April 19, 2011
Kizuna Drive takes Naruto and his friends in a whole new direction when it comes to the story. The main canon isn't really touched on here, which is a good thing as almost every Naruto Shippuden game since the inception of the new canon has ever only used that one story. Instead, it's much more reminiscent of the infamous filler arcs from the anime series. The adventure kicks off with the Hidden Village of Dreams getting devastated by the Nine-Tailed Beast. Now therein lies the conundrum and premise of the entire plot, isn't Naruto the Jinchuuriki for the Nine-Tailed Beast? Why, yes he is. Of course, surviving ninja of the Hidden Dream are now hunting down Naruto for revenge and, as per usual, Naruto and the Hidden Leaf have absolutely no clue as to what's going on and it's your job to find out.
The story itself isn't bad, it's pretty interesting and fun if you're a fan of the series. It has your archetypal setup and acts as a catalyst to get things going in the game. Unfortunately, this is also its downfall. One wouldn't really expect anything game-changing from a Naruto story, but is it so hard to ask for one where Naruto isn't the key target of some ninja hellbent on revenge? It's really not a far cry from the saying, "if you've played one Naruto game, you've played them all."
The game doesn't get any better. While the plot is your typical cut-and-paste tale of revenge, the gameplay is probably even worse. Props to Namco Bandai and Premium Agency for trying out a very cool concept based around teamwork and multiplayer. However, concepts can only go so far. The execution is poor at best and frustratingly repetitive. Missions are tackled with teams of four and these teams are usually already preset in the story mode; however, you can pick and choose your allies in the Free Battle mode. You've got your standard button-mashing combo that will vary depending on how many times you hit the attack and skill buttons, but in general, there aren't a lot of combos to use. You can call on your teammates for help by hitting the Square button and select which character to call for by hitting up or down on the D-pad. Holding the Square button will charge your chakra, but you will not be able to move until the charge is complete. Hitting left and right on the D-pad will change up your ninjutsu.
In addition, prior to every mission, players will get the chance to set up their teams with abilities and scrolls appropriate for the forthcoming mission. Scrolls are collected at the end of very mission and the amount will depend on the amount of Kizuna points gained. Kizuna points play a pretty big role in the battle system and are earned by working with your team. Unlike other Naruto games, your teammates actually battle alongside you instead of being restricted to a tag-team system. It doesn't help that the team AI is utterly retarded and will every only do something right if the assist button is used. If your teammates fall in battle, you can expend Kizuna points to revive them.
The more interesting aspect of the combat system is when you stun an enemy and activate a quicktime team attack called a Kizuna Drive - hence the name and entire premise of the game. You'll basically juggle the stunned enemy between the entire team. However, you can only hit the enemy towards a teammate other than the one who, for lack of a better term, passed to you. If you miss, you'll take the full brunt of the collision and lose health for it. If you've accumulated a huge combo, be prepared to lose a massive amount of health points. On the other hand, if you successfully pull off the combo, you'll be treated to a neat finishing move. Kizuna Drive is really all about hand-eye coordination and twitch reflexes.
Unfortunately, the whole novelty of it dissipates at a relatively unhealthy rate. Each missions feels bland and dull, with nothing really interesting going on. Objectives are always get from point A to point B, defeat a target or just a boss fight with one of the Tailed Beasts. Fighting is in and of itself a repetitive bore as there is only about three or four combos to use. There's a lot of missions, it's too bad they just lack any variety. Free Battle Mode offers some less lengthy bouts and are perfect for getting those quick sessions in while on the go. However, players can only unlock more of those by progressing through the much lengthier story campaign.
There is a multiplayer mode as well where players can hook up with their friends to tackle the missions without the incompetent AI. Unfortunately, unless you can actually find friends that have a PSP, a copy of the game and the same passion for Naruto, you're unlikely to ever try the multiplayer mode, which is a complete waste. The game is built around teamwork and multiplayer and it's really too bad that the West doesn't share the same enthusiasm for handheld multiplayer games.
Kizuna Drive isn't the best looking game on the PSP either, especially when compared to the more fluid aesthetics of the Ultimate Ninja series. However, it's not all bad, while the character models and environments are relatively dull, the animations in cutscenes and events are done really nicely. It would've been nice to see the same fluid animation in the actual gameplay. In addition, Kizuna Drive also employs pseudo-animated story sequences, using character portraits and beautifully illustrated backgrounds to depict events as they occur between missions. The sound, however, is one of the more annoying design aspects of the game, with lack of variation or any real dynamism to them. You'll always hear the exact same grunts and screams associated with each attack animation. The saving grace is the option to swap to the original Japanese voiceovers - it's nothing new that Naruto suffers from rather hair-raising English dubs.
Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive isn't the best Naruto game out there and fans will likely have more fun with the more engaging titles that CyberConnect2 offers. The story of Kizuna Drive is a nice segway from the overused main canon, but really leaves a sour taste much like the filler arcs in the animated series. I can appreciate the new story, but even though it's new, it's still pretty cut-and-paste. The gameplay is really quite repetitive with little to no variation in mission objectives. The Free Battle mode is the only real enjoyable part of the game as you can easily jump in and out on the go; however, players need to complete the story in order to unlock all of the extra missions - which can be a bit of a chore. The worst bit of it all is that the star of the show has been wasted on a market that hardly appreciates handheld multiplayer games. Kizuna Drive would be a much better experience with friends, but unless they have a PSP and a copy of the game, this is going to remain a relatively infuriating solo affair.