I have never seen Naruto, the Japanese anime with over a million fans worldwide, nor did I play the predecessor to Broken Bond, Rise of a Ninja. Obviously, with this lack of experience to the franchise, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. The depth of my Naruto knowledge is that there is a ninja called Naruto who can turn into a fox-demon-thing. That's it. Most television or movie to game adaptations are usually pretty awful. So, jumping into Broken Bond was a shock. Why? Because it was actually pretty good.
The story of The Broken Bond is set between episodes 81 and 135 of the anime series and depicts Naruto's rise as a ninja and his best friend Sasuke's downfall into jealousy, which inevitably forces him to follow a darker path. If you have no clue who Sasuke or who Naruto is then you are pretty much done for. There is no flashback, no "Previously..." section, no real hint as to what happened in the past episodes. As such, I was a bit lost with the story. I did have to look up on a wiki to find out the plot details of what had already happened. If you're not prepared to do that, be sure all you will be left with is a loose story, fetch quests and some fun tag team battles, so consider that before handing over your cash. The story is told through wonderful in-game cutscenes that use the games engine, so in keeping with the art style of the game. Even though I had no clue who the characters were or anything of the sort, I did find myself sucked into the intriguing storyline, which is what really shocked me about the game. For those worried that the story might be the game's downfall, fear not.
The story mode in The Broken Bond will take you about 10 hours to complete, but that is if you ignore the many mini games, races and side quests that are scattered throughout the game world. These can range from little games at a festival to fetch quests mixed up with some fighting on the way. These side quests don't feel tacked on, but they do feel like they don't belong there, which sort of takes away from the experience somewhat. Just playing through the story will give you a better experience as the story and quests seem to flow much better and make more sense in the long run.
The story missions themselves do get a little tedious as well. They inevitably do end up turning into fetch quests to grab an item that then progresses the story. Every other mission seems to be the same and the only difference is the area in which you are doing the mission, which do seem to be nice and varied. The areas are, however, very difficult to navigate and these missions then become a chore. The map does not show you where gates or blockages in the way are so you will find yourself avoiding loads of traps to then find you having to go all the way back because you went the wrong way and a gate is blocking your path. The poor mission design really is a major chink in The Broken Bond's otherwise brilliant armour.
Throughout the game you can take control of, not only Naruto (although you will control him for much of the game) but also a number of his friends including Sasuke, Kiba and more. This allows for the game to take a more co-operative feel, having to work with your partner to get across obstacles or even take part in tag-team fighting. You are allowed a maximum party of 3 people, each with their own special "Jutsu" powers, which can be used to avoid obstacles or be used in battle. For instance, one of Kiba's Jutsus is that he can transform into a small dog to get into small passageways. One of Naruto's Jutsus is that he can make clones of himself to form a bridge.
The Justu powers are more probably going to be used in the fighting arenas as they can sometimes unleash some devastating moves. To perform a Jutsu, you hold the left trigger and move the left and right thumbstick in the motion described to pull it off. The Jutsu drains Chakra and, especially if in tag team, can stop you from performing a number of Jutsus after just releasing a rather big power attack.
The battle system is possibly the highlight of the game. Not only is it a lot of fun, but it's very intuitive too. It's great to see a bunch of characters from the series perform insane combos that not only look good, but have devastating effect. The AI, at times, can be extremely hard with constant blocking and then sudden amazing combos coming from nowhere.
The game also has an offline or online fighting arena in which you can pit your favourite character against your friends or a number of AI characters. The same goes for tournament mode in which you fight through a bunch of people from around the world or AI characters to increase your skill and gain points to advance to the next level. It's a lot of fun, but if you're relatively new to the game you will feel out of your depth with very merciless opponents.
The art style is gorgeous, with a similar look to some of the more recent Dragonball games, giving it a mix between a comic book and anime series look to it, which suits the action well. A note on the audio as well. Pick the Japanese voices with subtitles, the American voices just sound extremely goofy and do not suit the game at all.
Naruto: The Broken Bond was a big surprise for me. When it arrived for review I was quite dubious about the game, being based off of a TV show. However, the fighting and the story are top notch. It's just the missions themselves that sort of take the fun away from the bulk of the game.