Naruto is a name almost everyone recognizes to some extent, even if you aren’t necessarily into anime. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is the latest video game spin-off of the highly successful animnated series. It takes the general game mechanics from Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, but adds a few bells and whistles to present a more updated game. There is a question that is always asked when a game is a spin-off from a popular franchise: is the game actually good, or is good gameplay sacrificed for an overload of fan-service for loyal fanboys to geek over? Well, truthfully, this game is made for and played by Naruto fans, but that doesn’t mean you should completely disregard it.
The story follows right along with the show rather than creating its own unofficial side-story. It’s hard to discuss the story without spoiling anything, but basically, Naruto is still chasing after Sasuke as a great ninja war looms ever closer on the horizon. It cuts right into the ongoing series, however, which means those that don’t follow the show won’t know what’s going on. The game does summarize the entire story during the installation of the game, but that’s like trying to explain Lost to someone in ten minutes; there are simply too many characters, plots, and details that will be lost on anyone who doesn’t already know the show. As the game goes on, there are even more characters introduced and relationships between characters revealed that, again, only a person who knows the show will understand. This dramatically reduces the range of gamers the game will target, but on the plus side, it really does capture the show well, and longtime fans will appreciate the developers keeping things accurate.
Even if the story doesn’t draw you in, the presentation will. The entire game has that increasingly popular cartoony, cel-shaded look, which guarantees wonderful vibrant colors that are extremely eye appealing. It may not be realistic, but it never really tries to be. Realistic or not, the graphics do carry across a wide range of emotions spectacularly well for each character. There are some really emotionally powerful scenes that are expertly presented with these graphics that will draw out at least some feelings of empathy from you. Again, that’s if you’re into the setting of the story; otherwise, you probably don’t know what’s going on and don’t understand why everyone keeps making dramatic statements.
Whether you’re into Naruto or not, the gameplay can still be thoroughly enjoyed. The game appears to be a fighting game, but it would be more accurate to place it in the beat ‘em up genre. A fighting game is more tactical, making you focus on particular attacks, like a high attack, low strike, strong kick, etc. In this game, you literally just mash the one attack button and that’s all. You can still make combos by pointing the joystick up or using different amounts of chaka, which we’ll get into later. The simplicity is somewhat of a letdown in tactical possibilities, but that same simplicity increases the ease-of-use for an individual player. The gameplay is fluent, fast, and constant, which keeps your eyes on the screen, completely addicted to the combat. You don’t have to worry about complicated combos; instead, you just enjoy the characters skillfully dancing around the level as they do fanciful attacks.
Don’t get me wrong, the combat doesn’t revolve entirely around you mashing one button; there are definitely strategies involved to complicate matters—in a good way of course. You are given a chaka bar that will deplete when you use it for a powerful move. Not only are they useful in gameplay, but they are flashy and an absolute blast to watch being performed. You can easily recharge it whenever you want with a press of a button, but it leaves your character vulnerable for an attack. Mixing in large chaka attacks in between smaller strikes is as rewarding as you would expect it to be. The game will even inform you when a character’s health is low enough for you to finish them off with one big move, and there aren’t many things more rewarding in life than absolutely obliterating your enemy with one final awesome move.
It isn’t all one-on-one fights either, you can have some allies pop in and help you during the fight. They have their own health bar, so you cannot get careless with them, but implementing their skills correctly will be instrumental to your survival. Some allies have support skills while others have more aggressive abilities. Using them wisely and effectively is up to you, and this element makes the game go just a little bit deeper than the typical beat ‘em up.
There are also a couple other change-ups in the gameplay to keep things interesting before the game becomes a repetitive cycle. At particular moments in the game, you will be given a choice of difficulty before advancing further. Choosing the harder difficulty rewards you with slightly different cut-scenes at times, along with Legend points instead of Hero points. These are used to level up your ninja kit, of which you have two kits to choose from: the Legend setup or the Hero setup. While each has their own advantages, Legend tends to be better, thus the higher difficulty when choosing it.
The boss battles are extremely well done, and there are some pretty eye-opening moments during them. The game switches to QTE (Quick Time Events), and regardless of how you feel about QTE, the moments in which they transpire in Ninja Storm 3 are incredible. They happen during some of the most intense fights in the game, and the characters dish out crazy, intense moves. The wonderful animation shines during these moments as your jaw literally drops when you are rewarded with a powerfully mesmerizing cut-scene after hitting the proper buttons.
There are also some moments where the game switches to a mob-battle mode. The game’s buttons remain the same, but instead of fighting one-on-one, you fight multiple enemies at once. It’s more efficient than you would think, which keeps the combat fluent and fun instead of weighing it down. Tossing in powerful enemies along with weaker ones is a good change of pace compared to the usual one-on-one fights. It is simple change-ups like mob-battles and boss battles to keep the game from becoming a stale fighter.
In between the fights you can wonder around a map to explore and speak with people. There is money hidden around and even some side-quests to initiate. You can spend money on items and weapons which are beneficial to you during combat or between combat. They are pretty self explanatory when you see them, and they do have their uses, but the entire game can easily be played without using a single item. There really isn’t anything too deep outside of the combat that will keep you entertained for long.
Aside from the story mode, there are two other modes you have come to expect in a fighting game: online battle and free battle. Both are exactly what you expect, but that doesn’t mean they are any less fun. There are close to a hundred characters to play as, which gives this mode some incredible depth, especially since each character has a unique fighting style. It’s extremely fun fighting a friend, and the level designs in these modes are well done.
The game may be fun, but it does have flaws. The check-point system is hit-or-miss throughout the game. Sometimes it’s perfect, while at other times it is pretty unforgiving, possibly forcing you to redo multiple fights. The game is about thirteen hours long, but the actual gameplay percentage of that is much shorter since a majority of the game is cut-scenes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does need to be stated. Other times, when you are on the map in-between battles, you’ll run for maybe ten seconds before the next battle. It is completely unnecessary and just adds loading times. The combat is fun, but it isn’t deep enough to really make you spend long hours striving for those tough combos like other fighting games, because there really isn’t any hard combo to begin with.
Ninja Storm 3 is certainly a fun game, mostly because the swift, simple combat is a blast to experience. However, it isn’t fun enough to warrant owning unless you are a true Naruto fan. The entire game rides on fan service for the series, with a vast majority of the game just being the story retold. It’s still fun to play, but most of the fun is playing as the characters you are already emotionally attached to from the series. Simply jumping into this game without any knowledge of the series will leave you confused, overwhelmed, and generally let-down by it all. The combat is fun, but it isn’t great enough to carry the game through the rough parts. For that reason, this game can really only be suggested for fans of the series.
This review is based off a retail copy of the Playstation 3 version of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 developed by CyberConnect2 and distributed by Namco Bandai Games.