By Michael Sagoe (Mikedot)
Over the past several years, a handful of browser online games based on a certain popular manga/anime series has been cropping up all over the internet. To a certain dissatisfaction, each of these browser games were unofficially licensed, graciously and shamelessly pigging off of the name while introducing nothing new to the genres pertaining to them (other than presenting new ways to empty wallets of the careless fans.) With such titles as Pockie Ninja, Pockie Ninja 2, Pockie Ninja 2 Social, Ninja Online, Unlimited Ninja/Ninja Classic, I Am Ninja, Ninja Warriors… the list goes on and on. It got to the point where the folks here at OnRPG/MMOHuts had to create a new ninja browser game profile every month or so. It was quite ridiculous.
But now, thanks to the publishing efforts of Oasis Games, we now have the ninja browser game to end all ninja browser games, and it is simply known as “Naruto Online.”
Now what makes this Naruto browser game extra special is that it’s co-developed by CyberConnect2. Yes, the very same CyberConnect2 who are responsible for the visually astounding Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm titles. It’s also officially licensed by Bandai Namco. That’s right, Naruto fans. You no longer have to put up with any of those crude imitation Naruto browser games that have that cheap, unauthorized taste to it, because this right here is the real deal…
…Oh, that is if you don’t mind the rest of the game’s development being handled by More Fun Studio, a subsidiary of Tencent Games in China, and the fact that this game was released back in 2013 and only recently made its way over to US shores in July of 2016.
Now, whenever I hear that a new Naruto browser game has been released, I always end up cringing to myself due to the rampant poor quality that these games tend to have, but since this game has some actually development prowess behind it, I decided to give this one the benefit of the doubt and looked into things further..
The control scheme for Naruto Online is very basic and straight forward, as it primarily uses a mouse control system like with traditional MMORPGs. Simply point your mouse cursor and click with your left mouse to move your character(s), perform attacks when in battle, and activate skills and many other functions. Of course, the keyboard is also used to communicate with other players, as well as accessing a few shortcut commands. It works as well as it should and there’s not much else to comment or complain about here. Anyone that has ever played a traditional MMORPG should have no problem getting used to this control scheme.
Gameplay and Features
So with the visuals and presentation being on the disappointing side, how much does the gameplay fare? Well for starters when you first start the game up, you have a choice between one of five different characters, based on five elements (Fire, Water, Earth, Wind, and Lighting) and these characters are designed by the original artist for the series.
Once selected, your character is instantly dropped in to the town of Kohana, otherwise known as the Hidden Leaf Village, and gets paired up with Naruto and the rest of Team Kakashi including Sasuke and Sakura. After getting acquainted with the team, players are free to explore the game world and chat with other players. The game then gradually introduces players to many different aspects of the game one at a time, including combat, equipment, upgrades, etc. There’s a whole bunch of other features that the game has, but it never feels overwhelming and the game always gives you reminders on how to play, when to upgrade and where to go, so you’ll always know what to do during your play sessions. The quests themselves are taken straight from the first two seasons of the game where players learn of the motivations for Naruto and the other ninjas that he comes across. However, the quest structure for each and every mission is simply either beat up a bunch of enemies or travel to this location, and to make things even simpler traveling to new locations is a breeze due to the auto-path option. While it’s understandable that the best highlights from the series have always been the action sequences, it’s a shame that they couldn’t do much else with the in-game quests to be any less tedious.
It also doesn’t help that the core combat of the game is very much on the shallow side. With the way battles work in Naruto Online, players will have to assemble a team of up to four ninjas and assort them on a 3×3 grid before the start of each battle. Each ninja has special synergy combos with other ninjas in particular, so if a player has a team of ninjas that all work well together, they can perform special combo attacks with each other. However, not much thought or strategy needs to be put into these ninja teams, especially for those that are fans of the series in general, as it should be pretty clear as to who works well together and who doesn’t: Everyone from Team 7 will obviously work well together, the three Sand Village siblings (Gaara, Temari and Kankuro) are another team that can sync up, and Team Guy (Rock Lee, Neji, Tenten) is another. Even if you don’t know the teams from the series, the game will also tell you which ninja works with who, taking out most the guess work.
As for the battles themselves, there isn’t much going on once you get into them. Players simply have to make sure their lineup is okay and then let the game do its thing. While there is the option to have players target single enemies as well as perform special skills, there’s not much input actually needed as your ninja team will fight your opponents automatically. Even more so, the game also includes an auto-battle and 2x game speed option, allowing players to just let the game play itself. Honestly, any game that gives options that go against actually playing the game loses a lot of points for me, and it’s really hard to get engaged when I can just put a game on auto-pilot like some kind of mobile game and go watch a video on YouTube instead.
