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June 10, 2016

Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution (Part 1)

You guys have all heard about Naruto, right? It’s one of those manga/anime series that has transcended fandoms and is now widely recognized all over the world, like Astro Boy, Dragon Ball, Yu-Gi-Oh, Sailor Moon, and probably Ranma ½ and One Piece.

The start of an adventure... and I missed
the whole second half.
Just in case you have never heard much about Naruto, here’s the basics: A school of ninjas where they’re taught to access their life energy, known as chakra, to use all kinds of special abilities and techniques known as Jutsu, and the series mostly follows a team of those rookie ninjas and their sensei through their missions across the world of ninjas. Fighters with absurdly long blades, training, guys who look like girls, life-threatening competitions, training, tournament, major villains with insane powers, whiny good guys turning to the dark side (No no, I,m still talking about Naruto and not the Star Wars prequels), some kind of time skip, then we get into godly shenanigans – everyone loves godly shenanigans, am I right? – followed by more training, facing and fighting even more powerful opponents, political mayhem, then even more powerful opponents. It starts with a kid who has a demon fox sealed within him creating a technique that turns him into a sexy woman to defeat enemies using their own perversion, and it ends with a variation of that same technique used to distract and beat up an omnipotent godly woman of legend by using her own perversion against her. Gee, and I thought I was going far into sex jokes with my April 1st review this year.

The series, both pre- and post-time skip, suffers from multiple problems, including but not limited to continuity issues (though a story this big can’t easily avoid those), superfluous characters, enemies that just get more and more powerful to the point that it becomes ridiculous (Dragon Ball Z called, they wanted their concept back), a bit of character derailment, the attention going away from Naruto and the focus going towards his rival Sasuke Uchiha’s family clan for way too long… Some of those problems turned up late into the series, but some hints of it could be seen early on, especially before the time skip. Anyway, I know I’m making jokes, but if this interests you in the slightest, I invite you to look up more info on the series, or better even, seek out the manga. I haven’t read all of it, I only have the books pre-time skip, but I know enough about what happens in the Shippuden part. You could also look up the sequel film following the children of the younger generation from the original series.

Now that this is out of the way, here’s some info about today’s game. You see, the concept of ninjas using their own life energy to access various techniques, along with their use of traditional ninja weaponry, is just the perfect idea for a fighting game; and thus, most Naruto games out there concentrate on that idea, making the ninjas of the series fight each other. The game starts with a nice montage of scenes from the first part of the series, back when the young characters were all Genin (the lowest ninja rank), and then we get to the main menu divided in a number of categories.

Let’s start with the Single Player mode, which includes these options: Single Player, Versus CPU, Survival and Time Attack. Each mode of the Single Player section is a series of (at least) ten fights pitting the character you selected against ten characters, including some you may not have unlocked yet. Each fight is a match, and the winner of two fights out of three moves on to the next opponent.

I would say that Orochimaru is whipping out his snake,
but it's wrong on so many levels.
As for the fight system, first off I play this game with the Classic controller, I find it easier that way, so my indications will be about the buttons on the Classic Controller. It seems fairly basic as well, split between the A button for normal punches and kicks, and the B button is used to throw weapons like kunais (with possibility to press a direction on the D-pad in either case to do different attacks). The Y button is used to grab an opponent and throw them. The X button is used for very special moves (Jutsu), but to gain access to those, you first need to fill up the character’s chakra gauge. It fills up every time you land a successful hit and when you get hit. When it’s full and you press X and a direction, the character uses one of their signature moves, like Naruto's Rasengan, Sakura’s crazy self, Shikamaru’s shadow possession, Orochimaru’s… tongue. Eh, they can't all be winners. There’s also about 40-some different combos for every character, including those made possible with each character’s powered-up form. What’s more, the arenas are actually 3D fields, because the characters can dodge left and right (using the L and R buttons). It’s also possible to dodge while your character is in the receiving end of a combo, by pressing twice L or R; it results in the Substitution technique, with your character trading places with a log. It’s pretty important to learn that trick, though it works only if the character's chakra gauge is close to full.

