The Naruto series is an immensely popular manga series that’s been around for over 15 years. Over time, the series received a sequel called Naruto Shippuden in 2007. Naturally, with any popular series, it’s inevitable for the property to reach out to other audiences. Naruto has had no shortage in video games, and developer CyberConnect2 has created over 10 games in the series’ history. “Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3” is CyberConnect2’s latest installment in the franchise. Does it hit all the right notes or does it simply not do the series justice?
Ultimate Ninja Storm 3’s story takes place showing the event of Nine Tails attacking the village of Konoha. After witnessing this flashback, the game will fast forward years later to continue right from where the events left off in Ultimate Ninja Storm 2. We find that Naruto discovers his best friend, Sasuke, has betrayed the Hidden Leaf to work with the Akatsuki. In the meantime, there’s word that Madara Uchiha is still alive and is looking to obtain the power of Nine-Tails. The game will start off during the Five Kage Summit story arc and go all the way through the Shinobi World War arc. The story found here is certainly deep and complex. The characters are all represented very well and the presentation really makes it feel like you’re watching the anime.
There’s plenty happening in the story here…and what’s interesting is that even if you’ve never played or seen anything with Naruto, you can still pick up on what’s happening here. CyberConnect2 really wanted to enhance their storytelling a good amount and they’ve certainly done so. The story doesn’t exactly take off until roughly Chapter 3, but once it does, you’ll be really engrossed as to what to look forward to next. The cutscenes are very well told, with mostly great dialogue and interesting plot events that unfold. Personally, I never had the chance to get into the Naruto franchise but the game does a great job of engaging the player into the narrative.
Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 provides a few game modes: Ultimate Adventure, Free Battle and Online Battle. The Ultimate Adventure is where you will be clocking a ton of time with, as the adventure is quite…well, ultimate. Spanning over the course of 10 chapters, plus a prologue, you’ll embark on a journey that provides for a ton of variety that keeps you on your toes. The game will start with an epic boss battle against Nine Tails, teaching you the ropes of how you can expect a boss battle to play out. This particular battle will allow you to easily leap between buildings and nimbly move your way to the target to attack. Occasionally, quick-time events will trigger that you’ll need to successfully pull off in order to dish out some serious damage. However, every boss battle later in the game plays out different, and I’ll touch on that later on. Shortly after, you’ll be introduced to one-on-one combat…and this is where mechanically, it feels entirely different from all the others on the market.
This isn’t your standard fare one-on-one combat that you’re used to in fighters like Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Dead or Alive, etc. This combat is handled on a free-roaming 3D battlefield. You’ll use a single button for close-up attacks, while pushing a specific direction on the analog stick in conjunction with the attack button can switch up your combos. Pressing the Triangle/Y button will let you use Chakra, which channels energy for your character. Holding still and pressing Triangle/Y will let you recharge your Chakra meter so that you can unleash Jutsu moves. These devastating, awe-spectacle moves looks as slick as they are deadly. You’ll be able to block any incoming attacks with the R2/RT button, but holding it down for too long may result in your opponent eventually breaking your defense. Should you want to dodge an attack or break free from an opponent’s combo, pressing the L2/LT button will initiate a Substitution Jutsu. This will confuse your opponent by attacking a log or other object instead of you, giving you the upper hand to teleport behind them and attack. Careful though, as you can only do this up to four times in a row before the meter can fill up and allow you to dodge again. The X/A button will allow you to jump and dash around the battlefield to dodge and weave your way to the opponent. While doing this, you can also throw shurikens to stun them for a second. Fights will get very intense as the AI doesn’t let up. However, this makes the game very rewarding and does an excellent job of making battles feel like you have to give it your all. If you’ve never played a Naruto title before, this can seem a bit complex or overwhelming, but once you start to get a feel for the mechanics and learn that it’s not your typical fighter, you’ll really start to appreciate the fresh and unique nature of it.
