Hey, remember how awesome Naruto:Rise of a Ninja was?
That’s what Ubisoft is counting on, it seems, because The Broken Bond is a tremendous disappointment compared to its predecessor in almost every way. Questionable design decisions that changed previously great mechanics, unnecessary annoyances, and an overall lack of effort define the game. Some elements, frankly, fall under the shovelware category, or “Elf Bowling level flash game” at the high end.
As with Rise of a Ninja, the game relies on a fighting engine and fairly open platform style to advance the story. Both systems have been updated to make use of multiple characters, since most of the game’s time is spent with two or three characters, swapped out as needed in combat and while roaming the world. All have unique abilities(aka jutsu), though several serve the same function, such as trap detection or getting into small places outside of combat, or to deal/heal damage in combat.
In the last game they were occasionally used during the adventure sections, now they’re used constantly. It gets repetitive, which is to be expected, but the execution is terrible. Using the various jutsu draws from the energy meter, and early on there’s only enough energy to attempt the skill once before having to wait a few minutes to retry, particularly annoying since often it’s essential to advance. There’s an option to take one of the various pills that regenerate health and chakra, but that ends up being a waste of money, even if there is an infinite supply, and the same pills are able to be used in combat, where they’re much more useful. It ends up being a time sink in any case, be it minigames for money or a few minutes sitting around; no matter what it’s completely unnecessary and could easily turn players off of the game. It’s like playing an MMO, only with more grinding for platinum. Or gold. Or credits. Whatever your MMO of choice uses as its top tier funds. Or Isk.
The adventure section is very weak this time, sadly. The timesinks combine with constantly blocked paths or areas with tons of invisible, nearly unavoidable traps to soak up more money from health pills, which is to be regained in the crap minigames, and a bit more in combat since enemies seem to explode money once defeated. Actually finding a viable path is a real challenge thanks to a bad map system and areas that all look completely alike except for invisible traps (causing you to wait, once again, to regain chakra so you can see and attempt to avoid them). Quite a few points require multiple jutsu to be used from the same character, which cancels the previous one and soaks up chakra. Sometimes you have to combine powers, which means you get even less time to do what you need, and then it’s back to waiting on your energy to regenerate enough to try again. Ugh.
The newer presentation is incredibly cheap. New character models look bad and almost seem to lose textures. The cel-shading has dropped quite a bit, and while it worked before, bland background and world textures cause it to look alien; there’s a tendency to make characters look unfinished, which I’d venture they are. Hand signs are no longer animated in the world or combat, hell, faces are barely animated. The vast majority of the game’s in-engine cutscenes show no emotion whatsoever. This is fine for a few characters, but if Naruto isn’t a grinning doofus, something is wrong. It almost makes the lack of lip-syncing bearable, as clearly no effort was put into the English syncing. To be honest, the Japanese didn’t match up much better, leading me to believe the animators chose “Repetitive mouth motion number 6″ as their dialogue option.
The combat engine has had the welcome addition of combat tag-ins. Since the game is based around teams, players can change in the middle of a fight (though they’re left vulnerable unless they do a tag-combo generally), letting one character heal or regain energy while the other fights. Chakra is very limited during fights, which helps prevent some of the jutsu-spam that plagued the last game. Unfortunately, Ubisoft chose to also restrict what can be used by an arbitrary special ability meter which builds via hand to hand combat. There are three levels to reach which allow different techniques. In reality, it means you’ll be annoyed for not being able to use an attack you want because you haven’t blocked enough attacks. It would have been fine if it was used instead of the chakra meter and depleted after use, but now, it’s a redundant roadblock to bigger, better attacks, and the game’s hand to hand combat system isn’t THAT good. It’s enjoyable, but it’s very simple and wears out after too much without the variety special attacks added, even if they do get repetitive.
The control feels a bit sluggish this time around, out of combat and loose in minigames and jutsu. The bouncy targeting system deserves special mention, used in some special attacks and minigames. Anything with a targeting cursor suffers from a bad case of acceleration, slow stopping when you change direction, and bounces off the sides of the screen horribly. Hitting specific points or tracking targets is stunningly frustrating in most cases.
There are a few bad QTEs thrown into the mix as well, which can’t be a surprise to anyone at this point, can it? In what would be a great point for a cutscene, players are kept on edge and don’t get to enjoy the cinematics (which stand out as being well done in a game that has quite a few issues). Worse, if a button is missed in the QTE, not only does the entire thing restart, but so does the preceding cinematic if there was one. Two minutes of cinematic, “oh shit QTE FUCK”, repeat at least once. Bad, bad, bad idea.
Naruto:The Broken Bond gets 2 of 5 canes. It had a lot to live up to-and it didn’t. It tries to do a lot of things, but doesn’t excel in any of them and fails quite a few. New annoyances have been added, and pointless hassles, resulting in a mostly below-average experience. It’s not bad, but only hardcore Naruto fans are likely to finish the game, much less make it halfway through.