It’s that time of year again when we faithfully review the latest game in the Naruto series. Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is the direct sequel to Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 (and not last year’s Ultimate Ninja Storm: Generations, which was more of a filler game). Hope that clears up any minor confusions. I take up my shuriken and kunai, dust off my headband, and head into the battlefield to see what the latest game is about.
The gameplay of the Ultimate Ninja Storm series, with its mix of both fighting and RPG genres, has divided many players: some prefer to simply go from fight to fight while others prefer the enjoyment of exploring Naruto’s world. I fall into the second camp, so I was glad to see the return of the RPG elements, the massive, epic boss battles, and emphasis on story. The simple going from fight to fight in last year’s Generations wasn’t entirely to my liking. Ultimate Ninja Storm 3’s story starts around the point where Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 ended, after the destruction of Konahagakure (Hidden Leaf Village, for those of you following Naruto in English). The game’s story covers the time from just after Pain’s attack to the close of the 4th Ninja War. If you don’t know what any of this means, you’re better off trying to get your hands on Generations, which does a good job of filling you in.
The graphics in the game are, as always, beautiful. Throughout the entire game, I never once lost the suspension of disbelief in the idea that I was watching the actual anime show, despite the occasional breaks for fights. There are some points in the game where you WILL go “Whoah-ho-ho!! So. Freakin’. AWESOME!!” The action intense, the storyline is tight (tighter than the anime, which is stuffed with filler episodes), and the voice acting is direct from the show, adding to that feeling of “ I’m actually watching the show”. Also, be prepared to do a decent amount of watching. Some cutscenes will go on for so long that your controller may actually go to sleep before it’s done. Yes, there are cutscenes here in excess of 20 minutes. It’s like watching an entire episode of Naruto! It’s not entirely a bad thing, though, and entirely forgiveable considering that the game has a lot of story to tell. What’s interesting to note is that, as of current, the game’s story is further along than the anime. Make of that what you will.
Until the story is complete, you’re fairly limited in where you can go and what you can do. Prepare yourself for around 15 to 18 hours of solid story-based gameplay (and a credits sequence) before all the sidequests that were a mainstay of the prior games become available. Personally, I found it a better experience that way, because it meant that the game’s story, while fairly linear, was incredibly tight. If you want to stop after the end of the main story, you could, but you’d be missing out on a lot of extra content. There are the usual fetch quests, the find quests, and the ever-present “fight me!” quests to make people like you more. I don’t know how this would work in real life. (Ed: Anime logic.)
The story mode (called “Adventure Mode” in the game) has a number of neat new features that forces you to adjust the way you play. It’s not simply a linear progression from battle to battle interspersed with bits of story and running around. At certain points in the game, you’ll be asked to decide between the Hero Route and the Legend Route. These two routes tie into the fact that all battle equipment can only be assigned to its relevant palette, either Legend or Hero. Choosing one route over the other decides how many points are placed into that palette, and the more points in a palette, the better the types of equipment you can place in it. As an example of what the two Routes are like, at some point in the game you have the choice between two paths. One way seems to be well defended, and other seems quiet. The quiet route sends you straight to the battle you were seeking in the first place, while the other route puts you into a series of mob battles, simply a way of fighting multitudes of opponents at once. When given the choice, I highly recommend taking up the mob battles, mostly because it breaks up the monotony of playing fight after fight. One of my favourite aspects of the Adventure Mode is that even as late as the final battles, new play mechanics are being added to keep you on your toes. They don’t feel as if they’ve been added at whimsy, either, because the added fight mechanics and aspects fit well within the paradigm of the story.
As in prior games, you can test your skills against other players, either locally in Free Battle mode, or online (unpredictably, named “Online Battle”). The free battle lets you set a number of battle conditions, choose your fighter and support fighters, and come out swinging against your chosen punching bag. You can choose to play against human or computer controlled players, and while the COM players are great for practice, they’re terrible for gloating over. Find yourself a nice human-shaped opponent if you enjoy the gloat factor.
Online battles in Generations had gotten muddied up with this very strange card-battle pre-game that, I was glad to see, had been discarded like a rogue ninja for this game. It honestly couldn’t get any simpler to get into a fight with anyone around the globe. You can elect to have a quick match, a prolonged ranked tournament, or a ceaseless flurry of fights to see who can maintain the longest win streak. The online mode, while fairly simple, has something for just about everyone. I had no trouble finding opponents in quick match who, with the swift and furious fists of justice, proceeded to beat the everliving spleen from me. How I managed to defeat the final boss in the story mode while failing against (probably) younger online opponents I’ll never know. Personally, I blame the lag, both in my internet connection and the connection that runs between my hands and brain. Not that I’m getting old. Ahem.
If you’ve been following (and enjoying) the Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm series up till now, you owe it to yourself to get your hands on this game. It’s not just “more of the same” (although there is a fair bit of that!), and the added characters and features make the game well worthwhile—more so than Generations. The graphics are crisp, the story is riveting, and the additions feel well thought out instead of just tacked on by a bored developer. If you enjoy your fighting games, but hate the long story attached, you can safely skip the cutscenes simply to unlock the characters, but you’d be missing some of the best shōnen-style storytelling out there. This is currently my favourite game of the series, and it’s pleasant to see that the developers have taken the time to refine the game to a beautiful, shuriken-sharp point.
Final Score: 9 kage bunshin prawns out of 10
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platforms: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox360
Age Rating: 16