Throughout the game’s very lengthy campaign (15+ hours to beat), you’ll not only be doing standard one-on-one fights. Instead, the developers incorporated other gameplay styles into here as well, such as Free Roam and Mob Battles. Free Roaming will take a portion of the in-between battles, where you’ll venture around the areas, partake in optional quests, advance the storyline and visit shops to buy items. The items will be used to equip for any battles so that you can increase your chances at success. Mob Battles will switch the game’s mechanics to play like a “hack-and-slash”, incorporating the game’s combat system while also introducing some slick QTEs to pull off. For example, you’ll face a number of foes at once, each with their own mini-health bar hoving over their head. While beating an enemy to a pulp, when their health depletes entirely, you’ll be able to press the jump button to speed dash to the next enemy and continue stretching out your combo. When you fill up your special meter, you can pull off a Boost Attack which has you speed dashing to every enemy in the area and pressing the appropriate buttons to deal serious damage to them. This gameplay mechanic was very entertaining and just wish there were a bit more of them. The thing about Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm’s campaign is that it really tries to throw new gameplay mechanics at you to make the game feel fresh. A brand new gameplay element for this installment are the Ultimate Decision moments. There will be times scattered throughout the game’s story where you’ll have to make a Legend or Hero decision that affects the battle and difficulty. If you want to be a Legend, expect the difficulty to spike up a good amount. Going the Hero route will keep the difficulty on par with your skills and is more for the average player. The decisions also affect the amount of points you’ll receive in the Legend/Hero department. Certain items will only be available with a Legend build, while others may only be available with the Hero build. The more you stick with a certain path, the extra experience points you’ll earn for that path. The experience points will level up that path, which allows you to carry better ninja tools and higher capacities of those tools as well.
I mentioned earlier that boss battles all play out differently, and they do honestly. Every boss battle in the game will have you going into it feeling entirely different than the one previously that you completed. Unfortunately, mentioning the methods of play during these boss battles would be a spoiler, so I’ll avoid ruining their experiences. What I will say is that they’re incredibly cinematic and grand in scale. They actually nail the aspect of what a boss battle should be like. During the boss battles, you’ll be able to initiate Interactive Actions (IA). These are QTEs where you’ll have to press the appropriate buttons and sequence they appear in to achieve the jaw-dropping scenes during battles. You’ll earn stars during IAs and the faster you are at pressing the buttons upon prompt, the more stars you’ll earn. If you earn the maximum amount, you’ll be treated to a Secret Factor, which shows a flashback between the characters that are fighting. These sequences are incredibly flashy and a complete spectacle to see in action. Sometimes, certain battles will contain Secret Actions to unlock. These will require a very specific move to be pulled off at the right time to trigger a cutscene to few. You’ll know these are available when an icon appears on the top-center of the screen inside a bubble. The bubble will have a little image in there to give you a slight hint as what to do to initiate the Secret Action. The only thing I wasn’t fond of during a boss battle was that the camera would lose focus of the action at times. When you complete the Ultimate Adventure, you’ll be able to go back and complete optional quests that you may have missed, as well as try to fill out your Ninja World Timeline. The Ninja World Timeline will let you replay any moments from Ultimate Adventure, whether it be fights, action sequences or any of the cutscenes. However, you can unlock other events that are parallel to the game’s core story. As much as I enjoyed Ultimate Adventure, there were times where the cutscenes were so abundant and lengthy, that you forgot there was a game to play in here too. And the questionable design choice was to occasionally watch a lengthy 10-15 minute cutscene, regain control of a character, run outside the area within 5-10 seconds and watch another 10 minute cutscene. I completely understand that the story is very integral to the experience but too many cutscenes can bog down the flow of gameplay. Thankfully, the story is great to back it up.
