IGN Review of Naruto: The Broken Bond
Long one of Japan's most popular manga and anime, Naruto has taken over America in the past few years. There are millions of Naruto fans worldwide. And for a while, all of them suffered through a series of weak videogame offerings. That began to change last year with the release of Ubisoft's Naruto: Rise of a Ninja, the first Naruto game to properly blend adventure and fighting elements. A year later and Ubisoft Montreal is back at it with a story mode twice as long and far more interesting than the first.
Friendship and teamwork are the central themes of Broken Bond. The story, which covers episodes 81-135 of the anime, follows Naruto's rise and his best friend Sasuke's disillusionment. Jealous of Naruto's new powers, Sasuke eventually abandons his friends to follow a darker path. This leads to a brilliant final arc to the story mode that, in a world of increasingly disappointing endings, fully delivers.
The Japanese voice actors have been included and this is the way to go as the American actors come off a little goofy at times. The entire story of Broken Bond is told through cut-scenes (some interactive) using the in-game engine. Rise of a Ninja made the mistake of inserting standard definition footage from the anime into the mix. It's good to see Ubi Montreal learned from its mistake. As the story this time around is stronger, it helps to have one consistent visual look.
If you don't know who Naruto or Sasuke are, you will have trouble following the events of Broken Bond. There is no recap and no written logs offering backstory to help newcomers. If you have never watched Naruto or never played Rise of a Ninja, you may have trouble following the storyline. That is perhaps Broken Bond's biggest gaffe. Why not add some extra written content or dialogue that can be accessed if players need a refresher? The Broken Bond could be a way to recruit new Naruto fans. Instead, it alienates those who haven't followed the series.
The story mode in Rise of a Ninja was short and a little disconnected at times. Those issues have been resolved in Broken Bond. It will take at least 10 hours to complete the story mode -- and that's if you ignore the numerous minigames, races, and collection challenges. The story itself has a far better flow, though the endless fetch quest missions are a bit too much. What's interesting is that there are a few seemingly unimportant quests that actually set up or explain some later actions. It's these missions that were missing from Rise of a Ninja and let some holes in the narrative.
It would have benefited Ubisoft to add some variety to these missions as almost every one turns into a fetch quest. While it's great to have a longer game, there's only so many times you can do the exact same thing in similar-looking areas before it starts feeling like a bit of a chore. It doesn't help that the forests where the majority of missions take place are a challenge to navigate. The area map sometimes lacks walls or gates, meaning you will travel one way only to realize -- after dodging a variety of traps -- that you went in the wrong direction. Add to that a considerable amount of backtracking and some of the missions become frustrating. It's too bad, because the core of Broken Bond is great. It's the poor and often uninspired mission designs that hold Broken Bond back.
In Broken Bond, you not only take on the role of Naruto, but also a number of other characters. You'll take control of Sasuke, Neji, Kiba and many more. The focus is still Naruto -- don't doubt that -- but mixing in other perspectives allows Ubisoft to tell a more complete story. And it's an inevitable result of the new team system.
In the story mode, you'll have up to three characters in a party out adventuring. Together, you'll team up to use the powers of your teammates to pass obstacles keeping you from your goal. At several points, you reach a seemingly insurmountable gap where you need to use Naruto's Clone Jutsu power to create a bridge. The only trouble is that there is a locked gate on the other side. Fortunately, you can use Shikamaru's Jutsu to cross the clone bridge with a shadow arm, go under a hole in the gate and flip a switch to open the barrier. This sort of team-up is required regularly throughout Broken Bond and reinforces the importance of your friends.
Naruto and company also team up in combat. The story mode features 3-on-3 combat and the Vs mode allows 2-on-2 tag-team battles both online and offline. Only one character can fight at a time, but you can tag out to bring in a teammate with the D-Pad. There are also tag team moves, which can be initiated at the end of any killer combo.
Players will likely focus on using their character's Jutsu powers. Performing a Jutsu requires you to hold down the Left Trigger and perform a simple hand signal with the thumbsticks. The catch is that your Chakra -- which powers the Jutsu -- is shared among teammates. So if you sap all the juice (or enter Rage Mode, which drops all your power), you could leave your teammate with nothing when they tag in.
The battle system is fairly simple, with each character having around a dozen combos each. But it is fun. And for fans of Naruto, it's a real treat to see so many characters -- more than two dozen -- looking and playing authentically. I will warn that, at times, the AI can be a monster. You'll find just about every strike blocked and incredible combos unleashed on you. This will either force you to train in the dojo or have you popping health pills constantly in combat.
Offline (and outside of the story mode) you can play 2-v-2 battles with your friends on a single system. You can also tackle a five-round tournament either solo or in a tag-team with a friend. Though only a handful of rounds, the tournament gets pretty tough towards the end.
Online up to four players can go at it in tag-team vs. mode with any of 30 characters (though a few "characters" are little more than costume alternates). Included in the mix are Demon Fox Naruto and Curse Mark Sasuke. And, again, if that means little to you, then some of Naruto: The Broken Bond may go right over your head. Online, Naruto runs smoothly. I never experienced any lag in my matches.
Also available via Xbox Live is continual tournament mode. You start out on the streets, needing to fight other gamers until you earn enough experience points to reach the rank of Genin. From that point, you enter the tournament, battling you way against other players as you attempt to advance you way to the rank of Hokage. Once there, you will face all comers for as long as you can last.
©2008-11-18, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved