I have played a lot of Naruto games, but I have also purposely skipped a few. After a while, playing through the same story with a few gameplay tweaks gets old. Naruto Shippuden: Dragon Blade Chronicles is different. It is set during Sasuke’s search for Itachi, but the story is completely fresh. That doesn’t mean you’ll want to experience it though.
Akari and her brother (new characters) were shunned by society for the horns on their heads. While Akari tries to live her life, her brother seeks revenge, and so he sets about unleashing the five Genryu (elemental dragons) in hopes of absorbing their powers and destroying the world. Naruto and company agree to help Akari stop her brother at Mt. Koryu, unaware that Sasuke and the Akatsuki are being drawn to the same location.
Dragon Blade Chronicles has the makings of an exciting hack-and-slash adventure, but fails to make a first impression that is remotely interesting. Without so much as an introduction, you are thrust into Naruto’s shoes on the training field, in mid-conversation with Kakashi sensei. With no logical reasoning or fanfare, your first mission is… moving boxes! Naruto can run across water, create shadow clones, and has a mythical beast living inside him. This is the best introduction the developers can think of?
Most of the English voice-actors return, minus a few minor characters, but the cutscenes are intolerably dull. Two-five second pauses between short sentences are the norm, thus eradicating any hope of emotional impact. Meanwhile, the generic hard rock soundtrack keeps blasting away as if there is something to be excited about. Then there is the newcomer, Akari, who should win an award for the most depressing character of the year. I get it. You have horns. Life sucks. Quit talking before I shoot myself.
Once Akari has finished sucking the joy out of the universe and you enter Mt. Koryu, Dragon Blade Chronicles proves to have a responsive combat system. Melee combat is a one-button affair, while ninjitsu attacks can only be performed after finding the appropriate scrolls. It turns out that Mt. Koryu has the nasty ability to deplete everyone’s chakra. In other words, it’s an excuse to start Naruto from scratch and work his way up, but it works. What impressed me most was how responsive and necessary evasive maneuvers were, which adds a kick to the otherwise simplistic combat.
No amount of ninjitsu can hide the fact that the same three enemies are recycled over and over, unless red and blue colorations count as major differences. It’s in your best interest to run past most of them anyway, especially since there are no experience points and items of any value are contained in chests. The bosses are not overly difficult, but they are extremely frustrating. Most are either capable of flight or are so big that their weak spots are rarely reachable. It almost seems as though they were designed for a different game with guns or bows.
Ghastly amounts of repetition are unavoidable, and levels feature little more variety than the enemies. There might be a lava pool here or an extra pile of rocks there, but it’s quite obvious that the same hideously drab rooms are recycled. Combined with the lack of a map, it’s not always apparent if you are progressing or backtracking, although there is a tremendous amount of the latter. This is most noticeable after completing a level with Naruto and then hopping back in as Sasuke.
I had hoped that Versus mode would be Dragon Blade Chronicles’ saving grace, but I was alone, and Dragon Blade Chronicles is apparently not smart enough for AI. I can’t think of any other fighting-oriented game that has offered a versus mode, but no AI. After digging up a second controller and a friend, Versus mode turned out to be a complete waste of time. A human opponent is far more engaging than the other palette-swapped enemies, but unlike the massive rosters of other Naruto games, Dragon Blade Chronicles has Naruto and Sasuke. That’s it.
The coup de grace was slowdown that plagued the game from beginning to end, even when running through the many vacant hallways. I felt like the game was laughing at me, taunting me to see how much more of the rancid gameplay I could stand. Recommending Naruto Shippuden: Dragon Blade Chronicles to even the most diehard super-fan would be an insult.