When an anime series takes a break between major story arcs it offers viewers shorter alternative tales that don't correlate to an overarching plot. These outside stories are commonly referred to as filler. Naruto: Path of the Ninja 2, the sequel to the Game Boy Advance-ported Nintendo DS role-playing game, is essentially a filler episode dragged out over the course of eight hours in a portable adventure. Path of the Ninja 2 features more of the outlandish adventure that fans of the long-running anime are used to, though the end result is a soulless, traditional Japanese RPG.
The conventional mechanics, more so than the mundane narrative, are where Path of the Ninja 2 retains what charm it has. The game looks, feels, sounds, and plays like a Super Nintendo RPG you'd expect to have played in 1994, but it's loaded with tons of characters from the modern cartoon. The bright color palette and groovy multilayered MIDI tracks cement the SNES feel while also nailing the anime's vibe. Naruto nuts will surely enjoy the traditional tropes of the orange-clad hero's idiocy and the huge amount of playable characters to battle with during their chat-heavy quest. Path of the Ninja 2 is a loving throwback, but it fails to offer any depth beyond the basic fun of punching gigantic turtles.
Naturally, tons of random enemy encounters occur as you wander the world. You'll spend a lot of time in the combat screen trading kung-fu kicks with various ninja, samurai, monsters, and pirates in a pretty standard fare of turn-based bouts. You'll fill your team with three of 30 available characters, each of whom have an array of unique attacks and skills to throw at baddies when you're not juicing your HP and mana-alike Chakra meters with items. If you've ever come into contact with a Japanese RPG, you're well acquainted with this fighting philosophy, so don't expect any surprises. Sure, tactically relocating your squadron of three fighters between a trio of planes adds strategy; the closer you are to your foe, the more damage you will inflict, sacrificing some defence as a result. Nevertheless, the turn-based action often boils down to you tapping the A button until each inanimate enemy sprite disappears. Even JRPG fans will be bored by the monotony.
Character-specific ninja jutsu attacks that make use of the DS's touch screen add some flavor to the humdrum fisticuffs. Minigames that will be familiar to anyone who played the first Path of the Ninja will have you spinning, rubbing, and tapping away at the bottom screen to boost your strength, agility, and defensive stats, as well as pulling off megapowerful special attacks and healing spells. Even with the help of jutsu skills, you'll often be frustrated by the infuriatingly cheap bosses. Certain big baddies can and will wipe out your entire team with a single tremendously powerful assault, thus booting you back to the main menu--it's heartbreaking if you haven't saved in some time. The final boss encounter is the most notably agitating because you'll fight three consecutive, progressively more powerful enemies that don't let you save the game or heal your characters between battles. Nothing hurts more than laying down thousands of points of damage only to get suddenly smoked by a ludicrously overpowered elemental spell in the dying minutes of the finale.
Whereas the combat is simply unremarkable, the story and adventuring aspects of Naruto's latest handheld outing are utterly forgettable. There is plenty of treasure to collect during the eight hours of walking you'll endure during Path of the Ninja 2, but most of it is hidden away atop cliffs or beyond poisonous lakes that require you to summon monsters to access. You'll be in and out of menus constantly as you search for and summon the appropriate wall crawler, rock smasher, or lake crosser that allows you access to your desired prize. When you aren't scouring and scavenging, you'll be trying to locate five scattered mirrors with mystical properties. Given that these mirrors are the only items able to seal away an unleashed evil spirit beast, Naruto and company set out on a tedious quest to retrieve the colored reflectors and do away with the nefarious forces that are trying to destroy the world. Are you still awake? If you aren't, the unholy amount of atrocious dialog will surely knock you out with the cutesy conversations that pop in every time you enter a new area, speak to a new person, or discover a new key item.
The dated gameplay of Naruto: Path of the Ninja combines with a couple of cool combat components such as strategic placement and decent spellcasting to help keep the game from feeling like too much of a rushed cash-in on a huge name. Even the addition of Wi-Fi multiplayer battles isn't as enticing as it could have been. The overall lack of originality makes this generic RPG painfully boring and a chore to play. Though it feels like a game you'd have loved to death on your Super Nintendo, it simply doesn't hold up 15 years later when the most noticeably new addition is different-looking character sprites.