Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 ReviewMarch 8, 2013
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is a fun, engaging, gorgeously rendered anime adaptation, but it leaves something to be desired in the action department.
Namco Bandai’s Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is a fantastic adaptation of the anime series. If you’re a fan of the TV series, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth from this game. Featuring beautiful cel-shaded graphics, the entire localized English voice cast, epic boss encounters and the most current storyline in any Naruto game yet, this is a well-rounded package. You can even play as eighty different characters in the game’s Free Battle and Online Battle modes. This is all great, but what if you’re new to the series? Will you be completely lost if you’ve never picked up a Naruto game before? That was my position when Namco Bandai sent out a review package for Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, and based on my experience, I can say… probably.
To its credit, the game goes to great lengths during the install to catch you up on the series’ lore. But jamming all this info into a 10-15 minute install was a bit headache-inducing. Once I got into the game proper, however, I was blown away. Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 features the most accurate anime-style visuals of any game I’ve ever set eyes upon, and for about a minute I thought I was watching a 2D animated introduction. It starts off with a stellar, engaging battle against the Nine-Tails, a gigantic fox…um… demon thing that threatens to destroy the Hidden Leaf village, home to the titular Naruto. At this point I thought I was playing as Naruto, but it turns out that this was actually Minato, Naruto’s father who sacrifices his life stopping the Nine Tails’ destructive rampage. And somehow Naruto has this beast sealed inside him, or something.
Yes, stepping into a series at the third entry is never an easy thing. But developer CyberConnect2 certainly tries to get the player caught up. In fact, one of the complaints I had during my playthrough is that the game has not only a ton of loading screens, but also stops the action quite often in favor of long, expository cutscenes. While these cinematics are well-crafted with high production values, the pacing in the single-player Adventure Mode is highly unbalanced. The combat-to-conversation ratio could use a fair bit of adjustment.
Once you do take control, like in the aforementioned Nine-Tails rampage, things really come together. In this epic battle, you fight one-on one against this towering monster, before combining with the powers of all the village’s strongest warriors in a final act of defiance. It’s a battle that truly gets your heart racing, and every subsequent brawl feels pulled right from the TV series. I did find it a bit strange that there was no real tutorial- the game just throws you headfirst into your first rumble. Button-mashing may work for a short while, but sooner or later you’ll need to head to the in-game input menu to get a grip on things. Once you understand the basics, you’ll find yourself looking forward to the gorgeous, extremely fun matches. The jutsu powers are often breathtakingly magnificent. And once you get a grasp on the fundamentals of combat, you’ll be able to easily play as any of the eighty fighters- the game is more about speed and spectacle than depth, which I was fine with. However, I did find the resource and health-management aspects a bit tacked-on and unnecessary. Your health does not recover between battles, and you’ll need to visit ramen shops and consume items to replenish it between contests. These JRPG-esque elements don’t quite mesh with the 3D fighter aspects of the game. You could say Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 suffers from identity crisis.
That said, I did enjoy the open-world free-roam bits, where you’re free to talk to townspeople, allies, and other NPCs. Though the towns feel a bit barren and empty, they are nice to look at, and you don’t have to spend a ton of time in these sections if you don’t want to. You can even skip the aforementioned cutscenes if you really wanted to, but you’ll be terribly lost without them. Though at times their length tried my patience, I did find the story interesting enough to watch every main event scene (though I skipped through some of the unvoiced text, admittedly). I found that the game was much more effective when utilizing quick-time events; these sequences kept me thoroughly engaged while simultaneously driving the narrative forward. Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 also tries to incorporate a feeling of choice in the proceedings, by allowing Naruto to choose a Legend or Hero path. Your decision nets you points for whichever category you picked, which can then be utilized to buy items in that category. Unfortunately, these decisions didn’t seem to have a whole lot of impact on the narrative- don’t expect a Heavy Rain-level of replayability here.
There’s also online and local versus play. Though these modes function well, the fact that the combat isn’t exceptionally deep leads to predictable battles where opponents attempt to spam you to death. They’re still fun, but they don’t feel very competitive – more a game of luck than anything – but they’re still a sight to behold. You can earn titles and pictures for your ninja info card, which is seen by and traded with your opponents, so some players may get a little extra longevity from the game here.
Overall, I found Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 to be a fun, engaging, gorgeously rendered anime adaptation, but it leaves something to be desired in the action department. Those who enjoy the series’ story, however, will find plenty of content to seek their teeth into.