GAME REVIEW- Naruto: The Broken Bond (Mania.com)
Review Date: Friday, December 12, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Naruto: The Epic Sasuke Retrieval Arc Game… er… the Broken Bond, yeah!
I’ve been a Naruto fan for quite sometime now, not since the very very beginning back in 1999 (gods has it really been that long?!) but somewhere around the chuunin exams when Lee and Gaara‘s fight took me by the hand and guided me into the Naruto universe. That was back in… 2003, I think? I remember my college roommate watching it and I just kinda sat on her bed and watched, completely fixated. Thankfully, this was before the AMVs with Linkin Park and… Linkin Park. So, let’s just say 2003 is the year I started watching/reading Naruto, and now 5 years later I still manage to find something in the franchise that keeps my attention going. Just when I think I’m burned out, they release Shippuden in Japan. And just when I think I’m burned out with that, they announce speedy releases of the manga to catch up with Japan AND episodes available on Viz‘s website come January.
And then… there’s the video games.
What a horrible month November was with games left and right, between Mirror’s Edge and Tomb Raider and Gears of War and Call of Duty and Last Remnant and even saving up for Persona 4 and Chain of Memories on PS2 (PS2 for crying out loud!) I was saying to myself, “Well at least I don’t have to pick between Naruto games, there’s just the PS3 one in the beginning of November.” Then suddenly they announce “The Broken Bond” on the 360, which just so happens to come out about 2 weeks after the PS3 one. Great, just great! It really doesn’t help that both games cover one of the best arcs in the entire series, we all know the one. Sasuke and Naruto’s fight was awesome, and I was totally thrown for a loop when Sasuke left and Naruto technically, well, lost the fight. At that point I had expected Naruto to win every battle and pretty much use that well known anime trick where the main character can make everyone like him and stop trying to beat the crap out of him--please consult Zabuza/Haku, Neji, and Gaara for details. This arc was also great for quite a few side characters, actually giving them a chance in the spotlight while Naruto chased after Sasuke.
This is why the 360 game was going to be great. Was… being the key word.
Like a lot of Naruto games this one has its pros and its cons, but unfortunately, to me, the cons outweigh the pros and don’t make the game worth the full $59.99 price. This actually disappoints me quite a bit. I was excited for this game because of everything that it promised: playing with Naruto or Sasuke, playing with a different mix of teams, playing through some memorable battles in the series, but there are a lot of things in the game that annoyed me and just made it something that wasn’t very fun to watch and/or play.
But, as said, there are some good points with the game so lets discuss the good. Unlike some of the other Naruto games that tackle the Sasuke Retrieval Arc, the 360 game actually gives attention to ALL of the characters who are involved with that arc so you’ll be able to play the battles with each individual character instead of having a random team up that sort of messes up the plot. The game stays true to the main plot pretty well, letting players play through parts that other games didn’t really touch (the Hokage funeral, for example, where you meet up with your teammates and go to the funeral together). Even the backgrounds stay true to the plot and as you play you can see the destroy Leaf Village slowly being repaired, and the background changes during the rebuilding process. There’s also a bit of creativity in the tutorials, the main one being right in the middle of the Hokage and Orochimaru battle, and optional tutorials for character combos taking place in Gai’s dojo. And fans will be happy to hear a lot of music from the actual anime in the game, and the original music that’s in the game flows well with the anime soundtrack.
There’s parts of the game where you play with Sasuke, which starts off with Itachi’s return where you actually get to play through Sasuke’s nightmare of the Uchiha massacre. Another fun moment was playing the Sasuke and Naruto hospital battle with Sasuke, so you actually get to beat up Naruto instead of having it be the other way around. The character roster for the 360 version is definitely creative, having characters like “Green Suit Naruto” who wears the Lee and Gai jumpsuit, “Anbu Itachi,” and some old favorites return like Zabuza and Haku despite their story arc not being in the game. The 360 also gets bonus points for the jutsus, which have players move the analog sticks to make the hand signs that lead to powerful attacks. The jutsus have a handful of reaction commands that players have to do to get them to work, such as the Rasengan (you have to keep it centered inside of the circle that appears over the opponents chest) or the Byakkugan (you have to hit the chakra points while the opponent tries to move out the way) and other well known attacks from the series. Later in the game “Rage Mode” is unlocked--an unfortunate name for the mode since I had been playing MK vs. DC beforehand--where all of the characters completely let loose and get an extra, black energy bar and their power is increased. There’s even a few mini games that you can play to acquire items or play as part of your training (remember the Rasengan training with the water balloon? Hahaha, have fun with that!) The triple team system works extremely well and its fun running around and using each character’s ability to get through something in the game (Shikamaru’s shadows to get through small cracks, Neji’s Byakkugan to see hidden traps, ect.).
