These game names are starting to get a bit ridiculous. Naruto Shippuden: Dragon Blade Chronicles is the latest in the ninja adventures of Naruto and his never ending fight to prevent the Hidden Leaf Village from being destroyed. This time around a member of a persecuted clan, known as the Tatsushiro, has sent out powerful dragons called genryu out to destroy the world. It's up to Naruto to put a stop to this, with the help of members of the Hidden Leaf Village, and even a few unexpected allies. A company known for stellar translation work, Atlus has done a fine job in getting this side-story of the Naruto universe to the hands of Wii owners. Unfortunately though there was not much they could do to save this game from one of the slowest ramp-ups in both storytelling and gameplay. Dragon Blade Chronicles suffers from a very slow introduction that makes playing this game a chore even in the best of times. Best described as a light version of God of War, Dragon Blade Chronicles has all the makings of a clone of that vaunted franchise, some platforming elements, some initially weak combat that eventually picks up to be surprisingly deep, and a story that adds to an ever expanding universe.
Developer Eighting seemed to have little idea of what they wanted to accomplish with Dragon Blade Chronicles, and a few key flaws keep the game far from being considered among stuff like Broken Bond, or the recently released Ultimate Ninja Storm 2. One of the big things being the graphics, which might not sound fair after being spoiled by Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, but I fault this more on the weak graphical capabilities of the Wii. Characters look decent enough, but at a distance the black outlines for the characters suffer terribly thanks to lack of anti-aliasing on the Wii, so the jagged edges combined with flat and repetitive textures make this game look at times hideous, and passable at best. There are also matching sets of animation used during story bits for the characters ambient movement, which looks kind of silly to see characters moving in time with each other in the same manner as if they were synchronized swimmers. All in all the game just isn't very attractive, even enemies, called mugonhei have what looks to be the same model just with different colors and sizes, and having too many on screen causes massive amounts of slow-down, bringing the framerate down to a crawl. The actual characters look pretty snappy up close, and are the high point in this otherwise disappointing display.
Gameplay consists of completing chapters that switch between Naruto while he attempts to destroy the genryu, and Sasuke as he attempts to track down his brother, the leader of the Akatsuki. It's not really that interesting a side story to the Naruto Shippuden line, as it has little expose and doesn't seem to accomplish more for the stories than a movie would, and since it's not part of the main canon you know you're not going to get the resolution at the game's end that you're hoping for. The other weakness here is just the presentation isn't frequent enough, with events functioning as a bookend between chapters. It does however comes across well with quality voice acting that the series is known for, but if you're looking for a Japanese language track be warned that the game only comes with English, though this really shouldn't be a deal breaker.
While taking control of Naruto or Sasuke, you'll be running around through Mount Koryu through a variety of stages that follow elements of nature that are tied to the Dragon Blade that Naruto was given to fight the genryu. Along the way plenty of mugonhei will be there to halt your progress, a featureless enemy that floods the game like ninjas flood the television show. The lack of enemy variety can cause the game to feel lifeless and dull at times, but thanks to the great variety of moves that can be learned the game isn't as shallow as it initially feels, but getting to the point where you can reach some of this expansive combat takes quite a while and at the outset the combat is pretty base and boring, with simple three hit combos being the order of the day, all mapped to the A button. Couple this with a lack of lock-on or targeting or even decent attack range and this game will turn people off in a hurry.
The biggest offense with the combat can be how hard it is to hit enemies when facing small groups, as it's difficult to turn and attack enemies after flying by them while in the middle of a combo. And this happens all the time. This is especially noticeable with Sasuke as his initial attack is a vertical one, making his attack path very narrow. This is exacerbated by the enemies seemingly unstoppable attacks that cannot be stopped unless they are knocked out by a ninjitsu skill or by a charged power attack. The only problem is that the enemies have a nasty habit of knocking you out of your attacks with even the slightest touch, and at times they can do big damage if you don't happen to have a substitution skill that will allow you to teleport out of the continuing onslaught, or you could use the poorly implemented tactical roll that requires precision timing to come off and allow an escape when you hit the ground. Offering some leeway on this 'ukemi' feature would have gone a long way in preventing what felt like unfair deaths. Another useful option is to use a comrade that can provide a heavily damaging attack, or give you back some health, and after a short recharge can be used again.
Things become a bit more manageable with the acquisition of scrolls that will grant new skills, these scrolls can also increase life and chakra levels in addition to improving defense and attack properties. Some skills are essential to completing the stage, like using fire breath attacks in windy areas to spread the fire to destroying vegetation that blocks paths or using mud blocks to weigh down button switches to open doors. The variety of uses for the special skills is surprising to say the least. At any given time you are allowed four different skills, and swapping them out is fairly easy, so you never feel like you're without the skills you need. I can't help but think a more seamless method of skill assigning would have helped keep the action flowing though as it can be quite annoying to pause the game to assign skills to the directional pad in the middle of a fight. Game controls are functional and efficient and don't require gesturing with the Wii Remote too frequently, and the decision to use of the retro controller or even GameCube controller is a welcome addition that you don't really see enough of these days.
If you happen to get bored of the story there is a multiplayer mode, though I've got to wonder what the point was for implementing it. It's a one on one match between Naruto and Sasuke,in a very small arena, that is basically a poor man's 3D fighting game, except enemies spawn and there are environmental effects to help or hinder you. At first I thought I would unlock more as I progressed through the game, and after getting through about half and checking on it again, I was still limited in choices. After a little research I found that this indeed all there is for the gameplay mode. What is the point of having this if it's going to be so poor an experience? I can imagine little kids enjoying this for a few excited minutes before they move on to something else.
For all the Naruto fans out there that happen to be Wii owners, there isn't a whole lot outside of the fighting game styled titles, and that's kind of a shame, since the Wii could use a game like Broken Bond and Rise of the Ninja. Instead with Naruto Shippuden: Dragon Blade Chronicles they are treated to what I hate to call a weak attempt at a God of War clone that doesn't come close to achieving the level of success. It's as mediocre as can be, with a story that isn't very compelling since it doesn't have the focus that the main storyline would. I don't know if this speaks to the Wii demographic, but it just seems like a great experience can't be had outside of the fighting game titles just because of hardware limitations. That seems like a cop-out on my part, but all too often we see franchises that have decidedly better games on what might be considered to be 'more powerful' platforms. Atlus should be commended for trying to bring another type of Naruto game for the Nintendo audience. It's a shame Eighting kind of botched the whole thing in the end, giving Naruto fans a rather lackluster experience.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
A game that is at best, mediocre. Atlus' localization talent was wasted on a poorly executed adventure that even hardcore fans would be hard pressed to find enjoyable.