Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Steam
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 3
It’s been less than a year since the release of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 and even sooner since the game’s last DLC pack. Yet Namco Bandai are tugging at the wallets of Naruto fans once more with the release of a new, “complete” edition, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst. With 100 extra missions, an extended story mode, a new playable character, a graphical overhaul and all of the previously release DLC, Full Burst sounds like a Naruto fan’s dream come true.
But is it worth forking out the cash to play Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 again? And what if you’ve never played Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 before? Or, if you’re like me, what if you’ve never ever seen Naruto before…?
I’ll admit that as someone who has never read or watched anything Naruto related, I found the idea of playing Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst somewhat intimidating. The horrendously long title alone was enough to ignite the flame of confusion within my jitsu-less mind. The Naruto series’ lengthy back story, relayed via snippets of text during the game’s bloated installation screen, didn’t help matters in the slightest.
Naruto’s world is one of ninjutsu, chakra, kages and secret ninja clans. It’s a world I was not familiar with, and a world I hoped to learn about – if only Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 and CyberConnect2 would teach me.
The prologue was a promising start. A gargantuan nine tailed fox appeared out of nowhere and began demolishing an quaint ninja village. Bizarrely named ninjas leapt through the air, hurling flaming shuriken and other magical projectiles. A mixture of scripted action and quick time events got the adrenaline pumping while fooling my brain into thinking there was interactivity to be had in the visually engrossing, cut-scene laden battle laid before me. I had no idea what was going on, but I was kicking arse, and Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 had my attention.
But then, all of a sudden, the tables were turned and I was thrown head first into a difficult one-on-one showdown with a mysterious, masked ninja. With no tutorial or on-screen instructions to guide me, my first few bouts with the dark ninja ended in complete failure. I eventually grasped the basics controls through trial and error, won the battle, and completed the game’s prologue.
Needless to say, Ultimate Ninja Storm 3‘s strong start had me wanting more. But to my dismay, the epic struggle of powerful ninjas against giant, supernatural animals was swept away and I was instead put in control of a spiky haired, tracksuit wearing, croaky voiced kid and his rag-tag band of anime stereotypes – this, as it turns out, was Naruto.
Here’s my summary of the Naruto events leading up to Ultimate Ninja Storm 3‘s main storyline: Naruto had learned that the mysterious masked ninja, named Madara, was behind the original Nine Tails attack and his village’s subsequent battles. As such, Naruto & Co had to travel from their home, the Hidden Leaf Village, to the Five Kage Summit in order to stop the Sixth Hokage from ordering the assassination of Naruto’s former team mate and friend Sasuke who had embraced forbidden Chaos Jitsu and turned to the “dark side”.
At least some of the information in the above paragraph is incorrect – in fact, I’m pretty sure most of it is – but only Naruto fans would know. You see, Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is the deep end of the Naruto mythology swimming pool, and the game threw me in without first teaching me how to swim. Even after playing the game through, I couldn’t tell you what Naruto is beyond “ninja magic adventure”, because Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 and forgot to tell me.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst‘s story will be a source of bewilderment to anyone lacking a basic knowledge of Naruto lore – lore that’s laid on thick during the game’s lengthy and frequent cut scenes which, in some cases, can last up to 20 minutes.
Skipping these cut scenes may cross the mind of fans and non-fans alike, but to do so would leave nothing but a few hours worth of playable battles mixed with some restrictive free-roaming sections.
As mentioned earlier, Ultimate Ninja Storm 3‘s lacks any kind of in-game tutorial, making for a frustrating first few battles. Unfortunately, the tutorials, command lists and loading screen hints fail to fully explain any moves beyond the basics: jump, punch and projectiles and guard. It’s a pity considering that Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 features a robust, albeit unvaried, combat system that can be quickly understood via any unofficial, online guide. But even to master Ultimate Ninja Storm 3‘s combat is self-defeating as the vast majority of the game’s 80 playable characters are practically identical gameplay-wise.
Even so, Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 trips over itself in trying to make the combat system seem more complex that it really is. Conventional battles are so fast paced that the support characters’ individual health bars, the special move-granting “Burst Bar” and the optional “Ninja Tools” items can and will be ignored by most players who are far more concerned with simply dodging punches.
