|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Tose||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: D3 Publisher / Tomy||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 23, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Joseph Catalanotto
Although I'm not much of a fan personally, it's undeniable that Naruto is one of the most popular anime and manga series on the market right now. After all, what's not to like? You've got your popular little preteen relationships, a protagonist who looks like he escaped from prison wearing an orange jumpsuit, and of course, ninjas (need any more be said?).
But the real question is: Is the game any good? Naruto: Path of the Ninja is actually quite a deviation from the norm when it comes to the myriad of Naruto-based games already released. Rather than being a fighter, Path of the Ninja chooses to go in a different direction; it attempts to be an RPG. Probably the biggest problem with Path of the Ninja is the fact that while it may at first seem a breath of fresh air to Naruto devotees, the battle system is actually quite repetitive. In fact, if you have ever played any sort of role-playing game before, you have a very good idea exactly how Path of the Ninja plays out.
For the majority of the game, you'll take control of a party of three ninjas-in-training. As is typical of the RPG genre, a number of equipment options are available for each character; it's up to you to determine how exactly to customize each of your characters. Another somewhat debated staple of RPGs is also present in Path of the Ninja: random battles. The area is divided up into a world map; you use the cursor to enter into various areas of the world. The areas are dungeon-like, in the fact that treasure chests are scattered about and random enemy encounters are somewhat frequent.
Missions pretty make up the bulk of the game. In fact, if you've played a DS title such as Pokémon Mystery Dungeon or Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja, then you probably already know what to expect. The elder ninjas dish out missions to you; as you complete them, you will be given progressively tougher challenges. The potential for this to be ridiculously boring is high; however, Path of the Ninja manages to prevent this from happening, just because the missions are so varied. They're not limited to simple take-out missions or fetch quests; instead, there is quite a variety of missions, which really keeps things fresh and enjoyable.
As with all RPGs, the make-or-break aspect of Path of the Ninja is the game's battle system. And sadly, it's not really that great, although there is one pretty nice aspect. The aspects of fighting are simple and straightforward, though they do allow for a bit of customization. Options consist of such items as fleeing, defending, attacking, or moving. It's pretty standard fare, and isn't very exciting. However, the move command is actually pretty cool. There's a 20-square grid on the screen that makes up the battleground. The 8 squares to the left belong to your opponents, while the 12 on the right are yours. Before you perform a true action, you have the option to move. If you're closer to your foe, you can do more damage when you attack him. At the same, though, the closer you are to him, the more damage he can deal to you. The fun lies in strategizing to ensure that you balance damage you do and damage you take in each individual situation.
Aside from that, though, the battle system is just flat. It's not that it doesn't work; rather, it's just that it's not exciting or innovative enough to make it really worth playing for real RPG fans. Weapons are exactly what you'd expect from a ninja-based game, as are the items. The random battles are mediocre, and the battle mechanic itself is dull and uninspired, for the most part. However, another somewhat interesting aspect to the fight system is that of jitsu.
Jitsu is essentially magic in the world of Naruto, and it plays in important part in the game. Certain enemies will be particularly vulnerable to elements of magic, and to use this jitsu can sometimes be the difference between success and defeat. While attacking is a very passive sort of command -- simply select your target and watch the computer do the rest -- performing jitsu is actually a somewhat involved task. You'll be required to do something to ensure that the attack is as powerful as possible; sometimes this means drawing out a shape on the touch screen, and other times inputting a sequence of buttons. It's nothing particularly groundbreaking, but it does keep the battles from becoming too repetitive.