I'm not much of a Naruto fan and I know next to nothing about the series. With that out of the way, I must say that Naruto: Path of the Ninja for the Nintendo DS is perfect for a Naruto newb like me. The world of Naruto is slowly introduced through this RPG and unlike previous Naruto games which just plunge the player directly story assuming prior familiarity.
After playing through a couple of wordy introduction parts which teach the player how to play the game, I already had a couple of chuckles. While the writing may not win any awards, it's light hearted and full of typical anime humor complete with bulging veins and giant sweat-drops on character portraits. It even made me wonder if I should watch the anime one day.
< Spencer's note: Naruto: Path of the Ninja lifts the text directly from the anime, so it's almost as if you played through all the episodes you missed! >
Being a DS game, I had to check out how the stylus controls were. For the most part, they worked well: touching a command to choose it, touching it again to confirm, touching an enemy to attack, etc. The only gripe I had about controls was that there's no diagonal movement on the map. If you want to walk from the top left corner to the bottom right, instead of moving diagonally, you'll have to move the character in a step-like pattern up and down.
Some may be turned off by the simplistic graphics in Path of the Ninja, but I just felt nostalgic. The top-down perspective, the bright colors and the sprites made me feel like I was playing an SNES rpg. The top screen for the status screen as well as jutsu animations was a wise use of the screen.
Gameplay is in the typical RPG style; you walk around, heading for a specific destination or looking for something, and fight through random encounters. Two of the in-battle commands make battle a little less generic. The 'move' command allows you to choose where to move a character to. Moving them forward and then attacking lends more power to your attack, but the character ends up in the front, which means they also take more damage if attacked. The 'jutsu' command, which takes the place of the magic or special skills command in other RPGs, has you rubbing the touchscreen furiously to build up a power meter within a certain amount of time. The higher your meter, the more powerful your attack. This extra effort makes using the jutsu more engaging.
Another added feature to the gameplay that sets it apart from your run-of-the-mill RPG is the chemistry aspect. Teammates have different chemistries with each other; if the chemistry is good, they may get extra opportunities for attack in battles. Chemistry is affected by things like eating ramen together, giving presents, and choosing the correct responses during conversation. This adding dating-sim aspect of the game gets pretty hilarious especially when trying to up the chemistry between Naruto and Sasuke.
Nothing in Naruto: Path of the Ninja stands out as extraordinary, but that doesn't mean it's not a pleasant game to play through. Some of the missions and dialog feels a bit patronizing, which makes me think a younger audience is likely to enjoy the game more, however if you're an avid fan of both Naruto and RPGs, getting game is a no-brainer.