Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, like its name suggests, is the third game of the series for current consoles and a return to the series’ roots. Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 returns to the form of a story-driven single player with a touch of multiplayer, a far cry from the previously released generations that took a more online, standard fighter approach. With a return to what has made the series great and some nice additions, Storm 3 does a lot of things right but doesn’t get by without a few key mishaps to dampen a solid sequel.
Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 continues where Storm 2 left off, with Naruto and his friends preparing for an upcoming 4th Great Ninja War. The game does a great job of catching you up with the story if you haven’t watched the anime and even if you have, it has a way to drag you in again. The game features plenty of cutscenes between fights, which can get rather long – not Metal Gear Solid 4 long, but still fairly lengthy. Luckily, the game features a skip option if you don’t feel like sitting through it, but let’s be honest, if you are playing this game without paying attention to the story, you are doing it a disservice. It is a well crafted tale of friendship, family, and the bonds we create and share during both war and peace.
The heart of this game, and the place you will find yourself spending the majority of your time, is the story mode, dubbed “Ultimate Adventure”. The start kicks off with a flash back of the Nine-Tails attacking the Hidden Leaf Village and is a really fun fight to take part in. It sets the stage for a lot of epic, big battles to be found in the game. Granted, the battles are no way near as big or epic as Ninja Storm 2, but they are still well done.
In the story mode, you will spend most of the time making your way through fights and then cutscenes, progressing the story. There are a few patches during the story where you can sort of free roam through levels, but this is left to do at the completion of the game, where you can then head back into the world and try for 100 percent on quests. It is kind of disappointing to see the exploration take a back seat during the story, relegating players to end up simply running from point A to point B and trigger a cutscene/fight. Of course, during those few times you can break objects to find Ryo (money), which you can then use to purchase items. It really is disappointing to not have really any exploration to be found until you complete the story, and then it is really only useful to explore if you are a trophy whore or someone looking to unlock a few small side stories.
Battles in Naruto are fast paced, full of high-flying kicks and furious combos. During a battle, you can run in all directions on the battlefield, dogging attacks, blocking, or attacking with a fairly simple control layout. It is easy to pick up as a newcomer but difficult to master the switching between block, dodge, or attack on a dime. Each playable ninja, which numbers around 80 or so, has their own set of attacks, combos, and ninjitsus to pull off. This ensures that no one fighter feels like any other. During combat, you will need to balance your basic attacks, with building up your chakra to pull off ninjitsus, and dodging attacks with a substitution jutsu. You can also have 2 support characters in the battle with you depending one the story battle, and these ninjas can be called upon to pull off an attack. Players also have four items slots that they can place items of their choice in, but you only start out with two slots and, as you level up following battles, you open up more slots and the ability to carry more of a single item.
Where the combat really fails, though, is with the overall lack of difficulty with the fights. Aside from Deidara and one of the final bosses in the game, every fight in the game is extremely easy to win. In my entire 18 hour playthrough of the story, I died maybe a total of 6 times and those were all accounted for in 2 or 3 different fights. The game does try to make add a bit of difficult into it with the addition of Ultimate Decisions. These pop up during the story at key points and let you decide whether to take the easier Hero road or try the Legend road. Your pick does have impact on where the story goes from there and the Legend choice does add a slight degree of difficulty. It would have been nice to have a menu option that let’s you increase the difficulty of battles and it is a bit of a let down to see that the fights feel like they got easier than they were in UNS 2. Ultimate Decisions allow you the ability to gain different types of items. In the game, you will find items that are Legend or ones that are Hero. So taking the hero road more often will mean more hero items. The problem is that the difference between the two aren’t really that great and for the most part, I found items rather pointless in battle because of the fact that most of the battles are rather easy.
Where Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 and its predecessors really shine are with the boss battles and, more importantly, the Quick Time Events that some games have a real issue with. Boss battles aren’t as epic as the previous entries but still provide plenty of great experiences, fighting off huge monsters that take up most of the screen. Towards the end of most these fights, they will stop the fight and go into a series of QTEs. The team over at CyberConnect2 does a great job of making these fast paced, flashy, and real pleasure to take part in. Not only are the they fun to take part in, but the effects going on during these are absolutely stunning and insane. They are among the best uses of QTEs in the industry, behind maybe Heavy Rain.
Outside of the story mode, Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 offers offline and online options. The offline allows for head to head matches with your friends or the ability to set up a 4-8 player tournament. The online allows you to play ranked or player matches against those around the world. One thing to note is that your use of the roster online is dictated by how far you are in the story, so it makes a lot of sense to finish the story before taking your fight online. The mode itself seemed to play just fine, with just a few moments of slow down here or there. It could also do for an upgrade in search options, as you only have the ability to look by rank or region. The biggest problem I found was with the rather short-lived fun of the online. Battles usually broke down to people spamming the same move over and over again. I did find a few fights where people got a bit more strategic, but overall it was a spam fest and it can get old rather quickly.
On the presentation front, there is very little to find at fault here. The amount of work done by the team at CC2 is to be applauded, as the cutscenes look fantastic and the character models are superb. It would have been nice to see a bit more attention paid to the environments you travel around, but that is a rather minor complaint. Voice work is again top notch, though, like the anime, Naruto’s voice can get rather annoying. Thankfully, you have the option to go with the Japanese audio, which I feel has a better voice for a lot of characters.
CyberConnect 2 knows its audience very well and has stayed close to the formula of the previous Ultimate Ninja Storm games. The battles are an absolute blast to take part in, the boss battles are epic, and CC2 really knows how to pull off some slick QTEs. However, these fun battles are really let down by the sheer lack of difficulty. The addition of the Ultimate Decisions tries to alleviate that issue but falls alittle bit short. Thankfully the story, characters, and visual effects are all top notch and help to hide some of the flaws in the game. Fans of Naruto will be happy with the finished product but might feel a tiny bit let down after playing UNS 2. That said, this is still a very solid entry in the Ultimate Ninja Storm series that I think fans of Naruto and newcomers to the series will have a good time playing.