Developer CyberConnect2 has been setting the bar on anime game visuals since the release of Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm on PlayStation 3 back in 2008. Two more sequels have been made since then, expanding the cast and feature set while holding true to the amazing action set pieces from the source material. Still unsurpassed and now operating on a much grander scale, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 seeks to extend CyberConnect2’s reign as master of the ultra slick and beautiful anime fighter. Does it surpass its predecessors or should it disappear in a cloud of smoke and logs?
The game’s Ultimate Story mode continues the Naruto story from where the last game left it. For fans of the anime or manga, the game covers the Shinobi World War Arc. The mode lives up to its name, recreating a staggering 10+ hours of the anime with in-game assets, rendering not only the great action set pieces but addressing the relationships, history and politics between the abundant cast of characters. In between battles, the game has players take control of Naruto and allies and allows them to explore environments and villages to gather hidden items or money, restock on supplies or to speak with citizens for some much needed praise. After the story mode is over, players regain control with a good amount of side quests and relationship maintenance added in. You can hunt down every page of the long, historical record of the series or exchange letters with other ninja to build relationships. The latter may seem silly, but it helps in battles when support attacks are needed.
The mob battles are a bit more of an acquired taste. They take the same control scheme and moveset and allow players to take on groups of enemies at once. The screen-destroying Ultimate Jutsus are replaced by a time-slowing button-press minigame that attacks all enemies one at a time. The camera is the most difficult thing to get used to. There is a lock-on and target switching option, but far too often it is at odd angles or so close that danger is not only obstructed but imminent. The mode is all about making it through an area, killing as many enemies as possible while conserving health for the boss fight at the end of the road. They don’t happen often and can be almost completely ignored if they are not to one’s liking, but after a few runs the concept is solid and fun in their own right.
It may be the fourth game in the Storm series from CyberConnect2, and some aspects were in previous titles. Yet nothing feels old or recycled but rather is a refinement and expansion. The developers are obviously fans of the source material and take great care in providing everything from face deforming punches to the jaw to political debates between national leaders. The game is by far the most comprehensive collection of the Naruto story, second only to the manga.
The game operates at a stable sixty frames and the visual fidelity is second to none. The color pallette is vivid and pleasing to the eye without being overly saturated or desperate. Characters are faithfully recreated down to the smallest details and their signature attitudes come across in every movement and strike. The battles show off an impressive amount of destruction, environmental effects, smoke and explosions and the game never slows or chugs. The only time that the frame rate dropped was in the Ultimate Story mode while walking into a largely populated town center, in which the frame rate did not affect anything. It did later become noticeable in post-game exploration as the villages become more densely populated. Still, this game is about the fighting and nothing compromises the in-battle experience.
This is a fighting game. Do not be mistaken. Rather than focusing on complex inputs, the game puts more focus on resource management. Chakra powers everything in this game. Normal punches and ranged attacks do minimal damage and can be easily blocked or avoided. When players infuse their attacks with chakra, the game becomes much more than the button-masher it appears to be. Thought must be placed into which techniques may be ineffective against a fast or durable enemies, whether it is better to use mid-level techniques and blocking to counter any offensive, or to go all out and use chakra to extend punch combinations into formidable damage. A large chunk can also be used to perform the Ultimate Jutsu for each character, which is activated in the same way for everyone but how it actually attacks the enemy varies from character to character. Working these devastating attacks into an intelligent counter or an unblockable combination creates a great feeling of accomplishment. This game is not only great for fans of the series but for those looking for an approachable fighter with an enormous cast and great depth.
During the Story’s breathtaking battles, many things can happen. The most visually inspiring are the match ending quick-time sequences. For those who scoff at or abhor QTE’s, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 continues its rather leisurely attitude towards them. They are meant to be fun and show off crazy action and scale that cannot be implemented in a single match. If an input is incorrect, there is no penalty. If the input is missed, the sequence restarts from just before the input is displayed on screen and if the reaction time is less than desired, the player simply earns less stars to unlock hidden “Secret Factors.” These are quick fan-service shots from the anime paired with meaningful quotes between the characters on screen or from the player’s character’s past. Concurrently there are “Secret Actions”, which happen in-fight when the player and enemy emulate something from the source material and results in a beautiful unique scene or action. It adds even more spectacle to the already slick visuals and helps to secure it as a must have for Naruto fans. Perhaps the most affecting feature was the most subtle. During battles with characters who had encountered each other before, the game would seamlessly transition between time periods and swap out techniques, and sometimes character models. In addition, these segments had a great film grain and sepia filter to further enhance the “memory” feel to the scene. Character dialogue would cement the history between the player’s character and the enemy, and when the battle needed to end and the great cinematic finisher would play out, it made character deaths more meaningful and emotional.
Battles late in the story mode are exceedingly tough and the game allows players to heal themselves and start from a checkpoint when it proves to be too difficult. However, a strategy from before a battle can prove more useful. The items received from quest completion or purchased from a restaurant can boost attack, defense, speed and so on. It caters more to the inherent qualities of the character being used, as well as how the player decides to approach a battle. It all boils down to the post-battle rating, which not only multiplies the prize money given but allows for great replayability and bragging rights. It creates a great difficulty curve and risk-reward aspect for those who are familiar with the series or just particularly adept. Those who are unchallenged by the story mode can test their mettle on the online mode with the game’s 80 characters, complete with customizable tool sets, support partners and costumes.
Looking at the game as just an anime fighter for fans of the series, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is unsurpassed. Yet it is so much more than that. The developers have created a beautiful, smooth and fun game, that is just as much fun to watch as it is to play. The story is handled with incredible care and a deep admiration for the source material can be felt in every pixel of the game. For fans, this is a must buy. For the curious, it is an easy recommendation.