A word of warning: there are some minor spoilers for this game, as well as the end of Ultimate Ninja Storm 2.
Namco Bandai’s Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 continues where Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 left off; but developer Cyberconnect 2 added a whole new list of features to the mix – with fantastic results. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: with each progressive iteration, the Ultimate Ninja Storm titles approach the ideal way to experience Masashi Kishimoto’s beloved manga and anime series. If you’re a fan of the series, this will be like a dream come true; if you’re not, you’ll still experience a great story and enjoy a very robust fighting game – if you have a little patience.
I’m going to lay it on the line at the beginning: a lot of this game may confuse you if you don’t keep up with the anime or manga, or if you have never played an Ultimate Ninja Storm game before. This is actually the fourth game in the series; and a lot has happened since the first Storm game. There are a lot of characters in this title, and you may find yourself to be lost – even if you are marginally familiar with the characters; and especially because this title is story-heavy (in a good way). One of the best ways to try and get in the know is to pay attention during the installation, as story slides are shown with the important parts of the story up until the current adventure. That being said, it’s not necessary to know the story to play the fighting part of the game – but it helps. In the review, I will do my best to “translate” some of the phrases for the uninitiated.
Part of a tense scene from an attack on Konoha.
The main story mode picks up where Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 left off: most of Konoha (the Hidden Leaf Village) is in ruins after Pain’s Shinra-Tensei (almighty push1) attack. Fortunately, Naruto Uzumaki defeated Pain, saving the village from absolute destruction. The game begins with the leaders (the Kage) of the five hidden villages meeting in the Land of Iron to discuss the movement of evil that is plaguing their villages. Eventually, the plot leads to the outbreak of the fourth great ninja war. And through it all, Naruto is adamant about pulling his friend from the clutches of darkness, malice, and revenge.
The game’s plot is forwarded by “quests” which are usually presented at the beginning of each chapter; more often than not, you will be dropped into exploration mode to find your way to your targets. The fixed-camera system for exploration mode that was introduced in Storm 2 makes a come-back. Rather than a dynamic over-the-shoulder free-roam cam, each area has a camera in a different fixed position, allowing for a more cinematic experience. The layout of Konoha is definitely much different due to the middle of the area having been reconstructed; so getting a hang of the layout takes both experienced Storm players and neophytes roughly the same amount of time to get used to.
Minato and Madara go at it.
Luckily, the on-screen map allows you to keep track of where you are within that area, along with the location of Save Points (bird houses), shops and any other points of interest. A red arrow on the map indicates the direction that leads to the next quest. At quest destinations, you will usually interact with other characters – this usually leads to a fighting match, a cut-scene, or a combination of both. Some of the fights also include epic quick-time events that are stitched into the fighting, so it’s important to pay attention.
The fights are fast-paced and dynamic, filled with eye-popping animations and some lively dialogue between characters. Ninjas in Naruto are sneaky, fighting with guile and crazy tricks. Each character essentially has the same basic controls for various attacks, dodges, and support calls. Characters can also charge their chakra (energy) and couple a charge with an attack, creating a more powerful attack. Ultimate techniques can be executed once a character has reached the minimum level of required energy; they do more damage than other attacks and look spectacular. Calling on your team members during a fight will build up your support gauge, which, as it becomes more full, will trigger your team to back you up without you having to call them (they will guard you while you charge energy and throw additional ranged weapons when you hit the range attack button). Most people will find that the fighting system is not only easy to pick up – it’s also fairly easy to do well on the easier difficulties. I find, though, that on the higher levels of difficulty, playing the characters strategically yields better results – especially with the inclusion of a few new tricks.
What they used to do before laser-eye surgery.
For one thing, Awakening Mode (which gives most characters huge power-ups and changes the appearance and move-sets of some of the roster) comes in two different flavours. All characters have an awakening mode when their health drops below a certain threshold; it is an equalization technique that bestows great power to a character on the brink of death, to help possibly turn the tide in their favour. Other characters have an extra awakening mode that allows them to change state to do more damage; in some cases, this mode can even be manipulated by your shoulder buttons for different effects. Another great addition to the game is coordinated attacks using your support characters. In previous games, your support characters would charge in and attack – or they would hang back and defend. If you deployed both characters at the same time, only one of them would actually do damage. In Storm 3, instead of using the shoulder buttons for support while not in Awakening, you can hold your melee button for a second or two and launch an attack that allows you to deploy your support characters more intelligently, giving you the opportunity to do more damage and throw your opponent off-balance.
Rounding out the new features are mob battles, which are like free-running versions of the normal battles. These fights follow a fixed path and have you taking on groups of underlings and sometimes even boss characters. Special button prompts appear during the fights which will allow you to get behind the next opponent instantly – or they will allow you to perform a burst attack which triggers a mini-game that dramatically slows down time has your character rushing at the enemies one at a time, displaying a button prompt for a each enemy. Successfully hitting the correct button means an instant kill and a dash toward the next enemy to repeat the drill; failing to do so ends your streak. Storm 3 also has an “Ultimate Decision” mode that appears during some parts of the game that allow you to choose a path in the battle that may be more difficult (Legend Path) or a little easier (Hero Path), resulting in extra experience points being given to one of the two different Tool Sets (Legend or Hero).
Sage Mode is pretty awesome.
Visually the game is breathtaking. While not as realistic looking as something like Assassin’s Creed III, the animation brings the anime to life with style. Vibrant colours and smooth motion is the name of the game; and I would dare say that the game actually makes the televised anime pale in comparison. To be fair, I will mention that I noticed some stuttering in some of the larger battles2; but on the whole, the eye candy is abundant.
Audio is awesome, and scores high marks in the sound effects department – as does the musical score. English dub and Japanese with sub are both available (I prefer the latter), making this a true game for fans. One of my favourite touches is the main menu: it starts out with a piano solo and once you start the game, the rest of the orchestra fills in the song. Great little touches like that make the game an all-around wonderful experience.
I didn’t really delve too much into the multi-player mode. It’s easy to set up both ranked and unranked battles online – but the arenas are filled mostly with spam-happy people that are tough to beat. IF I was to have a complaint, it would be that a combination of the lag and improperly coded defenses make for a frustrating online experience. Local multi-player, though, is a lot of fun and I highly recommend this for a party scenario.
With an expansive story3, dynamic fighting, great presentation, and a ton of new features, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 gets two thumbs up from me. I would slightly hesitate to recommend this game to people who may be unfamiliar with the series – although the fighting engine is pretty awesome and visually spectacular. If you’re interested, you can probably pick up some of the earlier games – or check out YouTube for the important cut-scenes from the previous titles. Even as a discerning fan, this game surpassed my expectations. Truly an S-Ranked game!