Oct 29, 2007
Every gamer knows that the path of the ninja is tread quietly, strewn with sliced-off heads and populated by dark, silent killers. Unless you're talking about the anime/manga/videogame juggernaut Naruto, in which case that same ninja path is tread clumsily, strewn with preteen hijinks and walked by a hero who dresses like a traffic cone and sounds like Bart Simpson. Path of the Ninja, the new DS Naruto RPG, will accordingly play - for the Naruto-ignorant - like a kind of Before They Were Ninjas TV special: a chronicle of the time lil’ ninjas spend trying to impress the older, cooler ninjas and getting their shit rocked before they become the agile death machines we know them to be.
In fact, you’ll feel like a lil’ gamer as you play Path of the Ninja, which treats you much like a patronizing sensei would. It’s remarkably simple: for much of the game, you control the same party of three (Naruto, brooding lil’ hunk Sasuke, and smitten do-gooder Sakura) as they accept missions from the sort of old ninjas who like to dole out portentous advice with their missions. Few of these missions take more than 30 minutes to complete, although all of them come with a bowl of ramen, and more portentous advice, at the end.
You will spend most of your time in the missions engaged in a vanilla turn-based battle system that will neither confuse nor excite anyone who has played an RPG before. Occasional stylus commands, which may or may not impact the amount of damage done by Jutsus (special attacks), help to alleviate random-encounter fatigue.
Path of the Ninja distils the first 80 episodes of the Naruto TV series into a funny, well-told, and occasionally crowded story. The game never wanders far from the show, from its episodic mission structure to the great, short anime cutscenes that play on the DS’s top screen during important moments and battles. Unfortunately, the repetitive plain graphics cannot do the story justice. Neither can the four or five songs that make up the soundtrack, which makes you feel like you’re in the underwear department of JCPenny. The question then is, why play an abridgement of a great story when you can watch the whole thing?
Of course simple gameplay, simple graphics and occasional translation-related titters (early in the game, a playful Naruto informs his sensei Kakashi that “I’m just getting you back for nailing me in the rear earlier!”) won’t deter the young and devoted audience for which the game is intended. And as a training ground for all the better looking and playing RPGs of the world, the entertaining Path of the Ninja does its job. Call it Before They Were RPGs: a trip back to the days when the genre was simple, looked bad, and just wanted to be taken as seriously as the other, cooler genres.