Ah, Hinata. Such an adorable girl among the cast... one of my favorite
among the young ninjas. Probably because she's the nicest.

Back to the Single-Player Modes, here’s a quick explanation of each.
-Single Player: Similar to the Classic Mode, you are facing 10 opponents in a row, among the characters that have been unlocked so far. At the start of the game, you only have seven or eight characters available, so some of them might reappear (and you may also face a clone of your own character with a different color palette; it’s so weird to see Naruto wearing purple!). You have a number of chances to continue even after you’ve lost a match against an opponent. The tenth opponent will always be your current character's rival, which means you can encounter here opponents that are still locked. After this tenth battle is won, you get the credits.
Some of the modes show us these pre-battle animations.
Well, can't say they don't look like in the anime!
-Time Attack: Still 10 opponents to beat up, but you must try to do so in the shortest amount of time possible!
-Survival: This mode switches things around a little; instead of matches, you encounter every opponent in a single fight, though you need to defeat a maximum number of opponents, while not recovering between fights. When you win a battle, you move on to the next. And so on and so forth, until one opponent defeats you. It’s a pretty cool idea, I reached the 15th fight. See how far you can go!
-Versus CPU: You select your character, then you select another. The basic 1-VS-1 fight.

There’s also a Multiplayer mode if you wish to play with friends. It offers three interesting options:
-A 2-Player Versus mode;
-A 2-Player cooperative mode against CPU opponents;
-A 4-Player Versus mode, with possibility to have anywhere from 1 to 4 human players.

Let's play Guess Who! Is your character white? No? Alright!
*takes down everyone except Orochimaru and Kisame*
By the way, I like 1-vs-1 battles, but I really enjoy 4-Player Versus. It can lead to some interesting situations. Alright, it’s not perfect; you don’t pick your first opponent among the other three, but by pressing L and R you can change your focus to some of the other fighters, and seeing the four into a general melee is probably the best. I wished they made the mode that way from the start, but I guess they were just looking for a way to make the 3D arena work. Although, once again, you’ll rarely hit more than one enemy at once, and the very special jutsu are made in such a way that you can only hit one enemy with them, as far as I know. It’s pretty basic in that the first player to score two victories by being the last one standing is thus the winner.

At the start of the game, there are only eight characters unlocked: Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura, their sensei Kakashi, Neji Hyuga, Rock Lee, Shikamaru Nara and Jiraiya. Anyone who knows the series would know that the actual power levels of the characters have been scaled to be approximately on equal footing, or Jiraiya and Kakashi would wipe the floor with everyone else at the start of the game. And that's saying nothing of the uber-powerful ninja who join the roster as you progress through the game, like Itachi or Orochimaru. There are 12 more characters to unlock, for a total of 20.

Jiraiya, even Sakura can beat you! You're getting weak!
Many characters are unlocked through 1-Player Mode, but if you want to meet them and fight them before you unlock them, you can play the Mission Mode. It’s basically the Story Mode, starting from a point in the series and going from there. So, I’ll make a quick recap. Naruto has been shunned his whole life for being the vessel of the nine-tailed fox (kitsune, but let’s not nitpick etymology), which used to terrorize his village, Konoha. Growing up this way made him into kind of a trickster, but also severely impaired his ability to use chakra, the life force required to call forth the abilities and techniques known as Jutsu. Still, some unexpected situations allowed him to learn how to summon many clones of himself, which proves useful in almost every situation. He thus passes the exam and is assigned to Team 7, where his allies are Sasuke Uchiha and Sakura Haruno, under the guidance of sensei Kakashi Hatake. They go on a number of missions (and don’t quite get along, because Naruto was at first the kind who had more mouth than brain) and are assigned their first major mission in another land of the ninja world.

