Naruto Shippuden: Dragon Blade Chronicles is quite a unique title in the long-running console Naruto video game franchise. Unlike most of the other games, which are generally fighting games or action-adventure games based on the storyline, Dragon Blade Chronicles goes out on its own path with its very own storyline and approach. However, if previous Naruto games are any reference, even when a game follows the storyline verbatim, there's still the chance that the game might still be bad regardless. Does Dragon Blade Chronicles fall under this premise, or is this a title which uses its unique aspects to good use?
As said before, Dragon Blade Chronicles has its own unique storyline exclusive to the game. The Hidden Leaf Village is attacked by a dragon and mysterious undead creatures. A mysterious girl name Akari presents Naruto, the series' titular hero, with a weapon called the "Dragon Blade", which he uses to bring down the dragon. Everyone eventually finds out through Akari that her brother is planning to awaken the light dragon and use its power to destroy the world and remake it as he sees fit. Naruto and a brand of his closest comrades set off for Mount Koryu to confront Akari's brother. Naruto's long-time rival Sasuke is also trekking the mountain for his own reasons as well. A different storyline is refreshingly unique for the series, and the voice actors give an incredibly solid performance throughout the game. The only issue for those who aren't hardcore fans is that unlike other action-adventure games with cutscenes, you can't click through the text at your own pace. And since some of the cutscenes give important clues about what to do next, you have to either wait for each line to be read or skip the story sequence entirely and waste time figuring out what to do next. This is compounded by the fact that some of the cutscenes tend to drag on much longer than they should, further exacerbating the problem.
As stated before, both Naruto and Sasuke are traversing the mountain, and players will get the chance to control both characters at different points throughout the game. For those wondering if players can execute the lavish special attacks they've seen in the series right from the get-go, Dragon Blade Chronicles provides the amusing excuse of the mountain interfering with one's inner chakra, so players will have to collect various scrolls and other power-ups as they progress through the game. Another change comes in the fact that one can only attack by slicing away at enemies, which gets pretty dull as the animations are the same every time the player executes the attack. This, compounded with the game's incredibly dumb AI, makes working your way through waves of enemies incredibly boring. On a brighter note, the controls, which include the Wii Remote + Nunchuk, Wii Remote, Classic Controller and the Nintendo GameCube controller, are very responsive.
While this might sound alright in theory, in practice the game makes enemy placement a major annoyance at times. During stretches where cliffs and other "fall to your doom" areas are present, the game tends to summon aerial monsters to stand in your way. While players do have projectiles that can be used for these exact purposes, many times the monsters will be in such a place where you have to hit them in the air, and since projectiles will aim at an angle in midair, players either have to hope they can walk past the enemies without falling off and dying or coax the monsters onto a more suitable place to fight. The fact that a single swipe of your sword moves you forward and the fact that monsters can stun you and push you back only furthers these issues. The game later brings out more of these enemies, called mugonhei, which fire projectiles. And since the in-game camera is generally set to a specific viewpoint, you generally won't see these types of attacks coming. It often becomes better to just run through the areas until you run into an area where you're required to fight to open blocked doors, as nothing of importance is gained from skipping the enemies you walked past.
This tedium is only furthered by the fact that the game's "map" only shows the major areas you'll venture to, so players without a keen sense of direction will get lost very quickly. The game also features a variety of environmental puzzles, but they are hampered by the fact that there are no signals when you are near the area you need to use a specific power on, so you have to randomly use those powers everywhere until you figure out the exact area the developers intended for it to be used. This omission even makes finding much-needed treasure and saving difficult, as most players will miss these parts if they don't read specific pages of the game's instruction manual, since the game gives no indication (the in-game tutorial is incredibly sparse and does nothing to help the user) that a specific button needs to be used in a specific area.
Dragon Blade Chronicles also suffers from some extremely crippling slowdown issues. This isn't your normal occasional slowdown - long stretches of the game will chug along at what seems like almost half-speed. This isn't just in areas where monsters appear, as the game tends to limit the number of monsters on screen as if intentionally to alleviate this issue. Instead this occurs during stretches where only the environment and Naruto or Sasuke are on the screen. This isn't because of the game pushing the capabilities of the Wii --- it's far from it. Outside of the occasional impressive character design or dungeon backdrop, the graphics are very washed out and feel incredibly dated and stale. It's baffling how the game's engine has these issues so late into the Wii's life.
There are a number of sequences in the game where Dragon Blade Chronicles surpasses its issues, such as walking up a waterfall and avoiding deadly waves as you make your way towards the water dragon, and they are incredibly cool and memorable. But these brief moments happen far too infrequently to rise above the game's numerous technical flaws and tedious gameplay. The only saving grace is that the game's music often sets the mood quite well and occasionally makes you forget the issues that are present. The game also features a Versus mode, although with it being limited to only two players it doesn't provide that much enjoyment unless you really enjoyed the game.
Naruto Shippuden: Dragon Blade Chronicles started out in a interesting and unique premise, but all of the game's various issues make for an incredibly disappointing game that only hardcore fans of the series could overlook. Unless you are an ardent Naruto fan, this is one chronicling of the Naruto series you might best be to stay away from.