Naruto: Rise Of A Ninja Is One Of Gaming’s Most Underrated Anime Titles
Gaming adaptations of popular animes are a dime a dozen, but I’d say that Naruto is one series that has benefitted from them a ton. I was actually first introduced to Naruto through gaming so to me, it’s a game first and an anime second. I must have played every Naruto game that’s been released and whilst most of them are recognisable and well-regarded, there’s always one that ends up being completely forgotten – Naruto: Rise of a Ninja.
I’m betting that there are many people out there shrugging at the mention of this game, which is gutting really because it’s damn near one of my favourite Naruto games of all time. It lacks the spectacle and polished combat that would later be key features of games like Ultimate Ninja Storm, but it understands the spirit of adventure that made the original Naruto series so captivating.
Rise of a Ninja follows Naruto up until he defeats Gaara in the anime, which may seem like an incredibly small piece of the Naruto universe overall, but it allows the game to dive deeper into some of the important moments that define his character. Rise of a Ninja is still one of the only Naruto games that have you playing as him before he even learns his first Jutsu, and the opening section that shows his bond with Iruka is so essential to his character that I’m shocked it’s not been done in other games like it is here.
That’s the case across the board as well, and not just limited to Rise of a Ninja’s opening. You get a lot more of each character’s personalties here because the game takes the time for you to get to know them. Sure, there are moments of childishness and fart jokes, but that’s more a case for early English Naruto dubbing. It still works surprisingly well though.
The main reason for this is because of the game’s adventure style of gameplay, which is something we’ve also never really seen in a Naruto game since. Rather than being all about combat, you instead spend most of your time in Rise exploring areas and platforming, as well as getting used to the game’s unique Jutsu system.
Actually, let’s pause on that Jutsu system for a second, as it’s pretty representative of how unique Rise’s position is. The game is all about Naruto learning and becoming a ninja, and each Jutsu has to be learnt by the player and inputted by holding a button and using the left and right sticks. It’s bizarre compared to how it’s been done since, but it’s a genuinely unique mechanic that feels fun to get used to. It’s also pretty cool that each Jutsu has both combat and puzzle uses, which makes the whole experience feel multifunctional.
For the few of you out there that do remember Rise of a Ninja, the thing you’ll most likely associate with it is the sandbox version of Konoha. You can freely climb up the buildings, run and drift around the town and interact with its inhabitants. No Naruto game since Rise and its sequel have done exploration better, and I stand very firmly on that. It’s also where Ubisoft’s influence is most felt in the game’s development. That’s right, Ubisoft, of all companies, developed Rise of a Ninja. Suddenly the open-world and side missions make sense.
All of this is punctuated by a genuinely great graphical style that pops colour and does a fantastic job of replicating Naruto’s manga style. Sure, it looks a little weird now with a lack of facial expressions on some characters and a few too many jaggy edges, but it was great for the time and holds up surprisingly well, especially in how it presents Konoha. Shinobi Striker tries a similar thing, and it’s pretty great there too.
If some of this is ringing a bell, you might remember the game’s sequel, A Broken Bond, which was much more popular and recognised. That game is pretty great too, but I feel like it goes too hard on the extra characters and darker tone, something which other Naruto games do well enough on their own.
Chances are that we’ll never see a new entry like Rise or Broken Bond, and that’s gutting. I don’t just say that as some sort of pessimist, it’s genuinely not going to happen since Ubisoft no longer have the rights to Naruto. The games aren’t even backwards compatible on Xbox thanks to all the licencing issues. If you’re a Naruto fan like me, with access to an Xbox and memories of a more adventurous time for Naruto, I implore you to check it out. It’s easily one of the most underrated anime games of all time.
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