Every generation has its types of ninjas. The loud one with
hidden talents, the quiet and dangerous one, the physical
guy, and the one who gives no damns.
Afterwards, more time passes and Team 7 is invited to the Chunin Exams, which would let them gain a rank if they pass it. The exam starts off with a written test where the goal is less to find the answers and more to stealthily find someone who knows the answers and steal the answers from them. The second part is a long trek through a very dangerous forest, with Team 7 encountering some of the enemy teams from the neighboring villages (including the siblings from the Village Hidden in the Sand, with the youngest brother Gaara being the vessel for a Tailed Beast, just like Naruto). Meanwhile, some insane ninja named Orochimaru starts making plans with his lackey Kabuto to find a character who would become the next vessel for his soul.

Am I doing that recap thing right? There is so much to keep track of in that damn manga that I’m sure I’m forgetting something.

The third part takes place between the ninja teams who reached the center of the forest, and it’s a series of fights. The winners of those fights are then given a month to train until the final part of the exam, a second tournament. The ninjas who fare well enough in those battles, or show good skills both in-battle and outside of it, will then be promoted. And this is where we are; Naruto has won his battle in the third part of the exam (with a fart; don’t ask) and is training to gain better control of his abilities. That’s when he meets Jiraiya, the old and not-always-wise man also affectionately nicknamed the Pervy Sage… who agrees to take Naruto under his wing after seeing the infamous Sexy Jutsu in action. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, there’s a lot of perverted humor in the Naruto series. I have this impression that Japan really does enjoy perverted comedy, since I see it pop up in so many works. Now, we’re at that point where Jiraiya has helped Naruto quite a bit when it comes to controlling his chakra better, and the old man is now about to teach him an important technique.

The cutscenes here are really basic, with 2D pictures of the characters standing still and not changing stance much, only changing facial expressions and gaining little symbols of the anime iconography (like the veins shaped like a cross on the forehead, or the sweat drop) to show what they feel. There’s a lot of story to go through (they skim all the details that I explained here), but the game is fully voiced, so you don’t even have to read what the characters are saying.

Do we still need to respect our elders by not hitting them
when they're the ones asking to be hit?
Jiraiya decides that the best way to teach the technique to Naruto is to beat it into him. Okay, are you gonna explain the technique while you’re beating up your student? So far, the only guy I’ve seen learn new techniques by just getting beat up was Travis Touchdown, and even then, those techniques weren’t all useful. Hell, one of those techniques just taught him to run. This is the first fight, and it serves as a tutorial of sorts. It even taught me a few things I didn’t know! As an example, when a character’s life bar is below half, that character may gain a special ability that could let them get the upper hand again. In Naruto’s case, he gets wrapped up in the red energy of the Nine-Tailed Fox, and can use an additional technique by pressing Down and X. Using this knowledge, Naruto defeats Jiraiya.

Hm. Now that is some strong protection.
Somewhere else in the village, Neji Hyuga is training as well. This ninja possesses a family trait, his Byakugan eyes that allow him to see the “veins”-like paths on a ninja’s body that allow the passing of chakra and block them, and as a bonus he can see all around him and create a near-perfect force field to protect himself. He asks Tenten to train with him, and this mission has Neji protecting himself with a Back+B move when Tenten throws kunais at him. He has to deflect kunais with his force field ten times and be hit by them as little as possible. I personally hated this mission because Tenten often acted so close to Neji that I couldn’t do the move on time (it takes a second to act), but I finally managed to beat it.

Gaara showing the dangers of the sand.
"Ack! I got sand in my... everything!"
On the next mission, we see the ninja siblings of Sunagakure, the Village Hidden in the Sand: Gaara, Temari and Kankuro. Gaara is told by his siblings that he’s acting on his own and forgetting the mission (I’ll get to the details soon; basically, Sunagakure and a “village of sound” are planning an attack on Konoha and Gaara is one of their key players; and since he has a Tailed Beast in him, he can be very dangerous). Thus, Gaara attacks his siblings; this is a 1-vs-2 fight and you have to defeat both Temari and Kankuro. It’s not too difficult, although just like the 4-Player Versus described higher, it’s an imperfect system where you have one set target and can only change by dodging left or right. Soon enough, Gaara defeats them and they mellow down, afraid of their brother’s potential strength. Don’t mess with the sand, or it will mess you up! Ask Prince Dastan!

