The Ultimate Ninja Storm series of games have always paid homage to the Naruto series with its blend of action and full videos, presenting the story in gorgeous digitally animated scenes taken from the 300+ episodes and then interspersing them with full on action when required, which in Naruto's and the village case is very often. With Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, CyberConnect2 sure know how to kick off proceedings with an almighty boss battle against Nine Tails, setting the origin story of Naruto and then skipping a few years into the future.
Though the story is enjoyable and offers plenty of surprises, a very early issue I came across and one that threads throughout the whole game, is that it assumes far too much, with the game really giving no indication as to when in the great Naruto saga this story takes place. Even with the Nine Tails prologue it does not explain where we are in story other than another battle occurring and Naruto saving Hidden Leaf Village, becoming its hero. Only by picking apart the history and paying close attention to the cut scenes it becomes clear that it takes place after a ninja called Pain attacked the village, but even then, there is no real explanation of who or what, just an assumption you are well versed in the Naruto universe; not ideal for newcomers but of course fans will be well versed in what is happening and also what to expect.
Once the story does start to move you get to follow and control not only Naruto but other characters like Killer Bee, Sakura and of course, Sasuke, as the Five Kage Summit proceeds through to Naruto's training and the formation of the Ninja Alliance up until the more recent episodes of the show, the 4th Ninja War. To try and add a little replayability and variety in the difficulty (which is very erratic anyway) there are moments were you must make the Ultimate Decision, choosing between the Hero route and a Legendary route. The Legendary route being the harder of the two, will grant you slightly more information and cut scenes, fights and also plenty of extra bonus points to use to purchase items later in the game.
The Ultimate Adventure story mode has been split into numerous game modes, the main being cut scenes of varying quality, at times they are wonderfully cel shaded moments from the anime, full of action and adventure and then for no real reason it will change to very static screen, with you tapping through all of the dialogue, but they do have one thing in common, they are long and at times in no rush to give control back to you. When it does hand the controls over it can be as one of a few modes. The Free Movement mode allows just that, granting you free time to explore, talk and shop, carrying out favours like collecting ninja tool blueprints and also progression of the main story.
Of course Naruto would not be much of a ninja without any action and there is plenty. The basic is the VS, putting you against whomever Naruto has annoyed this time. The 3D fighting arena allows for a very fast paced battle with a dynamic camera that just can't quite keep up with the action. There are a few moves available, basic melee and shuriken to throw plus a variety of items you can preload on your palette, using the d-pad to use ninja tools like explosive shuriken, poisoned darts or simple health packs. The battles heavily rely on your Chakra, a power that drains with double and triple tapping the Chakra button, initiating more powerful moves. Depending on the battle you can also call in support from up to two allies who will jump into battle to perform a signature move, buying you vital seconds to recover, carry out more powerful moves or simply charge your Chakra gauge.
Aside from VS there are also Mob Battles, turning the action into more of a beat-em-up, running through areas and taking on all manner of goons and guards, using the same basic controls as VS but also adding a few QTE (Quick Time Event) style moves that appear at certain points of the battle.
Even though there is plenty of hands on action you had also make sure you don't have any issues with QTE's, or in Ultimate Storm 3's case IA (Interactive Action), which all boil down to some button bashing or joystick waggling at crucial moments, as there are plenty of them which have thankfully been done really well, with spot on inputs granting players with extra bonus secret factors, short videos that will unlock some more back story.
The pace of the story and mix of action and cut scenes works relatively well as even the more lengthy scenes are so well done it is just like watching the TV show, this however gets disrupted if you lose a battle as the save system is a joke. The game offers awkwardly placed auto and manual save points but then throws many fights with varying difficulties at you with no save in between, leaving it down to pure luck if you survive, with infrequent opportunities to use bento boxes to boost health and your stats, die and it can result in a lengthy replay.
Along with the Ultimate Adventure there are a few other modes to try out, this time more focused on the VS aspect of the game, with online battles and even local two player free battles and tournaments to try out and with a huge selection of over 80 characters to choose from, the selection process takes longer than the actual fights.
For anyone out there that knows what Hokage, Uchiha and Raikage mean then this title is a worthy addition to your collection, sadly though newcomers will find very little to welcome you to the franchise with a weak fighting mechanic that feels like it resorts to constant melee attacks and button bashing too frequently.
Words by Ash Buchanan.
(Version Tested: Xbox 360)
- A well-presented retelling of crucial part of the Naruto saga.
- Fantastic cut scenes.
- Huge roster of characters.
- English and original dialogue.
- Fighting becomes a chore in VS.
- Awful save points.
- Assumes you are very familiar with Naruto lore.