Naruto: Rise of a Ninja
Japanese popular culture has made a massive push into Western society in the past decade or so. Franchises like Pokemon and Dragonball Z, especially, have been enormously successful outside of their country of origin. Naruto seems to have followed suit. A popular redub of the Japanese television series, as well as many issues of the manga, have been making plenty of money recently. There have been a few fighting games too, on the Playstation 2 and Gamecube, as well as on handheld systems. Naruto: Rise of a Ninja, however, is the first game based on the series to appear on a current generation console. Instead of being a game translated directly from a Japanese version, Rise of a Ninja was developed in-house by Ubisoft Montreal. The result is a beautiful, if derivative, action-adventure game with plenty of activities to keep players busy, regardless of whether they are fans of Naruto.
“How someone can survive being impaled by a throwing star six feet in diameter and be in a good enough mood to eat some expensive noodles is beyond me, but who am I to criticize?”The story is a direct lift from the television series, beginning with Naruto’s origin story and his ninja training. When a giant fox demon attacked his village, a powerful ninja captured its spirit and placed it inside a baby boy. This boy, Naruto, grew up and went into ninja training. After failing his test, again, Naruto is tricked into stealing magic scrolls containing ancient Jutsus-magic ninja powers activated by hand signals- by an evil ninja seeking to make the moves his own. After revealing Naruto’s secret to him, this evil ninja tries to kill him. But lo! Naruto’s mentor steps in just in time. After suffering a minor giant shuriken wound to the spine, this teacher is able to help Naruto defeat the evil ninja and recover the Jutsus. They then remove the giant shuriken, and… go eat some ramen. Honestly, none of it makes much sense, so it’s best to lay back and enjoy the fight scenes. How someone can survive being impaled by a throwing star six feet in diameter and be in a good enough mood to eat some expensive noodles is beyond me, but who am I to criticize? If you appreciate the Naruto mythos, it’s represented perfectly in Rise of a Ninja. If you’ve just finished Mass Effect and are looking for another brain-bender… sorry.
The story takes a backseat to the gameplay anyway, which is nice for those who don’t know the theme song by heart. The hub of the game is Leaf Village, the town that the nine-tailed fox demon attacked years ago. The village is pleasant and colorful, and surprisingly large, too. This free-roaming environment serves as a sort of sidequest playground, where the goal is to make every citizen happy. At first, everyone dislikes Naruto, but after doing a few odd jobs, players will notice the attitude of the population shift. It’s hardly deep, but this is a fun mechanic that adds a lot of length to the game- don’t forget, all of these quests are linked to Achievements. Running around the town at full tilt is lots of fun, as Naruto is nimble and maneuverable. This combination of open-world gameplay and questing is “Have fun remembering XXXXYXXXXYYY, or combinations equally as long.”somewhat reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed, only with more ninjas and less socio-political commentary. There are areas outside of Leaf Village, too, where players embark to move the story along. As well as all this exploration, Rise of a Ninja provides plenty of action. Much like an RPG, when the main character encounters an enemy, the gameplay shifts. Fights are handled in a small arena akin to Soul Calibur or Tekken, but with only two attack buttons. This somewhat numbs the action, because the amount of combos Naruto can learn far outstrip the number of buttons used to fight. Have fun remembering XXXXYXXXXYYY, or combinations equally as long. Thankfully, these fights are fast, and usually easy, so the annoyance is somewhat lessened. The quests and exploration are far more entertaining than the battles, though.
All of this is enveloped by a astonishingly attractive game engine. The graphics in Rise of a Ninja are lovingly crafted, with characters that look like just like their cartoon counterparts. The backgrounds are gorgeous, too, with bright colors and stylish designs that really pop out of the screen. The overall look is so perfect that, when freeze-framed, the game looks just like a painting. This is without a doubt the best cartoon-to-game adaptation, in terms of graphics. The sound, on the other hand, is absolutely grating. The music is your typical Japanese action music, although there are some jazzier numbers here and there. Those are even more annoying; for example, the background music in Leaf Village sounds about thirty seconds long, looped over and over. This means that the best part of the game has the worst music. Still, this is the Xbox 360, so your custom-ripped soundtracks can rescue you at any time. Nothing can save you from the horrendous voice acting, however, which by default rivals the inane blabber in Two Worlds for sheer obnoxiousness. Mercifully, Ubisoft released a voice package on the Live Marketplace, for free, which replaces all of the voices with their Japanese originals. This is a huge relief, as the English actors are terrible, but you’ll still have to read the stuff. As mentioned before, the story will either be a ridiculous excuse to make ninjas fight, riddled with deus ex machina and bizarre shifts in tone, or some kind of masterpiece. Either way, you’ll want to download the Japanese language package.
Naruto: Rise of a Ninja is good enough that non-fans of the show would do themselves good by playing it. The gameplay is nothing fantastic, but it’s fun all the same. As well as the single-player adventure, Rise of a Ninja features two-player modes online and off, which can be a fun distraction. The graphics are some of the best on the console, and really need to be seen to be believed. In the end, though, Rise of a Ninja is just a good time, nothing more, nothing less. Hardcore fans will get a bigger kick out of it, for sure, but for the rest of us, it’s a worthwhile experience in the adventure genre. Just don’t expect to understand it!