Further away, Kakashi is willing to teach Sasuke a new technique, only if Sasuke proves that he’s talented at Taijutsu (the basic fighting skills, minus the chakra-powered techniques). You need to get Kakashi’s HP down to half only with regular Taijutsu attacks. When that’s done, Kakashi proceeds to teach Sasuke the new technique, which will no doubt be badass and epic to see at work... So I suppose the One Thousand Years of Death jutsu is out of the question. After this training, we skip to the final part of the Chunin exam, the tournament.

Contact between a foot and a smartass face in 3... 2...
The first match is between Naruto and Neji, and Neji goes on and on about how one can’t change their own destiny. Naruto then proves him wrong in this fight, where he defeats Neji despite his opponent’s near-perfect defenses. Cue inspiring speech from Naruto going “You can change what you are if you’re not good, you can get good, and if you’re already good, you can get even better yadda yadda dattebayo”. Because anybody can pull an inspiring speech out of nowhere in anime, am I right? The next fight is Shikamaru Nara versus Temari, and Shikamaru has to defeat Temari with a shadow possession jutsu (his X special move); this means he has to use it when Temari is low on HP, so that this move brings her HP down to 0. Even when he wins, Shikamaru suddenly decides to give up. Ah, yes, that’s a wise move from the local lazy-ass teenager. Sasuke shows up in the arena, and thus it’s his turn to fight – and against none other than Gaara. Once again, you need to defeat the opponent by using Sasuke’s special move, the Chidori.

In the Naruto 'verse, fire apparently beats fire. Nothing
speciak, apparently lightning beats sand.
Don't ask me how.
When Sasuke succeeds, Temari and Kankuro show up to protect their brother since it’s their number 1 mission during this takeover. They flee with Gaara. Sasuke chases after them and battles Temari, then Gaara; and that last one is tricky because the player has to defeat Gaara with a fully charged Chidori, which wouldn’t be so bad if the bugger didn’t keep using his own better jutsu and avoiding left and right! When defeated, Gaara starts laughing like a maniac – common villain strategy; even their defeat is all according to their plan! That’s when Naruto and Sakura arrive in the nick of time and get into a fight with Gaara (though he harms Sakura first, and both Naruto and Sakura need to stay alive by the end of the battle). Naruto beats Gaara, for good this time, and…

…what? We don’t get our fight between giant tailed beasts? What a load of BS! The Kyuubi versus the Shukaku, it would have been amazing! But… no? We don’t get that? Alright then, let’s settle this with the good old fisticuffs and the occasional substitution. And skip one of the best fights of the pre-Shippuden era of Naruto! That’s cheap, game.

And yet he's still able to use any of his awesome jutsu from
the series! This one was an instant kill, by the way. Here?
It does normal jutsu damage like any other powerful move.

Oh sure, I would also make the remark about Gaara’s increasing insanity as this sequence goes, always trying to kill others to make himself feel alive – which I would happily retort to in a thesis of multiple paragraphs if I had the time here, but I don’t.

The horrible fight where a student kills his master.
Not the first one, far from the last one...
Meanwhile, Orochimaru’s attack on the Leaf Village continues; he gets into a fight with the Third Hokage – for those who don’t know, if any, he’s the chief of the village and, thus, one of its most powerful ninja if not the most powerful. The Third Hokage goes down in this battle, though he manages to turn Orochimaru’s arms to stone, making it impossible for the snake-themed villain to use his jutsu. His forces stopped, partially defeated, Orochimaru retreats. But the story is far from over…

And I’ll get to the next section of the story in Part 2 if you don’t mind, there’s been enough to explain here today. See you Monday.