Uzumaki Redux

We take a hands-on look at Naruto's latest adventure in Uzumaki Chronicles 2.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: August 25, 2007
Hey, have we told that super-awesome and totally fresh joke about how there's like a million Naruto music videos on YouTube yet? What's that? We make the same dumb joke every friggin' time we mention Naruto? Well fine, then we won't do it this time, though with approximately 178 billion episodes of the show floating around out there, we can kinda see why people would want to mix both Linkin Park and Harry Connick, Jr. to the clips. Okay, fine, we made that last one up, thoughthere'sprobablyavideouponYouTube! HA! Snuck that joke in there anyway!

Ignoring the rabid fanbase for a second, Naruto's video game adventures have actually been surprisingly good, whether it's the CyberConnect 2 (of .hack fame)-developed Ultimate Ninja fighting games or even the original Uzumaki Chronicles developed by Cavia. Naruto: Uzumaki Chronicles 2 is Cavia's second stab at turning the spunky mini-ninja and friends' adventures into a proper adventure game. Y'know, with lots of ninjas that beat people up.

Fundamentally, there's not a whole lot that different about UC2, but the two games aren't really related story-wise. You've got an ancient organization that's threatening to destroy the Hidden Leaf Village (when aren't they trying to destroy the Hidden Leaf Village?) after marching their way through other clans using puppets to beat the snot out of the local residents. You'll still explore the world by way of a series of inter-connected dots on an overhead map (think Super Mario World) and the odd random encounter as you run between the dots, and you can still swap between up to three characters that are chosen for you as you go through the storyline.

As you duke it out in the random encounters (and, if the dots on the map happen to be a level, those too), beating up enemies by either using strong or weak attacks (Square and Triangle) or by combining them with a dash attack (double-tap X) or a jumping attack (hold X) or with your special attacks mapped to the right shoulder buttons. It's actually a rather speedy, fluid system, and Cavia seems to have cranked up both the pacing of the fights and the breadth of the moves.

As you beat the hell out of enemies, they'll drop orbs that either refill your health or chakra gauges, or they'll give you experience, which you can use to increase a handful of attributes for each character like, strength, speed, hit points, etc. The experience isn't split between the characters, though, so you'll have to farm orbs for each one, but switching between them is as simple as a shoulder button press, and you can even use this to string together some extremely potent combos. Though the game can be played like something of an action RPG, just finishing chapters in the main story mode unlocks other modes like Survival or Mission.

It's the latter that we took a stab at (though we dabbled in the former as well, and both are set up in graded tiers with progressively more rewards for finishing them), and it was interesting to see how the game morphed a little to accommodate some of the missions. In one, we had to chase down the leader of a band of thieves on the same little interconnected map from the story mode, but with many, many more points. The problem was that the leader would move intermittently, and with the grid of dots being so wide, he had a lot of directions to run in. To complicate matters, random encounters would still take place between the dots, so it took a bit of careful pre-planning a bit of guesswork as to where the thief would go next.

It looks like right now the Mission and Survival Modes are there mainly to help grind experience (in fact, there's even a multiplier if you do missions solo instead of taking other team members) and cash, but it's not a bad way to do it. Because you unlock more characters as the Story Mode goes on, you can actually end up with a pretty sizeable set of characters, and since the story sort of dictates who is in your group, taking a break to level up new characters is a wise move.

To help with character advancement, the first game's boards and chips make a return. Essentially slotted planks of wood, the boards have varying shapes for each character and new moves or abilities (or upgrades to things like health or max chakra power) are carved into chips of varying sizes and shapes that have to be slotted in the board. It's a little like a puzzle once you start juggling multiple chips on a board, and to help out a little, you can actually spend cash to carve out new areas of a board to add more chips. It's not a bad way to do things, all told, as it can end up being rather addictive.

Though our schedule as meted out only a small window of time these days to check out new games (stupid events, stupid crazy release schedule!), we were rather impressed with how well the second Uzumaki Chronicles is coming along. Given that the game ships in just a couple weeks (September 4th for those curious), we won't have to wait long for a final build. We'll have a review of the game soon.