Let’s do a quick word association thing. I’m going to type out a few words, and we’ll see how you respond. Okay? Right, here we go: Mangekyou Sharingan. Konohagakure. Rasengan. Akatsuki. Ino-Shika-Cho. Edo Tensei. Kyuubi.
If you know what all of those are, congratulations! Carry on reading. If you thought I was having some sort of barely pronounceable seizure on my keyboard, this review – and indeed, this game – is not for you. Sorry.
Even if you know what all of those terms mean, a quick warning: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3: Full Burst is set during the Fourth Ninja War, which is the current arc. If you haven’t read up to there (and most of the way through it) this game contains pretty massive spoilers, and it’s rather difficult for me to talk about a lot of the game without going into them. So, uh… be warned. Screenshots and text will probably spoil things about the current plotline. If you’ve read up to about issue 580, though, you’re probably okay; from there on, the game largely makes up its own ending.
The quick and cheerful way of describing Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 (because I am not writing out that entire title every single time) is that it is Fanservice: The Game. It’s not particularly deep. It’s not particularly elegant. It is bright and beautiful and features about a million characters, all of whom are properly voiced and coloured and animated, and all of whom use their techniques and special moves and make fans go “ooh” while they do it.
As this is the first time a Naruto game has hit PC, I should point out that this is first and foremost a fighting game. You pick your characters and battle it out, dashing around a 3D battlefield and using a very simple directional system to unleash different attacks and combos. As I said, it’s not hugely deep; most of the characters play very similarly to the extent that you can win battles even if you’ve never played as your selected character before, but it’s quite a thing to watch.
Naturally you’ve got your free battle mode – letting you set up local battles or matches against the computer – and your online play, but there’s plenty more to keep you occupied. Free play mode offers Challenge Missions, giving you specific matchups with unusual conditions (nobody can block, for instance) that, uh, let you unlock wallpapers. And then there’s the story mode, called Ultimate Adventure.
The story mode is long. Part of this is down to the fact that it pretty much covers the plot from right after Pain’s attack on Konoha up to the close of the Fourth Ninja War, so you’ve got the Five Kage Summit, the whole Danzo/Sasuke thnig, Naruto and Bee’s training, etc. None of this is really skipped over, either, with hefty cutscenes detailing the entire plot. How hefty? I timed one of them – which, as far as I can remember, required no button inputs – at about 32 minutes. That’s one of the biggest examples, but it’s still longer than an episode of the bloody show. If you’ve forgotten how the plot goes then this isn’t really a bad thing, but if you’ve no desire to follow that entire story again, your fingers will be tapdancing on the Skip Cutscene buttons.
What’s perhaps most aggravating is that Ultimate Adventure actually has some clever ideas that it never capitalises on until you’ve finished the story. If you’ve played previous Ultimate Ninja Storm games then you’ll probably know what I mean: the Story Mode isn’t just a series of one-on-one fights. It’s a big open world which you can wander around. There are sidequests and collectibles all over the place. There’s a “friendship” system letting you send letters to the other characters in the game, which raises their friendship level and makes them more effective when supporting you in fights. There’s a whole load of mechanics other than the basic battles.
But I repeat: what’s annoying about this is that the plot the game follows doesn’t actually give you the chance to play with any of this stuff until you’ve finished the story. This largely makes sense – if you’re training with Bee on Turtle Island while everyone else is fighting the war, you can’t go for a wander into the Land of Lightning to find flowers for Ino – but for the most part you can’t even explore the areas you’re in. Attempt to walk in a direction the game doesn’t want you to go and you’ll either automatically walk back in, or your character will say “I don’t need to go over there right now.”
In short, the best thing about Ultimate Adventure (and wandering around the world, interacting with the characters, and completing some slightly odd sidequests is actually pretty good fun) doesn’t open up until you’ve played for a dozen hours. What’s particularly bizarre is that some of these sidequests are practically tutorials on how to do ring out KOs and team attacks, which, y’know, might’ve been useful while going through the story.
I’d also like to take a brief moment to point out that some of the boss battles in the game – particularly the final one (which bears no resemblance to the actual series) and the bonus Itachi/Sasuke fight againt Sage Kabuto – are obscenely difficult, partly due to cheating AI and partly due to some horrendous camerawork in those fights. Not a major problem on the whole, but I’d like to publicly state that whoever designed these fights needs to be slapped.
The port quality itself isn’t the best, either; this very much feels like a direct copy of the console version that’s running on PC hardware. All of the graphic and control options, for instance, are outside of the game itself, and none of them are particularly impressive. There’s no mouse support at all and if you really want to play with a keyboard, you have to have the keyboard emulate a 360 gamepad. Everything appears to be hard-locked at 30 FPS. I also had some weird problems with the two 360 controllers I tried, in that moving the left stick down only had characters walk rather than run on the world map, which indicates some sort of weird deadzone/calibration issue. Recalibrating the controller manually did not fix this.
I didn’t, however, have too many issues with the online play, which – going by the Steam forums – makes me fairly unique. I never had to wait too long to find someone to play against, but – although tolerable – there was noticeable lag and freezing even when playing against someone in the same region. It’s not flawless online play by any means, and if you’re considering this solely for online play then you might want to think hard about it, but it’s certainly playable.
No, there’s really one reason to buy Ultimate Ninja Storm 3: because you really want to have the Raikage punch Sasuke in the face, or have Kakashi blast Bee with Raikiri, or see how the Tsuchikage matches up against the Mizukage. This is an astonishingly beautiful game that looks like a moving cartoon. There are 81 playable characters from throughout the entire Naruto series, plus another seven that function solely as supports, and all of them look and sound authentic. You’re not going to pick this up if you want a clever, deep fighting game with an online community that’ll last a decade; you’re going to pick this up because you like the characters and want to have them beat each other about within a very simple battle system.
And that’s really it. Do you want a beautiful game with lots of Naruto characters battling it out? Then, although this isn’t going to rock your world, you’ll probably have a fairly good time with it. Do you want this solely for online play? Then you might want to wait to see if the netcode gets patched up a bit. Do you have no idea who Naruto is? Then if you buy this you’re going to be very, very confused… but then this wasn’t aimed at you in the first place.