I really wanted to like this game. I really wanted to play through it until the end but sadly, I got kinda bored with it. The main reason for my boredom (in which I actually fell asleep somewhere between hour 9 and 10 while a friend was playing) is because of all the filler missions. Granted, Naruto games with a story mode always have some random “protect the wagon” mission that’s never happened in the series, or there’s a list of D to S ranked missions to complete that’ll range from “play the game for 5 hours” to “defeat ultra ridiculous uber sharingan Itachi with at least one health bar in tact.” However, for some reason, the missions in this game were just painfully random. I could tolerate looking for some flowers or pearls or whatever Jiraiya needed to get some girl into bed with him, but soon we were fighting “Potato Chip Ninjas” who were stealing potato chips, or something like that, and just… come on, potato chip ninjas?! Even the filler in the anime did better than that… kinda…? Though I guess if you want to experience all of Naruto, playing through some filler and wanting to strangle the creators until they come up with actual plot is part of the deal? I guess there’s a reason why I skipped those 100+ episodes after the Sasuke Retrieval Arc. I understand that without random missions the game would be really short, but… potato chip ninjas?! And to top it off, in the mix of all of these random missions you actually play through the filler episodes that were in the anime before the Sasuke and Naruto hospital fight (anyone remember episode 102 with the Tea Country… anyone?) I sat there waiting for those bonds to be broken, because the game promised me some broken bonds, and we got there and it was great and Sasuke left then suddenly… more filler missions! Though some were semi-plot related (looking for the ingredients to make Chouji’s pills) but after so many hours of random missions it was about 2 in the morning and I couldn’t take anymore. The PS3 version definitely spoiled me, because the random missions there were plot related, in a way, because you really did see them chasing after a cat in the anime and you really were seeing Konohamaru trying to be epic by hiding in a box.
There’s little things that bugged me with the game. For the love of swiss cheese, why can‘t the characters jump onto the water?! They can run across it, but they all seem to be allergic to water like Sonic the Hedgehog because if you try to jump onto it you sink in and lose health. And why does the Japanese version still use English sound effects in the middle of a fight (so instead of hearing Naruto’s Japanese VA yelling and grunting and screaming “Rasengan,” you get the English one, then it switches back to Japanese), I thought I was losing my mind when I swore up and down that I was hearing Maile Flanagan instead of Junko Takeuchi. Speaking of the fighting, I don’t particularly care for the fighting system. I do like the tag team switch-ups you can do so you have up to three people to go through, but I don’t really like the random encounter, sort of Final Fantasy-ish vibe I got. I wanted to run and jump around, throw shuriken and paper bombs, but the combat is so basic and I hate that it’s this one-on-one battle with Bandit Ninja A in this one small area when the environment during normal game play is so huge! I also wasn’t a huge fan of the art, sometimes it wouldn’t be that bad but other times it was just kinda… I don’t know, I would sort of question if this was really next-gen graphics. It really doesn’t help that I played the PS3 one first, which has stunning graphics; it beats the 360 graphics hands down. There’s something about the art during the fighting sequences, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it just doesn’t flow that well to me. Sometimes the faces look really bad, like when Naruto does his Rasengan, the shading is a bit off or something on the opponents face and all of them, be it man or woman, have the exact same facial expression--just add blonde hair and you have Tsunade, now add black hair and white skin and you have Orochimaru.
What saddens me the most is that I can see that they worked pretty hard on this game. The team ups, the music, the training mini-games, the fact that you pretty much play through every episode of Naruto that leads up to the final Sasuke and Naruto battle, but still in yet I don’t care for this game. I’m not sure if its because I played the PS3 one, I don’t think it is because there’s definitely some things that this game does better than the PS3 version; the larger plot that lets you play each and every moment that took place in these last moments of the first part of the series--I was surprised when I started walking through the Uchiha massacre via Itachi‘s sharingan, the focus on all of the characters, the fact that the map is so huge instead of having you stay in Konoha, even the fact that training isn’t just tree hopping and climbing shows the effort that went into this game. But the filler takes all the fun out of it, and I got tired of the one-on-one encounters with random ninjas and I swear I was looking for an “escape” icon so I could just leave and get the rare flower petals or whatever-the-frick it was that I needed to deliver before the story could progress. All and all, if you really want to try this game either a) rent it, b) borrow it from your Naruto obsessed friend who had it reserved and bought it day one c) play the demo… a lot, or d) wait for a price drop.
Mania Grade: C
Release Date: 11/18/2008
Platform: Xbox 360