuden: Legends - Akatsuki Rising, the first PSP game based on the orange-clad ninja's older life. It's an adventure game that satisfies a few fans but certainly could have been better.
Akatsuki Rising takes place in the early part of the series' story line. A few years have passed since the original series ended; Sasuke has still not returned to the Leaf Village, and everyone else has grown a little bit older and stronger. After years of training, Naruto Uzumaki returns to the village, eager to rejoin his old team when he learns of Gaara's capture by the Akatsuki clan. His mission is to rescue Gaara and stop the Akatsuki clan at any cost.
With the plot following that of Ultimate Ninja 4: Naruto Shippuden on the PlayStation 2, one would expect the gameplay to be similar, if not the same. In truth, the PSP iteration is a more streamlined experience, and no real platforming is present. The whole game consists of fighting in small-, medium- or large-sized arenas. Fights are usually against thugs, henchmen and giant creatures, but there will be a few times when fighting is simply a one-on-one experience. This isn't to say that there isn't any thought to the fighting, though. Leveling up your characters via fighting is the norm, as is picking out the right combination of team members for boosted stats and items that do the same.
The game features several different modes for both solo players and co-op over local wireless. Story mode is where events of the above story arc take place. Though most of the missions have you playing as Naruto, you do encounter a few where you get to take control of Sakura and the rest of the Leaf Village ninjas. Mission mode has you taking on several stand-alone challenges. They may not be connected to the main story at all, but completing them will give you stat updates and special item bonuses. Battle mode has you in one-on-one fights while Survival mode has you fighting as many enemies as you can before your energy level depletes completely. Finally, those who get through Story mode will be able to unlock a side story mode where you get to play the story from the side of the Akatsuki clan instead of the heroes.
For the average gamer who is just getting into the series, there are a few annoying things that need to be addressed. The first has to be the fact that nothing is available except for Story mode when you first boot up the game. Even then, you have to complete a fairly long first chapter in order to finally get a taste of what the game has to offer. The combat is also a source of frustration simply because the game has no idea how to handle multiple opponents of different distances. For example, if you're fighting an enemy at close range and then block an attack from a faraway enemy, the game will switch your focus to the enemy away from you as opposed to the one closer to you. The fighting system, which seems to be designed to be simple, ends up being a bit frustrating as a result.
Akatsuki Rising also has problems with areas not being large enough to handle some of the events. The Story mode hides this fact fairly well by throwing several lengthy cut scenes between missions. Mission mode, however, doesn't hide how small the areas really are, as simple missions can have plenty of loading screens, breaking the flow of some exciting missions and prolonging the boredom of the more mundane ones. Finally, the Akatsuki side story, a big bullet point for the game, is far shorter than the main story. For those who have played the last Naruto game on the PS2, seeing such a short side story is sure to be disappointing.
The controls work out fine. The analog nub is used for movement while the d-pad controls the camera. The L button activates and deactivates lock-on while the R button activates a menu for your character's special moves. The X button jumps, Square attacks, Triangle throws shurikens, and Circle warps you close to an opponent. Problems with camera aside, if there can be one complaint levied against the controls, it would be with the handling of defense. Once an attack is done against the player, hitting any of the face buttons initiates a defensive move, usually the substitution technique where they replace themselves with a log of wood. This makes combat too easy, as most attacks will never hit the character this way, encouraging button-mashing over technique.
All of the previous Naruto games, regardless of system, have tried to incorporate the look of the anime or the manga into their graphical style. Akatsuki Rising tries something a little different. It still sticks with the anime designs but without the black lines people have come to expect. It may seem like a small change, but it is drastic enough that the game now looks a tad flat. The characters also suffer from very limited lip movements and the classic issue of using a forward-walking animation while turning in place. Aside from those things, the characters look fine and animate well during combat. The environments are fairly well decorated, though the colors are muted when compared to the characters. As stated earlier, the camera proves to be a hindrance as you progress in the game. The distance away from the character is fair, but it sometimes gets caught up in environmental walls. It also doesn't track the enemy you've locked onto all of the time, making you wonder if the lock-on procedure automatically deactivates itself. Overall, the graphics work but don't look as good as previous entries on the portable console.
All Naruto games have been good in the sound department, and this entry is no exception. The music mimics the score found in the anime rather well and does a great job of maintaining a high energy needed for combat. The effects are the same ones found in the home console versions, and they still sound just as powerful on the tiny speakers as they do on larger ones. Like every other title in the series, Akatsuki Rising sports both Japanese and English voices, and having the original voice actors for both languages certainly gives the game more authenticity.
As stated before, Naruto Shippuden: Legends - Akatsuki Rising is a pretty decent game. The sound may be great, but it gets balanced out by the average graphics. While the controls and story are fine, the pacing feels slow and the bonus story line is too short to counteract the feeling of déjà vu for fans who have played almost every incarnation of the game series. If you're a hardcore Naruto fan, you probably already have the game regardless of what any review says. More casual fans would be fine picking this up if they never bothered with Ultimate Ninja 4: Naruto Shippuden on the PS2. Everyone else will probably want to wait for the next fighting game to appear on the PSP.
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