It’s hard watching a franchise with such promise take such a dive.
Less than a year ago, I spent a substantial number of words championing Naruto: Uzumaki Chronicles, the first entry in a PlayStation 2 series of Naruto games that turns the inexplicably popular television show into a mission-based brawler. Surprisingly, the character of Naruto himself came off as endearing in his loud, do-gooding way, and the format of the game was well thought-out, allowing the player to choose from multiple available missions and dynamically adjusting the mission tree based on the success (or lack thereof) of Naruto’s attempts at those missions. The challenge was high but very much doable, the power-up system was inventive if a bit convoluted, and the whole experience of that game is surprisingly fun.
Given that background, high hopes abounded for the American release of Uzumaki Chronicles 2. Those high hopes are quickly dashed, and in the first half-hour or so of gameplay no less.
For one thing, nobody is going to point out Naruto: Uzumaki Chronicles 2 as a technical powerhouse. Much like the first game, the graphics are solid, the sounds are adequate, and the gameplay is basic. The question, then, is this: Why the hell are the load times so long? What is the game doing for all of that time? Why are they making me look at the load screen for all of this time? Yes, thank you, I’ve seen that pretty fireball graphic before! Stop showing it to me! In one of the many RPG elements that Uzumaki Chronicles incorporates into its gameplay, Naruto and his crew run into random battles when traveling from important spot to important spot. Before every one of these random battles, you must endure a long, painful “now loading…” screen. Final Fantasy could never get away with that.
Of course, long load times can be forgiven if the end result is absorbing gameplay. Unfortunately, the entirety of the game ends up being a fairly rote punch ‘n’ kick extravaganza with a few puzzles thrown in and some role playing-like attribute boosting. It’s a problem that’s evident from the very beginning; unbelievably, the very first true mission, the one that should be introducing us to the glory of the game, is an absolute disaster.
You can play as Naruto or two of his buddies, switching between the three characters at will. Personally, I tend to stick with Naruto himself, but it’s nice to know that there are others available for those players who don’t like to play favorites. Still, Naruto’s the only one with the “shadow clone” power, which turns out to be all but necessary for advancement in the game. You see, not only can these shadow clones inflict obscene amounts of damage on an opponent, but a few of them, when called, are smart enough to figure out where the team of good guys should go next. Usually, this means going and finding the next Konoha symbol randomly placed on the ground, or a tree, or a building. The first mission has Naruto and friends trying to save a burning village from the evil “puppets” (life-size human vessels controlled by a greater evil, natch). One would think that this would entail more than simply beating on a bunch of puppets, and I suppose it does, to a point.
After taking down the first bunch of baddies, it’s time to do some exploration. After looking around and finding a few minor power-ups, the player will certainly get lost. As Naruto or one of his cohorts, you will run into walls, try and jump over things, even run into fiery, burning stuff all for the purpose of simply finding the next thing to do. Here’s the problem: you will not find it. Finally, probably frustrated, you will unleash the shadow clones, and watch in wonderment as one of them continually runs into a nondescript, utterly blank wall on one of the buildings. Confused, you will run up to the building, finally being prompted to push a button which will allow you to jump to the roof, where you can bust a water pump (?!) which will spray on the village and put out a portion of the fire.
You do this same thing, nondescript walls and all, a total of three times throughout the level. It’s not a puzzle, it’s a means to extending the amount of time it takes to finish the game. It’s an egregiously awful design choice, the type of which gets repeated over and over throughout Uzumaki Chronicles 2. Beat all of the enemies and don’t know what to do next? Wait a while, and more will show up. Did a boss appear that you don’t know how to beat? Try this: Pound on your attack buttons over and over again. That should do him in. These are the kinds of things that happen throughout the game. There are various side missions that you can take on for the sake of improving your stats or piling up some cash, but almost every one of them is of the “beat up everything in sight” variety, with the occasional “find all of these randomly placed objects” tasks to spice things up a bit.
The challenge to create a worthwhile product is high when a developer is attempting to adapt a licensed property. There are pressures from all sides: pressure to stay true to the original material, pressure to get something out on a time frame that’ll keep it relevant, pressure to put out something of quality that fans of the property can latch on to. So often, something has to give, and so often, it’s the quality of the final product. The phrase “quick cash-in” was all but made for the movie-to-game adaptation. The thing is, Naruto: Uzumaki Chronicles managed to succeed on all three counts. It was an entertaining game that took on all of the best traits of the television series it was based on.
Uzumaki Chronicles 2, on the other hand, takes such a dip in quality as to call into question the merits of the first game. Did I miss these problems in the original? Was I just in an exceptionally good mood the day that I wrote that review? Regardless, Naruto: Uzumaki Chronicles 2 feels like a tossed-off release on a slowly dying system. There’s no reason you need to subject yourself to this.