Everyone’s favourite spiky haired, loud-mouthed ninja is back, in Naruto: The Broken Bond. Picking up from when the last game Naruto: Rise of a Ninja (RoaN) left off, the fate of Naruto, Sasuke and friends, and the Hidden Leaf Village is laid bare before you as the game begins with an attack from evil antagonist and rogue ninja Orochimaru. With the village destroyed and the resolve of the ninjas in training tested fully, the undying bond between the characters is strengthened as they fight for survival and to protect the honor of the Leaf Village ninja clan.
The game begins in earnest, as familiar turf from Rise of a Ninja (RoaN) is left in disarray, with Naruto eager to continue his training and fight for his friends. From the offset, it’s apparent that if you’re not a follower of the animated series, or have played RoaN, then the plot is going to feel somewhat disjointed and confusing. This is perhaps the game’s biggest downfall, because there’s very little explanation as to what happened prior to the Leaf Village getting attacked. I found this quite surprising, and would have thought the developers could have fleshed out a more inclusive introduction of sorts, rather than throwing you right into the deep end with a fight using the Third Hokage (leader of the Leaf Village Clan) and subsequent events which I won’t go into detail here for the sake of spoiling the plot.
Once you’ve made some sort of semblance of what’s happening, you’ll then be treated to more conventional gameplay elements such as navigating terrain by performing leaps and operating switches to open blocked pathways, getting into fights with other ninjas, and generally performing tasks to help rebuild the Leaf Village to its former glory. There’s a lot of differing elements to the gameplay, which you could liken to a sandbox game. Think, GTA with ninjas and you would get an idea of what’s on offer here.
The Broken Bond features a world map which from the offset requires you to progress the story, however between missions you are able to undertake the various side tasks at your leisure. It’s pretty standard fare and if you’ve played RoaN then the game practically mirrors everything that was on offer there. That’s not to say there are no new additions, because rather than settling in the Leaf Village like the first game, you are more-or-less a wandering entity as you travel various locales. One of the new additions is the inclusion of some rather tough mini-games, which you can visit a certain location to try you hand at. These offer a distinct distraction from the story, and are entirely optional to a point, but are also useful in developing the skills of Naruto. There are also some mini-games scattered around the lands, offering a distraction from your tasks at hand. Although I found the fishing mini-game to be somewhat mind numbingly boring, especially for a ninja in training.
The biggest change arrives in the unity of the secondary characters, where not only are they a part of the story as you would expect; they are now controllable characters and integral part of navigating the various regions. There are some fiendish puzzles on offer which requires the skills of your friends, and what’s really neat in now being able to control them. As you travel the lands, your team are there beside you, and with a tap of the d-pad, you’re able to switch between the characters at will. This is a really neat feature, and means that if you’re a fan of Sasuke, Sakura, Kiba, Choji, Shikamaru, Neji, Rock-Lee then you’ll be able to use them as your primary character in the wilds. Sadly this doesn’t extend when you’re in one of the two towns, as Naruto becomes the primary controllable character here.
The combat also takes advantage of this new team mechanic, offering the choice of tagging your team mates at will during the corybantic and maniacal bouts. The combat essentially remains the same as RoaN, but being able to take advantage of the abilities your friends possess is certainly welcome, and offers much needed diversification. You’ll be entering into a lot of enemy encounters throughout the game, and so mastery of each character move-set is essential for not only breaking up the somewhat monotonous tone the combat exudes, but providing you some sort of individual fluency and flair. There aren’t plentiful moves available per character, but in combination with having three team members, means you’ll be able to mix things up a little.
The fabulous and over-dramatic Justsu’s (special moves) make a welcome return, although it appears that they are lifted straight from RoaN, rather than being re-developed. This is somewhat of a shame and runs in juxtaposition to many features of the game being a carbon copy of RoaN.
The Broken Bond, retains the anime flair portrayed in RoaN. It’s part cel-shaded and presents a beautifully rendered replication of the TV series. I’m not sure if some minor improvements have been made, but I think the designers have incorporated a little more detail than previously. It was pleasant being able to run around locales shrouded in the darkness of night on occasion, offering a contradistinctive element to the predominately tantamount nature of the levels.
The characters are well animated, and look authentic to their on-screen counterparts. I noticed very few issues, if any, with the character’s, although it seems they have retained the same look from RoaN. There are plenty of new adversaries to encounter/ demolish, and their design is such that it lends respect to the artistic flair of their creators.
The only real graphical hiccups I noticed were some floating trees during one of the tree hopping mini-games, and characters getting stuck in the scenery. These instances were few and far between to cause any major grievances when playing.
The Broken Bond features a fusion of native Japanese pieces with western rock tracks, which stirs the emotions at the opportune moments throughout fighting, explorative and story based scenes. There are some excellent pieces, and others which are a little intense, but well-suited to the theme.
The Broken Bond feature the original voice cast for both English dubs and the source Japanese dialogue. It’s excellent to have the choice of a being able to switch at any time. Naruto is loud mouthed, cocky, arrogant, determined and really is a character you’ll bond with or detest in the most lovable of ways – if that’s possible. This is the charm of the series in my view, and makes for a perfect antagonistic anti-hero. The only real gripe I have with the voice-overs are the repeated phrases from non-playable characters, who could have had a little more dialogue trees under their belts.
If you’re looking for a way above average single player experience, then The Broken Bond offers plenty of variety and hours of entertainment. Once you’ve unmasked the ending of the story, there’s still a lot of activities to master as well. If you’re looking for a challenge with friends and online compatriots (to prevent the dreaded lag in online games), then there’s a comprehensive fighting mode, where you can team-up versus the AI or against each other. The new tagging mechanic lends itself well to this co-operative play style. For those of you looking to gain all the achievements, then expect between 20 plus hours of gameplay here.
As a fan of the RoaN, and having watched a number of episodes from the TV series, The Broken Bond is certainly pure fan service, although some purists will argue that several story elements are absent. The Broken Bond does a fine job of representing the nuances of the characters, the predicaments they face, and the emotions that rise within them. However as a game, it does feel somewhat like an expanded RoaN which in some respects isn’t such a bad thing, but leaves a somewhat overbearing similarity which might prove too much for owners or those who have played RoaN.
In closing, Naruto: The Broken Bond, isn’t the most accessible game in regards to its story, and those characters contained within; yet at the same time offers gameplay which covers a lot a ground which should keep fans / non-fans well occupied and entertained. If you’re after an emotive adventure, simplistic distractions, an amalgamation of ideas wrapped neatly into a well-rounded package, you’d do well to give The Broken Bond a well deserved look in. Fans should lap this up like a cat to cream, and for those truly involved with the series will find that once the story on offer is drawn to its conclusion, you’ll be left painstakingly hung, over a precipice of anticipation for the next game in the series.