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Naruto: Path of the Ninja 2: New Story, More Ninja.

Company: D3

Naruto: Path of the Ninja 2 will bring Naruto back to the strategy-RPG genre with a new port that was originally designed for the DS. This means that many of the issues seen in bringing the last game from a GBA title to the DS should be resolved. One major benefit to localizing an existing DS game is the sheer size of the upcoming release. Not only will Path of the Ninja 2 have a bigger story than the last one, but 30 playable characters (as opposed to the seven found in the last game).

A port of the Japanese game, Naruto RPG 3, the game's story takes place during the anime's "filler" period between Sasuke's leaving the Hidden Leaf village to the time jump that restarts the series several years later. Instead of following the various mini-plots that the show possesses, the game's story is original and all new. A group of rogue ninja have started a plot to bring about an ancient evil, and it is up to Naruto and the rest of the cast to stop this force once and for all.

While the game takes place outside of the show's normal timeline, players will still get to relive many of the major battles that already happened in the form of flashbacks. It seems that Naruto's adventure will take him to many places that we have already seen in the show, and when he gets to one of these locations, the player will have to reenact the fight. I'm sure these battles include Naruto versus Sasuke, or Squad Seven taking on Zabuza and Haku, or even the Chunin Exams since some of the characters the developers hinted at would only be available in these particular flashbacks.

With over 30 playable characters, and many more that you will simply encounter, the developers at TOMY merely commented that everyone's favorite fighters will make it into the game. So while the list of characters was too extensive to be handed out at the time, you can expect pretty much any major character to have made the cut. The developers also said that while there are 30 characters, by the end, you will only be able to unlock 29, since you will have to choose one of two characters in a play through. Also, TOMY mentioned that some of the characters could only be unlocked via Wi-Fi play (more on the game's wireless capabilities later).

When asked if there were any plans to bring Naruto RPG 2 to the US, we were told that it was not being considered. The reasons being that American fans have already passed the events of that story in the TV series and having a fresh story would make the game that much more exciting to hardcore fans since they won't know exactly what to expect around every corner.

Naruto: Path of the Ninja 2's battle system has also been enhanced over the previous release. Instead of a simple three-man squad, you will have four characters available to you. The standby character along with the ability to change out your party at pretty much any time outside of battle helps to answer some of the more tedious criticisms players had about the last game; namely the need to go back to some location in order to re-arrange your party.

In addition to the extra party member, Path of the Ninja 2 also implements a Squad Leader system that will change the dynamics of a party based on which character you select as the leader. For instance, if Sakura is the leader, the team will gain a health boost, but if Naruto is picked, you gain attack strength and lose defensive prowess.

Characters are also highly customizable. The developers have added a "Ninja Tag" system that allows you to apply various attributes to your team members. These are features that range from various jutsu to abilities that enhance the character's existing stats. As your characters level up, they will gain more slots for tags to fit in, and each tag takes up a certain number of slots. So, if you want to apply the Water Resist tag, which costs 20 points, you will need to make sure you have enough space cleared out for it. This system also means that you could have characters learning pretty much any jutsu as well. This, along with the Squad Leader system, really helps to add more depth to both the game's strategy and RPG elements.

Naruto: Path of the Ninja 2's use of the touch screen is also a lot more solidly done. Unlike the first game, which felt like the GBA to DS port that it was, players will do more than simply tap your character's position changes. There will be times when you have to use the lower screen to perform jutsu and then of course there is the wireless gameplay.

Once again, since this game started as a DS project and not just a GBA one that was ported over, there are a lot of improvements in the game's use of the system's features. But one of the more exciting features is the ability to use the DS' Wi-Fi capabilities to take your favorite team online and face off against other opponents from around the U.S. While the game won't offer co-op fights, the squad versus squad combat should be enough to keep most players happy. And if you don't want to go online with the game, it also supports multiplayer on local multi-card and single-card fights. The multi-player functionality will be restricted to only U.S. opponents, so anyone hoping to go against gamers with Naruto RPG 3 or releases from other countries will have to look into importing.

Path of the Ninja 2 looks to be leaps and bounds above the previous game, and, while you will have to wait till September for it to come out, based on what we've seen so far, it will be worth it.

-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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