There isn’t much customization in the traditional sense, as most of the in-game character building options tend to lean towards straightforward and simple. Players can’t customize the way their ninjas look, their stat growth or anything of that nature. At most, the only real customization is ninja teams and formations, as mentioned previously, so there’s not much players can do to set themselves apart from one another, visually and gameplay wise.
Visuals and Presentation
One of the least appealing aspect of this game has to be the visuals. From the user interface to the character sprites, everything about the game just has a very cheap, low budget look and feel to it. Rather than giving the same visual treatment received in the UNS series, they decided to half-ass the visuals by taking images of the 3D models used in the Naruto Games, with each image containing a grand told of three to five frames of animation whenever they’re seen in motion. While the backgrounds contain a lot of color to them and give off a pleasing effect of warmth, they also look very fuzzy and low resolution, which does not scale well on bigger monitors. It’s a real disappointment for me to see a modern Naruto game with such poor quality visuals considering that CyberConnect2 helped create this title, and they’re developer who is well known for making it big with the ideals of “Visuals first, gameplay second.”
Now some of you may be saying “Oh, it’s just a browser game. Of course it’s not going to look as good as some kind of triple-A title.” Yes, it is indeed just a browser game, but considering that it’s a game that is officially licenses and stamped with the approval of Shonen Jump, Bandai Namco and TV Tokyo, I personally see it as a game that I wish to hold to a higher standard. This game was originally developed back in 2013, and by then game engines such as Unity were capable of achieving triple-A quality visuals for browser games. It just makes me wonder why they couldn’t have used a better engine as a foundation to make a better looking game, but as it stands, the visual quality is no better than the countless number of unlicensed Naruto browser games out there.
For the story of Naruto Online: The quests and scenarios are taken straight from the first two seasons of the manga/anime, as the player’s main characters joins up with Naruto and the rest of Team Kakashi. While it’s really neat that your character gets to be a part of Naruto’s crew, your character doesn’t do much of anything to change or even slightly alter the outcome of the story, which is to be expected, but still a bit disappointing since in most dialog sequences, it feels as if your character doesn’t even need to be there. Make no mistake that this is still Naruto’s story through and through. Other than that, the way that the story is being delivered is very inconsistent, as the dialog could be considered abridged in order to keep the quest very short. They also decided to throw in a few full motion video sequences ripped straight from the anime, as well as full motion video sequences pulled straight from the Naruto Ultimate Ninja Games, making the whole package feel strange and disjointed in presentation.
At the very least, however, the game’s audio holds up a bit better as the game borrows music played throughout the original anime series, as well as some original tunes that fit into the vibe of the game very well. The characters themselves also have some voice acting turning battles, and it’s all in Japanese, so you won’t have deal with hearing Naruto’s cheesy English catchphrase “BELIEVE IT” a million times over.
For what it’s worth, the game does seem to have a pretty chill community, mostly filled with diehard fans of the Naruto series. While most players spend their time chatting about the game and looking for ninja groups to form, occasionally there will be bouts and discussions regarding the show which are kinda fun to just sit down and observe. As for the features in Naruto Online that supports this community, the game offers friends lists, guild and rankings which is pretty standard stuff, but also includes features such as the wishing tree and the ninja task room.
The wishing tree is a simply little feature where you can earn rewards simply by checking in and giving a pink cherry blossom tree a little virtual water each day that you’re logged into the game. You can speed up the process by having friends water your wishing tree and players can do the same for their friend’s trees, so it helps to make as many friends as you can. Along with the wishing tree, the ninja task room lets players give out missions to friends for them to complete. If they manage to complete the mission, you and your friends get some extra coins. With features such as these, the game gives just enough incentive to play with friends daily and play often, and considering the state of most MMOs these days, it’s a welcomed feature for sure.
While Naruto Online presents some interesting features here and there, it still manages to share some of the common issues that plague most browser-based games today, which is rather disappointing giving the development teams that helped bring this title to life. If they could have managed to include a much more engaging combat experience and visual presentation, I would have given this game a much more favorable response, but as is, it’s fairly mediocre in those regards. Still, for fans of the Naruto series, however, may still be able to get a kick out of this game since it follows the story very closely. With the early preview build that I was able to play, I was actually able to see into the future of Naruto Online and played way past the first two seasons of the main story, all the way up to the Shuppden era. With the Naruto series having so many episodes under its belt before its finished run, it means that there will be plenty of story content for folks to play through, and even more so that there will even be story quests available long after the end of the main story, which I’m quite curious to see for myself.
But anyway, I’d say that Naruto Online is an okay game to play if you’re a fan, but would recommend looking for another MMO experience if you’re not.