Naruto, the popular manga and anime franchise about a boisterous young ninja of the same name, now has more than twenty videogames under its belt. Naruto: Path of the Ninja 2 for Nintendo DS is almost surely one of them.
That may sound a bit lackadaisical, but in the interest of full disclosure, I'll break the fourth wall to tell you that I've never played a Naruto game before sitting down to play Path of the Ninja 2.
However, the most intriguing thing about the Path of the Ninja series may be what it doesn't share with the rest of the Naruto franchise - a genre. While the franchise is full of fighting, action and adventure videogames, Path of the Ninja 2 is a fairly traditional turn-based role-playing game.
The story begins with a group of rogue ninjas releasing an evil spirit beast, in the form of a giant catfish, out into the world. While the rogue ninjas plan world domination, the spirits that constitute the evil beast threaten to turn everyone they come in contact with into mindless brawlers. In standard fashion, it's up to Naruto and his friends from the Hidden Leaf Village to save the day.
The plot is generic, no question about it. There are no twists, no turns and no character development to keep a player interested while trudging through the quests to gather the magical mirrors to seal the spirit beast. And the writing definitely oversimplified for a younger audience. Older Naruto fans should keep that in mind, if those exist.
The visuals are simplistic, as well. The sprites and animation look dated, and there isn't much else to the videogame. However, while a character is speaking and before certain big attacks, players are treated to some crisp anime-style pictures. But those generally only serve as a reminder as to how much better the game could have looked.
The audio also leaves much to be desired. Each of the characters has only a few catchphrases to shout out every time he or she attacks. Still, that isn't quite as annoying as the repetitive music played throughout the game. It sounded like one 15-hour long song, with the only catchy tune coming after the final boss battle. Although, that could've just been a side effect of relief that the game was over.
Path of the Ninja 2 does have one saving grace. The videogame includes a surprisingly intricate battle system that goes above and beyond many other generic RPGs. Players are given the ability to use up to four characters for any battle, with three on the screen and one alternate. The on-screen characters are placed on an invisible grid, in which a character closer to the enemy has a better attack force, but worse defense. Alternatively, a character standing farther away from an enemy won't get hit as hard, but also won't be able to dish out major punishment. Weapon type can also affect long-distance power.
Players can also set up characters into certain formations that have a few different incentives, such as increased agility of the party members. And characters can be moved all over their side of the grid with no penalty. Furthermore, the alternate character can be switched in without the loss of a turn, to provide another dimension to the battle. The characters can attack, defend, move, switch, flee, use an item or use some chakra in a jutsu technique to heal, attack or defend. Some of the more powerful jutsu require players to get active on the touch screen, which helps break up the thumb-smashing during some of the longer battles.
The interesting battle system just doesn't outweigh the game's flaws, and there are many. The game is far too simple and easy. With no character development, there is no incentive to use any characters other than the first four the player acquires. Those characters then level up far to quickly in a sea of random battles that give far too many experience points. Because of this, it's rarely necessary to upgrade weapons armor or any other equipment. The only reason to put any effort into the game at all is to set up a team for a multiplayer or Wi-Fi battle.