Few can boast as robust and diverse a catalog as Naruto Uzumaki. Spanning manga, anime and of course video games, the Naruto name has gripped countless fans. While video game adaptations of anime have often been as acclaimed as movie adaptations of games, CyberConnect2 has made a name for themselves doing just that. Of course, when Namco Bandai and CyberConnect2 teamed up to publish the first Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm entry in the series, hopes were high. After three titles – two numbered – the hopes have been met, and the expectations are mounting. One of the latest entries for one of the most faithful adaptations of the Naruto Shippuden anime series, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 enters the Fourth Great Ninja War saga.
The Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm series has adapted the anime series faithfully. Ninja Storm 3 bypasses the Generations entry, starting after Pain has destroyed the Hidden Leaf Village. Having been decimated countless times, the villagers have rebuilding to a science; luckily, Naruto is only momentarily distracted by building the mandatory birdhouses that serve as save points. One of the many benefits to having created three previous Naruto Shippuden games based so closely on the source material are the foundations on which they stand.
Those who’ve played the previous Ultimate Ninja Storm games will find the controls extremely familiar, with very minor changes to the mechanics; those who missed Ultimate Ninja Storm: Generations will find a bit more changes to the fighting system. Fans of the anime and manga series find all their favorite characters from Naruto Shippuden making their appearances and see all the greatest scenes from the series they love.
Unfortunately, the same benefits of the source material also create the series’ greatest obstacles. Fans of the Naruto Shippuden print and video series who have stayed current will have seen the vast majority of the storyline. Even by streamlining some of the notoriously long filler material, there are hours of gameplay. Of course, there are additional encounters not in the anime for the sake of conflict. The length of time is not a downside: the issue comes in when taking into consideration that gameplay does not count the cut scenes, which can nearly double that time. Some videos take as long as full anime episodes by themselves. Many of the cut scenes rehash much of the anime series, and those who’ve already seen them will be tempted to skip them atogether.
Skipping the cinematics would be a shame, since the graphics, while no real step above the previous titles, make admirable use of the cut scene graphics and seamlessly transition into the in-game environments. Videos play with the same quality of the anime titles, and player-controlled areas add depth missing from the 2D anime. The level design has improved, with the illusion of choice adding additional branches and verticality, though for most part the world still exists in corridors meant to enliven the world without losing storytelling integrity. By utilizing the 3D environments with the anime-inspired cell shaded art, Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 brings the world of Naruto Shippuden to life.
A wealth of locations and characters from the Naruto Shippuden world inhabit the Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 environments. While there are RPG staples of fetch quests in the form of collecting blueprints to unlock new weapons and cards to purchase, none of them are required to progress or finish the game. By completing certain requirements, unlockables are also found that add videos, music, and other backgrounds indicative of careful fan service. They are all added benefits to the depth of the game: optional additions that are fun – tempting for extreme fans and the collection driven – while most will pick what they want and skip the rest. Luckily, only the rarest of items require too much more work than finishing the game.
Even more engrossing than the collectibles are the characters. With a roster of over 80 playable characters from the Naruto Shippuden series, the storyline gives most of them a chance to shine, even as an opponent, before unlocking them for the local and online battle arenas.
The fighting system, which has kept the framework from the original Ultimate Ninja Storm title’s first release, has undergone small but vital tweaks. Some of these changes have been in an effort to increase difficulty, such as the addition of the substitution jutsu meter from Ninja Storm: Generations. The majority, though, have instead been added in an effort to create the impressive cinematic pacing of the anime series. This has taken the Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm series further and further away from the fighting genre.
The online and local combat benefit greatly from the over 80-slot roster. Even with a few variations of the same characters, such as three versions of Naruto Uzumaki, each brings something just slightly different from the others. While the button scheme remains the same, allowing for easy experimentation between fighters, each character has his own abilities and fighting style. Minato Uzumaki is an extremely fast fighter with a ranged special attack that takes time to form, and he attacks in a straight line, which is easily avoided, while Madara Uchiha is a hard one to pin down and devastating at close range. All fighters’ special moves come with an appropriately action-packed sequence, but their execution doesn’t take skill – just timing.
Since the button sequences for all the characters share the same layout, the benefit of skilled execution is not nearly as essential as timing and familiarity. This makes Ninja Storm easy to learn and unessential to master outside the online battles. In the online battles, even the most skilled players can find a close fight with beginners or completely level their opponents. Inclusion of player cards – a collectible in game – to add customization and the formation of specially named teams appropriate to the Naruto Shippuden saga are fun, but don’t add to the meat of the issue – the fights.
For those familiar with the series, all of the features that made the previous installments beloved are still there. There are even some interesting new additions: the Ultimate Decisions and Mob Battles. Ultimate Decisions add choices at key moments, though ultimately they don’t change anything, as they can be replayed later and have no effect on the storyline. The Mob Battles combine the free-roaming freedom with stage battles, which did a great job of breaking up the fighting stagnation.
Both ideas added something extra, though the Ultimate Decisions didn’t feel completely fleshed out. It’s tough, since the plot has already been written, but more substantial influence is an idea that I hope return in future installments fully realized. The Mob Battles were a highlight of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 not only for adding a refreshing challenge to the fights, but one that fit perfectly with the Fourth Great Ninja War setting.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is obviously a game for fans, made by fans. It’s evident that CyberConnect2 took the source material and understood what makes people infatuated with the series, having created one of the most appropriate games dripping with fan service of the best kind. Reliving the saga again with a few additions, cleaning up some filler, and the excellent care are the trademarks of this series. Unfortunately, this also creates a barrier to entry for those unfamiliar with the source material or previous installments of the games.
The story might repeat and rely on the existing material heavily at times, but there are a few instances of creative license that are simultaneously familiar and new. With the fighting system lacking any major overhauls, the new Mob Battle system stands out as revitalizing feature that works both functionally and thematically. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 hasn’t changed made any groundbreaking changes, and that’s fine; they’ve managed to improve on an already great foundation set by the previous Ninja Storm titles.
Fans of Naruto Shippuden should not hesitate to play through this game. Those who do will find a lot to scratch their Naruto itch.
See the first forty minutes in our Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Watch This! video.
We sat down with Hiroshi Matsuyama of CyberConnect2 at 2012’s New York City Comic Con in a Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Interview. See him in the pre-order bonus Naruto Goku costume.