by Bamboo Dong,

Naruto Uzumaki Chronicles

(PlayStation 2)

Naruto Uzumaki Chronicles
Fight as Naruto as he helps the Hokage fulfill 25 missions. Whether it's delivering goods or helping to train the next generation of ninjas, it's a dangerous world out there. It's a good thing Naruto's there to help!
Ask any long-time fan of Naruto what their biggest complaint is, and they'll tell you without hesitation, "Fillers." If that's the case, then it's hard to believe that anyone would actively seek out even more of them. Even when it comes in the form of a videogame so mundane that it's more of a chore to sit through than not. Created by Bandai Namco Games, the newest addition to the Naruto game lineup tries so hard to break free from its one-on-one fighting brethren that it runs out of steam five minutes after hitting "Start."

Until now, most of the Naruto console games have been straightforward fighting games. Two ninjas, a gallery of special techniques, and a list of button-mashing techniques that let you knock out your opponent as efficiently as possible. Not so with Naruto Uzumaki Chronicles, which opts for a completely different type of gameplay.

For starters, it's deceptively simple, even more so than your standard man vs. man fighter. Designed to play more like an RPG, players get to be the ever-spunky Naruto as he embarks on a quest to tackle 25 missions of varying difficulty. Along the way, he is occasionally helped by other familiar faces, like Sasuke, Shikumaru, and a few others. However, it's readily apparent even after a few missions that that is all there is to the game, and nothing short of being obsessed with 100 percent completion will be enough to drive most players through all the humdrum levels. The back of the box does mention that when you're not fighting missions, you can pit yourself against “hordes of skilled enemies,” but what they're actually referring to is, disappointingly, the random encounters that are generated between destinations.

Not that you can actually choose where to go. For most RPGs, half the fun in the game is traveling between locales, leveling up and talking to people as you go. With the childlike simplicity of Naruto Uzumaki Chronicles, you are given only a map with dots on them, and a cursor. When one of the dots turns red, you click on it, and away mini-Naruto goes, traversing down the map until he hits a random “horde of skilled enemies.”

Unfortunately, the only point of this game is to fulfill missions. Whether it's as simple as delivering a wagon of supplies to the next map-dot over or tracking down a plant, the missions are all simple tasks designed solely to find an excuse to have you travel to another village. Irritatingly, if you fail a mission, you aren't offered the chance to redo it—instead, the word “FAILED” is stamped miserably across your dossier.

Even in terms of gameplay, the options are exceedingly simple. Naruto has the ability to kick, punch, jump, and throw things. Tack on the shoulder buttons, and he can even squeeze out a couple of clones, throw an energy ball, and take off his clothes. That's it. On the upside, it means less to remember, but without having the novelty of an action menu or complex combinations, the game gets very dull, very fast. As the game progresses, you're given the chance to soup up a few of Naruto's moves, but even then, you're still fighting the same faceless enemies you've been seeing the whole time.

As far as the six support characters that are offered go, they're designed to be as low-maintenance as possible. If the mission deems them necessary, they are sent to accompany you, but lest that make the game too complex, they are relegated to tag-team duty. Like Naruto, they kick, punch, and have two shoulder button moves, but the characters can only be used briefly before their time expires.

With all the downtime between fights, though, there's plenty of time to check out the graphics and audio (when you're not waiting for the ridiculously long load times). In a time when cel-shaded graphics have become the norm for anime-related video games, it's odd to see fully three-dimensional characters. Luckily, they look great, albeit a bit uncanny. The renderings resemble the characters to their every last detail, and players have plenty of time to admire the characters during the cinematic sequences which sadly, cannot be skipped. At least the original American voice actors are used, so at the very least, it just feels like you're just watching a series of terribly scripted fillers. Between that and the repetitive soundtrack, this game is a real winner.

Truthfully, even for diehard fans of the series, there isn't much substance to Naruto Uzumaki Chronicles. The game is depressingly simple, extremely repetitive, and hardly leaves any incentive to play it until completion. Despite the game's claims for players to “be the hero” and “live the adventure,” Naruto's life in the game is just not that interesting, and neither is what's required to go through his days.
Production Info:
Story : D-
Art : B
Music : C-

+ Not many buttons to remember.
Exceedingly simple and repetitive.

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