Aside from Ultimate Adventure mode, you’ll be able to go through Free Battle mode. There are over 80 characters to choose from and 40 stages to fight on. Here you’ll be able to take on the CPU or a buddy in either Single Match or Team Match. Single Match is your one-on-one combat, where as Team Match lets you bring in two additional characters for support. For Team Battle, depending on who you choose as your main character, followed by your two support characters, will determine certain attributes that can be handy in battle. If you want, there’s a Practice mode so that you can go in and get further acclimated to the game’s fighting system, as well as master your favorite character. Additionally, there’s Tournament Mode, which lets you choose from three different types: Free Tournament, Perpetual Change Tournament and Challenge Tournament. Free Tournament is basically your standard fare bracket setup, with no special stipulations attached to it. Perpetual Change Tournament will keep things interesting by adding certain elements to a battle. Before the match starts, both players will have a random element chosen to change the effects of battle. For example, you may receive slower Chakra regeneration while your opponent may get faster Chakra regeneration speed. It keeps things a bit more challenging and interesting. Lastly, there’s Challenge Tournament, which breaks down the tournaments into a variety of difficulty levels and scenarios. As you complete each course, you’ll unlock new ones and higher difficulties. Each course will contain specific character rosters to go up against as well.
Lastly, there’s the Online Battle. You have your Player and Ranked matches to choose from. Ranked matches are straightforward battles where you’ll be recorded with wins and losses and try to level up your rank. Player matches offers a bit more variety on the other hand. You can still participate in a standard fighting match, but you can also choose Endless and Tournament modes as well. Endless will have you fighting opponents until you lose, whereas Tournament has you aiming for the top spot. Endless can definitely provide for a ton of fun, especially if you and others in the room are trying to take down the consecutive winner. You’ll also be able to customize your Ninja Info Card. Here you can choose your card image and title to display when challenging opponents online. Interestingly, you’ll be able to trade these cards with opponents you come across online. I was able to test out a few rounds online prior to the game’s release and had mixed experiences. If an opponent had three full signal bars, the game played pretty well online. However, the moment someone with one or two bars joins in, the lag is very noticeable. Hopefully the netcode gets a patch update in the near future to provide for smoother online play.
Visually, words can’t begin to describe how beautiful Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 looks on-screen. Simply put, the game looks absolutely gorgeous, with its incredibly rich, detailed cel-shading, superb animations, terrific character models and varied environments with excellent lighting effects, showing the light rays cutting through clouds and tree lines. The game literally looks like you’re watching the show, if not better. CyberConnect2 is a developer that should be very proud of the astounding visual representation they’ve nailed with Ultimate Ninja Storm 3. Even the cinematography of the epic battles when initiating Jutsu moves and boss battles in their entirety just looks like an awe-inspired spectacle. There were a few times where the framerate slightly dropped but it’s so rare that it’s barely noticeable. Overall, this game is one of the best looking titles out on the market.
Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 has some great audio. The soundtrack is impressive and fitting for the cutscenes, exploration, and crazy battles that are waiting to ensue. It’s a blend of a Japanese musical elements fused with a cinematic orchestra that works really well and immerses you into the experience. Voice acting brings all the original voice actors onboard for both the English and Japanese voice tracks. Yes, that’s right fans, you get the choice of both language tracks so which ever you prefer more, you’ve got the choice. Another nice touch is that characters will exchange words with each other during battles, giving them a more charismatic feel. The sound effects are incredibly powerful as well, making all the battles “sound” more intense. However, lip-syncing for the English voiceovers seems a bit off at times. Also, the “Character Vs.” lacks any audio to build up the tensity of the upcoming battle and is too silent. Overall, it’s still a great audio experience.
Overall Score: 17/20 = 8.5 out of 10
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is quite an experience that fans will really love. The presentation and story is really impressive, the gameplay is engaging, the soundtrack is great and the visuals are simply stunning. Aside from a few quirks here and there, UNS3 is a great game that fans should not miss out on.
+ Engaging combat system; varied gameplay mechanics
+ Mob Battle is a nice change of pace during Ultimate Adventure
+ Tons of content (80+ characters, 40 stages, etc)
+ Solid amount of replay value
+ Great soundtrack
+ Deep, complex story
– Lip-syncing is off at times
– Camera during boss battles can lose focus
– Story can bog down the game’s pacing
A special thank you to Namco Bandai Games for providing us a review copy for “Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3″!