"After Uzumaki Chronicles has done its best to drive all but the most diehard Naruto fans away, it actually gets interesting. Strong recurring villains appear, a dire plot involving genetic manipulation is unveiled, and Naruto's friends are consistently thrust into dire peril."
Naruto is a ninja. Naruto wears a bright orange jumpsuit.
Something is wrong with that.
Fortunately, stealth is not a factor in Naruto: Uzumaki Chronicles. Since the game basically involves walking up to people and beating the boogers out of them, I can overlook the orange. Besides, I hear 7th-grade girls dig the look, so maybe Masashi Kishimoto knew what he was drawing.
Most of the game's characters fall into predictable archetypes, but Naruto himself is interesting. This orphaned boy, despised by the other villagers, created constant mischief to earn some attention and individual recognition since he knew he'd never earn their love. As it turned out, the villagers hated Naruto not because he's an orphan, but because he's the human incarnation of the murderous nine-tailed fox demon that slaughtered countless innocents several years ago. The demon could not be killed, so it was sealed inside an abandoned baby. That baby being Naruto. And the ninja villagers swore to never say anything to the boy, lest he ever try to consciously release his hidden power.
It's an interesting concept that's never really addressed by the game. Uzumaki Chronicles focuses on action, not on strong character development.
As many publishers have discovered, it's not easy to make a fun anime action game. That's probably why Namco Bandai shops these things out to proven developers (like Sega and Treasure). They've now turned to Cavia -- the hit-and-miss team best known for Drakengard -- to put together Uzumaki Chronicles. The question is: did we get awesome Cavia, or did we get poopy Cavia?
The answer is "neither". It's a competent but uninspired 3D beat 'em up that gets really boring before it ever gets really interesting.
Similar to Capcom's Chaos Legion, battles take place across a series of enclosed environments (such as a forest grove or precipitous cliff) where a set number of opponents need to be defeated to move on to the next arena. The camera and control are both smooth and fast, allowing for comfortable combat. Naruto has an acceptable number of combination attacks and, although he's completely incapable of blocking, he can nimbly evade projectiles or reverse melee attacks. Add in the ability to swap characters mid-battle and you've got a fast-paced game that rewards unyielding offense. As defeated ninjas blink and vanish, they'll drop items or bleed "virtue chips", which are used to purchase new abilities.
Unfortunately, the goals behind many of these battles are:
1) Escorting a cart containing rice.
2) Escorting a cart containing fragile goods.
3) Escorting a cart containing oil.
4) Escorting a cart containing dolls.
5) Escorting a cart containing a prisoner.
Sure, there are a few funny missions (like passing out ad flyers for the local Ninja Store while beating up evildoers), but they still boil down to the same thing... beat up random thugs of three mundane types: evil ninja, evil straw hat man, and evil kunoichi. The only difference is that sometimes there's a cart on the screen, and sometimes there's not.
Some of these missions are actually hard. I would even say that some are very hard. You're not required to complete all of them, but I don't know many self-respecting gamers who would accept seeing the word "FAILURE" stamped across their screen without trying again. Well, guess what -- you can't try again without resetting the console and sitting through the initial boot-up sequence, because there is no "load game" function. So, not only are most missions boring, but they're frustrating and I had to reset the console repeatedly. Even as a manly brawler fan, that was more than I'd normally tolerate. However, as a loyal servant of the HonestGamers Empire, I persisted in my duties.
And it got better!
After Uzumaki Chronicles has done its best to drive all but the most diehard Naruto fans away, it actually gets interesting. Strong recurring villains appear, a dire plot involving genetic manipulation is unveiled, and Naruto's friends are consistently thrust into dire peril. Later missions become less formulaic; Naruto can actually explore caverns and towns for secret treasures without needing to kill everything. Instead of fighting palette-swapped "straw hat man" clones, Naruto gets to face off against club-wielding ogres and insects of dangerous size. He'll beat down zombified ninjas, only to have them rise from their shallow graves like the altered beasts they are. There's even a neat mine cart sequence. Sure, that was an action game cliché ten years ago, but it feels fresh today.
Still, it could -- and should -- have been better. The North American version of Uzumaki Chronicles takes place in the early, peaceful part of the series, after Naruto comes to grips with his past but before anything really bad happens to any of the important characters. I specify "North American" because the original Japanese edition is set much later. To fit the altered timeline, Namco Bandai made some cosmetic changes (such as replacing one character with another). Unfortunately, they also edited out all scenes involving the Hokage ninja chief, which means we actually lost a couple of the more plot-oriented missions from the JP version. They removed these sections to avoid spoiling future episodes for US viewers, but it makes the first half of the game less compelling and, more importantly, less exciting.
Uzumaki Chronicles does what it needs to, but not much more. If your 7th-grade daughter has the tenacity of a weed, then Naruto: Uzumaki Chronicles is her game. If you prefer not to think of your darling little princess as a weed, then you may want to look into something a bit less frustrating.
If you're shopping for yourself... well, make up your own mind. I just know that I wouldn't buy it.
Staff review by Zigfried (December 04, 2006)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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