Naruto and his pals from the Leaf Village take to the Nintendo DS in traditional turn-based RPG style, a contrast from most Naruto games, which tend to be fighters. It turned out interesting, but there's not much that will lure in folks who aren't already fans of Naruto in some form.
The game follows the anime/manga Naruto story almost exactly, starting from the Genin days when team Naruto-Sasuke-Sakura was first created, lasting up through the pursuit of the Sand Ninja after the Chuunin Exam. Several parts are skipped or summarized, of course, since certain things would be tough to work any sort of gameplay into. What makes the plot a little goofy though is that characters mention things that happen in the full story, but not in the game once in a while, rendering Path of the Ninja an ineffective way for a series newcomer or get all of the Naruto story and adding to the previous conclusion that this game is for fans only.
|Ninjas from the Sound village attack while Sasuke and Saukra are good and high.
Gameplay usually moves in a pattern of going to the Ninja Academy, getting assigned a mission (not optional ones, they're all from the story), preparing in town by buying items and equipment and eating ramen with teammates (to boost chemistry with them), then leaving for the dungeon involved. Equally basic is the dungeon navigation itself, consisting of straight-and-narrow paths with only 90-degree turns, which in their nature, make stylus-based navigation neigh intolerable, even for those who champion the concept in other DS games. The dungeons themelves are fairly well done, with enough branching paths and stuff to keep things interesting while still being straightforward enough to accomodate those who just want to blaze through. Also noteworthy is the ability to save anywhere, which, combined with the DS's great sleep mode, make the game perfectly portable.
Path of the Ninja's battle system is one of its better aspects. The player's team of Naruto-series characters lines up in a formation using three rows of layout (most turn-based RPGs use two). From there, it's mostly a traditional turn-based system mixed with the "jutsu" from the series, which are activated in ways ranging from button combination presses to certain actions with the touchscreen. It's simple, but pretty effective for a game like this, and its young target audience won't be overwhelmed. The only problem with it is that it's somewhat of a bother to dig out the stylus to execute the jutsu that require touching, since that's the only thing the stylus is ever used for in this game (aside from a brief minigame in the exam), so it's more tempting to use a finger and possibly smudge up the screen. Pull out the stylus and use it for three seconds before it's put away again for several minutes, or mess up the screen? Maybe I need to learn to get comfortable playing with buttons while holding the stylus, but really, screw that.
Naruto: Path of the Ninja is an overall easy game, but once in a while, it can throw some unexpected challenge at the player, and with the final dungeon in particular, the difficulty ramps so high so fast, it's annoying. Rarely, if ever, was grinding necessary all game long, except during the final dungeon, when game over is happening from random battles. It's sad that perhaps there couldn't have been a bit more of the story detailed or something, since the game can be completed in less than 10 hours. Perhaps a little more of the story could have been tapped? Then again, maybe this is what the anime would have been like without all those filler moments.
Players will take control of recognizable figures from the anime, namely Naruto, Sakura, Sasuke, Lee, Neiji, and Shikamaru. While that sounds great initially, those latter three are unavailable for 80% of the game, and even then, they are definitely the weak links, and a primary reason for the aforementioned need for grinding.
While there are a few technical flaws and many things are done in traditional ways, Naruto: Path of the Ninja remains a somewhat decent pickup for big Naruto fans. It covers some of the most interesting plot arcs in the series, and it is pretty neat to see the well-animated Naruto character sprites in battle. The hardcore franchise lovers will find it good, but those indifferent to the overenergentic young ninja from Konoha will find an overall substandard RPG here, hiding behind well-done fanservice.