Last year's Naruto: Rise of a Ninja was a promising start to Ubisoft's planned series of games telling the story of Naruto, the brash young ninja whose anime series has millions of devoted followers all over the globe. Rise of a Ninja also felt somewhat underdeveloped, though, leaving plenty of room for improvement in its promised sequels. Sadly, that potential for improvement has not been realized in its follow-up, The Broken Bond, and the flaws are not so easy to forgive this time around.
The Broken Bond's Story mode picks up where Rise of a Ninja left off and covers events that span episodes 81 to 135 of the anime. Unlike Rise of a Ninja, which incorporated clips from the anime to move the plot along, resulting in some jarring transitions between 2D and 3D, The Broken Bond uses its own beautiful graphics for all of the cutscenes, creating a much more cohesive experience. The story here starts out strong, with a dramatic battle that ends in tragedy. And it builds up to a solid conclusion, too, when Naruto and his fellow ninja are faced with a situation that tests just how much they're willing to risk for one of their friends. But between these two high points are a staggering number of underdeveloped storylines accompanied by boring fetch quests, which rob both the story and the gameplay of any sense of momentum.
The Broken Bond tries to do a lot of things and ends up doing very few of them well. This is a third-person action game in which you usually play as Naruto, and most of your time is spent venturing out of the safety of Hidden Leaf Village to complete various missions. You're typically accompanied by a friend or two, and you can switch between the members of your party at any time. This proves necessary, because more often than not, each party member possesses a jutsu, or ninja power, that must be used to overcome some environmental obstacles you encounter. Naruto, for instance, can perform his shadow clone jutsu to cross any broken bridge, and as luck would have it, nearly every bridge is broken. Using the powers of Naruto and his friends to overcome environmental obstacles like this is a neat idea, but it's not incorporated in an interesting way. There's never any thought required. Each time you see a broken bridge, you know you need to perform the shadow clone jutsu. Each time you see three red marks over the character you're controlling, you know you need to perform a jutsu that reveals hidden dangers. And so on. These obstacles crop up all the time, and they're always the same. Before long, they start to feel like a chore that slows you down as you make your way from point A to point B. And the fact that you'll be passing through the same few sections of forest repeatedly only compounds the tedium.
You'll also frequently need to find certain people or items in Hidden Leaf Village, and these fetch quests range from bearable to maddening. When you're fortunate enough to be playing as a character who possesses a jutsu that helps him detect hidden things, performing that jutsu will bring up an indicator that tells you the general direction you need to go in and gives you a vague idea of your distance from your goal. Hidden Leaf Village is a great environment, so hopping along rooftops and sprinting down alleys in pursuit of something can be enjoyable, provided you have at least a general idea of where you're going. But when you must track things down and aren't blessed with such a jutsu, these missions are a completely different experience. In these instances, all you get is an indicator that tells you when you're getting very close to the item you need to find, and it doesn't offer any sense of direction. The town isn't massive, but it is large enough that you can spend several minutes running around until you stumble upon the next item you need, and since these fetch quests usually involve gathering several items, finding one means you get to start running all over looking for the next one. Hidden Leaf Village is gorgeous, but by the time you find the last set of construction supplies or the last bag of potato chips, you'll be sick of it.