Not many gamers may know of the Naruto anime series, nor are they likely to care, but they should. Ubisoft are working hard to create an authentic and deep Naruto RPG – an action adventure and fighting game combo (Ed – Covering all bases there!), and they are doing a fantastic job!
The Naruto series revolves around Naruto Uzumaki, a young ninja that has an interesting past and from it is neglected by the majority of his village. Naruto simply wants recognition and dreams to one day become the village Hokage, leader of the city. Starting out from the very beginning of his adventures you will control Naruto through the first 80 episodes of his adventures, which covers many milestone encounters and events. However newcomers to the franchise should not be worried as the wealth of information surrounding Naruto and his life is explained in the introduction and throughout the story with a mix of in-game and original anime cutscenes.
Stepping into the game we find that Naruto is disliked by the majority of Konoha village (the village in which Naruto lives and trains to become a Ninja). As you walk past the population of the village, you will be frowned upon and dismissed as nothing but an idiot, belittling your very existence. Thankfully there is one person that is willing to help, Mizuki, a friend that explains that you can pass your exams if you simply obtain the village’s forbidden scroll and bring it to him. Right off the bat this is where the story takes a twist and Naruto begins to develop.
After a brief introduction to the controls, you are taken slowly through each aspect of the game, including everything from jumping up platforms to your first fight with only a few attacks. Slowly but surely you are let loose and begin to truly experience the game without boundaries as a training Ninja, improving your abilities and trying to gain the respect of the entire village. Gaining respect is important as you will find that villagers are more than willing to help you, once you have helped them first. Simply complete side quests around the city and you will soon find that the villagers are quickly starting to smile and greet you with more than a scowl. Whilst exploring the city you will be presented with a constant stream of missions that range from collecting coins from the rooftops of the city, locating key characters or even hunting down bandits and returning stolen goods. Among these side quests you will constantly be taken through the storyline by completing ninja missions that often take you outside of the city and place you in serious danger.
Using your continually improving reputation with the citizens of Konoha and your recently collected coins, you can customise Naruto and develop his techniques, strength and chakra (the source for special attacks). This is usually done by developing your chakra and health levels as you complete missions, purchasing new ranged weapons that increase in damage or even obtaining scrolls that range from battle aids, protection or new abilities and boosts for existing abilities. This adds depth to the adventure and allows you to take a specific direction with Naruto, meaning you can be a defensive player or simply rush into battle with little thought for safety (as is expected from the Naruto known in the anime series).
Naruto Rise of a Ninja features a combination of three different genres. The first two have already been detailed in the form of platform action adventuring and RPG elements to customise and improve Naruto. The last is the choice to recreate fighting elements of the game in a fully fledged 3rd person perspective, instead of simply providing the typical button bashing platform combat that has been seen in the past. Thankfully the fighting component of Naruto takes place often throughout the game at each combat encounter and is extremely enjoyable and filled with action.
The control scheme is relatively simple and the game has an emphasis on timing attacks and using blocks to devastate opponents. The X and Y buttons are used for attacks, which vary to different signature moves and can produce devastating combos, giving enough time to pull off the moves that take time. Jumping is done by pressing A and can be timed for midair attacks. Blocking has been fantastically reproduced with the B button, not only allowing you to block attacks and reduce their damage but allowing for ‘Substitution Jutsu’. Substitution Jutsu will place a lifeless wooden log in your position and move you behind your enemy, which can only be achieved if you time the blocks perfectly at the moment of impact. Last of the basic attack abilities is the right shoulder butter that will launch a thrown weapon at your enemies, this can be a life saver at times that your enemies are about to unleash a devastating Jutsu attack.
To perform a Jutsu ability you must first press the left shoulder trigger and perform the required hand seals using both of the analogue sticks. For example Naruto’s Shadow Clone technique is done by pointing both analogue sticks up, then the left one to the left and right one right. At this point you will begin to unleash your attack and depending on when you release the left shoulder trigger, you will unleash a different level of the ability and drain a substantial amount of your chakra. As expected during an intense battle, it is extremely difficult to get off the high levels of such attacks, however if you manage it you could change a likely defeat into possible victory.
The beauty of this feature is that such moves will not instantly devastate your enemies and easily win you the battle; you will be presented with the attack cutscene where you must complete the attack yourself. With the example of Naruto’s Shadow Clone technique you must press a button specified at the start of the sequence at the perfect moment of impact (literally perfect, 1/10th of a second reaction time). The number of key presses and key combinations required to complete will depend on the level of Jutsu you managed to unleash, resulting in the possibility for a larger reward at the cost of a larger risk.
Thankfully Ubisoft have recognised that these abilities would be far too overpowered if they could not be countered. When you find yourself on the other end of a Jutsu attack, you will be presented with the same situation but this time you will be responding to defend the attacks. This means that the chance of a Jutsu attack being successful or unsuccessful, against you or your enemies, will depend fully on your skill and reaction in comparison to the enemy at hand, which will no doubt results in some fantastic confrontations in multiplayer combat over Xbox live.
Unfortunately whilst we did not have the opportunity to play Naruto Rise of a Ninja over Xbox Live we did get to spend some time in the offline tournament mode. This mode simply takes the fighting proportion of the single player adventure, adds an array of unique characters and equips them with varied skills, fighting styles and some fantastic Jutsu abilities. After playing for only a short period of time it becomes apparent that an extensive amount of effort has been put into making each character feel unique and ooze a different personality and fighting style. The Jutsu attacks are also unleashed differently, depending on the style of attack. For example you may have to aim at the enemy from above with attacks of fire, whilst the enemy tries to run for his life or you may simply slow down time and receive a large increase to your attack speed and defensive ability. All in all we get the impression that the tournament fighting component could have been released alone as the entire package, yet somehow an unbelievably massive single player adventure full of depth and surprise is the main counterpart. The fantastic fighting modes are simply extras to make the overall package even sweeter.
Graphically the game looks fantastic, without a doubt demonstrating some of the best cell shaded visuals yet to be seen. The game is highly detailed and does a perfect job at bringing Naruto into 3D. Fans of the series will instantly recognise areas from the series, especially the large city of Konoha which is extensively detailed, from the ground level to the rooftops. The game does all this with very little loading and, when required, loading quickly. Not only does the game look stunning whilst standing still but in motion grass will brush aside between your feet, shadows will react to changes in the environment and most importantly each character is fluid, perfectly representing their personality and attitude. A fantastic example of this is the way in which Ubisoft has represented Gaara, a popular ninja from the series that uses sand in combat. His body language and combat stance alone is enough to portray his confidence and arrogance as he fights with one arm and controls the movement of his sand with confidence and grace.
Rest assured that whilst a title from such a niche licence would usually be aimed at fans alone, Ubisoft have pulled off all the stops to ensure that Naruto Rise of a Ninja is designed with every gamer in mind. From the small glimpse that was seen of the game, it is clear that the game is a long, deep and fulfilling, destined to provide a varied and rich experience. We cannot wait to get our hands on the finished copy of the title, make sure to stay tuned for the review to follow shortly!