Wedged awkwardly between battles and non-playable cut-scenes are basic “free-roaming” overworld sections. These sections, while extremely pretty to look at, serve no purpose other than to allow players to purchase more of the aforementioned, non-essential ninja-tools before starting the next battle or cut-scene.
The cel-shaded art style has become a staple of anime videogame tie-ins. But unlike recent releases such as Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z that show crisp, high-definition cel-shading in action, CyberConnect2 has gone above and beyond to ensure that Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst‘s aesthetics are the best of its kind.
Each block of colour oozes vibrancy yet are safely contained within crisp, black lines, all of which coexists so as not to draw particular attention to any one object. As such, scenes with little movement genuinely give the impression that actual anime is on-screen. Only when the 3D character models move does the “illusion” fall away. Even so, the high level of care that has been put into Ultimate Ninja Storm 3‘s presentation has ensured that every last battle, cut-scene, free-roaming section, and quick-time event is an absolute visual splendour.
Going hand-in-hand with Ultimate Ninja Storm 3‘s high quality cel-shading is an equally well crafted musical score. Rather than going for catchy, yet repetitive, in-game jingles and battle themes, each environment and gameplay type has its own subtly appropriate tune. A clever decision on CyberConnect2’s part, especially considering the likes of the aforementioned Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z and its cheesy cheesy, and somewhat obnoxious, electric guitar/ synthesiser combo.
CyberConnect2 should also be commended for its inclusion of the Japanese vocal track and for the comprehensive use of voice overs through the entirety of Ultimate Ninja Storm 3. Although subtitles are always present, almost all of them are accompanied by high quality voice overs – a welcome addition that, unfortunately, still doesn’t make it into other Japanese anime tie-ins.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst is a Naruto videogame made for Naruto fans, and in a world where console videogaming is becoming an increasingly homogeneous experience, these types of fan-focused games should be celebrated. Therefore it seems somewhat perverse then that my greatest criticisms of Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 relate to the game’s inaccessibility to non-Naruto fans. In fact, I would suggest that Naruto fans skip the next few paragraphs entirely, as the following “issues” wont affect them in the slightest.
Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is a narrative focused game, however its narrative makes little to no sense without a decent background knowledge of Naruto characters, locations and the events leading up to the game’s place in the Naruto timeline – which, as it turns out, is quite a lot of story indeed.
This makes sitting through Ultimate Ninja Storm 3‘s lengthy cut-scenes an unnecessary chore for those uneducated in the world of Naruto – as references to the past are made frequently and without explanation or context.
Additionally, unlocking each of Ultimate Ninja Storm 3‘s 80 playable characters looses its meaning when many of them aren’t actually introduced in-game. Even a text-based summary of past events would have benefited newcomers greatly, but the fact that such a explanation was left out is disappointing.
For a game that is so very focused on narrative, it also seems strange that the greatest amount of player interaction with Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 comes from the battles. These battles are enjoyable, but are spread far too thinly over the cut-scenes and extremely basic “free-roaming” sections. Jumping over to online multiplayer only goes to highlight this issue further, as in the space of the average singe-player cut-scene, several high-energy online battles can be fought.
Beautifully rendered cel-shaded graphics
ENG and JAP vocal tracks are included
A lengthy single-player mode
Battles wedged sparingly between long cut-scenes
The game is completely inaccessible to non-Naruto fans
Combat system lack flexibility and battle strategy doesn’t change between characters
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst is lacking in terms of actual interactivity outside of battles, with time spent fighting being a mere couple of hours in an otherwise lengthy single-player story mode. Although it doesn’t quite make up for a overly passive videogame experience, the beautifully rendered environments and cut-scenes do go some way in making Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 a more pleasant pill to swallow.
Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 isn’t the game for Naruto newcomers. However, the wealth of single-player content, the luscious cel-shaded aesthetics, the generous 80 character roster, and the interchangeable ENG and JAP voice overs make Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 an fantastic Naruto videogame experience.
Ultimately, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst‘s accessibility issues are on one side of a two-sided coin i.e. non-Naruto fans will find it baffling, but it’ll likely go down a treat with Naruto followers.