OXCGN’s Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Review
The ninja experience
by Gav Ross
©2013 Gav Ross
Fans of uber-popular anime series Naruto Shippuden have been crying out for a definitive video game able to do the franchise justice for years.
Two games released earlier this console generation – Rise of a Ninja and The Broken Bond – were competent action-adventure RPGs with plenty of charm, but the one-on-one fighting sections took a back seat to laborious fetch quests and on-foot racing trials.
Understandably, followers of the ramen-lovin’ blonde ninja and his universe have been more receptive to the fighting-based Ultimate Ninja Storm series.
For the series’ third installment, Namco Bandai Games and Fukuoka-based developer CyberConnect2 have pulled out all the stops, creating the most expansive and cinematic Naruto gaming experience thus far, sure to satiate devotees and impress newcomers.
The ultimate adventure
Starting off the main story mode, players are thrown in the deep end immediately, battling Nine-Tails – a monstrous demon fox intent on destroying Naruto’s peaceful home of Hidden Leaf Village; tearing buildings apart like a giant, furry Godzilla.
Combat, at this point, is fairly straight forward, with fighters leaping between rooftops and unleashing a quick combo whenever an opening becomes available.
This initial boss fight (which is a wonderfully bombastic introduction, it must be said) is followed by a regular one-on-one duel in a grassy arena.
Suddenly, the game expects you to know what you’re doing – there are no brief pop-up screens pointing out basic controls or helpful tutorial videos.
UNS veterans can do without the explanations, of course, but it could be a struggle for trainees who haven’t glanced at the options menu at the minimum.
As novices will soon discover, mashing on the basic attack button will allow you to get by for a while, but learning a few combos after activating ‘chakra’ (a magic/power-up with a limited meter, basically) is where the real damage can be dealt.
As frantic and haphazard as it appears – especially if you’re used to traditional 2D and 3D fighting games – there’s a surprising amount of depth to UNS’s fighting system.
A few aspects have been modified and improved since last game: there’s now a ‘ring-out’ possibility during battles and environments are occasionally interactive in other ways.
Team-mates during battles – which usually number one or two – used to be useful in quick bursts and were nothing much more than another simple power-up.
Controls have been pleasingly tweaked, making UNS3 feel more responsiveness than its predecessors.
Activating jutsu (special moves) is now a tad easier, as is unleashing ‘Ultimate Jutsu Finishers’ – catastrophic moves complemented by a brief cinematic – and the new ‘Awakening’ powers, which are akin to Dragonball Z’s Super Saiyan power-up.
Ten story chapters – some lengthy, others over in a flash – feature intermittent boss battles that are grand in scope and best left unspoiled.
Some of the more momentous story battles feature quicktime events, but they’re irregular enough to not be annoying and there’s an extra incentive to remain alert since there’s a scoring system based on how responsive the player is.
Make it through these quick-time occurrences by gaining enough ‘stars’ and you’ll be treated to a ‘Secret Factor’, which includes a flashback cut-scene and special move.
A film unto itself
Challenging the likes of Final Fantasy for overall gaming-to-cinematics ratio, UNS3 contains what seems like hours (and hours) of interwoven animation scenes; some ripped straight from the cartoon series, others exclusive to the game.
Skipping cut-scenes (it does become tempting, especially after sitting through 10-plus minutes of footage without touching the controller) through story mode will mean the core campaign can be completed in around 10 hours.
Watch every cut-scene, however, and that time is at least doubled.
Naruto junkies will surely lap up every second, but casual admirers of the series will probably find themselves pressing ‘skip’ after the first few chapters.
Roster for the ages
The roster of playable characters in this third iteration of Ultimate Ninja Storm is rather mind-boggling: 80 characters, including more than a few obscure entities only the most avid of Naruto fans could probably recognise.
A good majority of these individuals and creatures make an appearance, even if it’s somewhat fleeting, during the main story and automatically become unlocked for Free Battle, Practice and Multiplayer modes.
Some of the more popular characters – such as sand manipulator Gaara – don’t come along until close to the story’s conclusion.
More characters doesn’t necessarily mean unique choices, however, as the overwhelming amount of variety means there are quite a few lower-tier characters that just aren’t interesting or fun to play as.
Loosely based on the Great Ninja War storyline from the anime series, UNS3’s narrative builds to a tremendous crescendo involving one major boss and a final battle that rages on for what seems like forever.
Up until the final chapter, the game is pretty much a breeze, but the balance shifts dramatically at the end, with players thrown into a series of confrontations without the chance to replenish health as easily or snatch useful battle items from the inventory.
It’s frustrating to get so close to the conclusion and then struggle, but finishing off the boss whilst only hanging onto a sliver of health was a rewarding payoff, for this review, anyway.
It’s difficult to imagine a more fully-featured Naruto game than UNS3 and if future installments continue to build on this particular sequel then there’s a lot to look forward too.
Naruto and friends running around various villages feels little more than an interactive load screen, with an annoying static camera and NPCs with very little interesting to say.
It’s a minor quibble, certainly, but one that knocks the game down a notch.