Whether you follow anime or not, chances are you’ve heard of a spiky-haired ninja named Naruto. What first started out as a weekly manga in Japan has grown into a worldwide franchise spanning television, merchandise, and video games. The latest of these products is Cyberconnect2’s Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, a fighting game that goes beyond mere fan service and provides an engrossing adventure mode and impressive combat mechanics anyone can appreciate.
Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 takes you through some of the most recent events in Naruto Shippuden, retelling pivotal moments in the TV show through its single-player Adventure mode. The story is conveyed in chapters that manage to cover the anime’s various storylines and battles into a condensed format. Chapters combine cutscenes, fights, and exploratory segments together to give the game structure and make its anime-driven narrative easy to follow.
Even if you’ve never seen the show, you’ll gain enough backstory through the game’s cutscenes and flashbacks to have you sympathizing with Naruto and his struggle to conquer the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox sealed inside his body. On the other hand, fans of the show will appreciate how faithful Adventure mode stays to the anime with cutscenes that re-create the feeling of watching an actual episode. Its presentation is spot-on and features gorgeous cel-shaded artwork and a talented cast of Japanese, and, yes, even English, voice actors. While at times these cutscenes can drag and take as long as 10 minutes each, they serve to build tension for battles that are well worth the wait.
Story battles involve facing off against friendly rivals, key villains, and even giant demons that take up the entire screen. You can purchase items such as health potions or explosive bombs to aid you in combat, and at times you can even make “Ultimate Decisions” to choose how a fight will play out. These light RPG touches don’t affect the outcome of the story, but allow you to enjoy the game at your desired difficulty. Some of the more crucial battles are broken up into parts that include short cutscenes requiring you to input button combinations quickly for added damage and bonus effects. These interactive cutscenes are blended seamlessly into fights and let you experience the cinematic quality of Naruto’s most dramatic encounters.
Adventure mode also includes some light exploratory elements that give you a reason to revisit Naruto's world. Once you finish the game’s 10-hour story, you’ll have the freedom to explore neighboring villages, build relationships with Naruto’s friends by battling them, or even accept quests. These elements make it hard to distinguish the game from an adventure title or RPG at times, but they’re not as substantial as you’d expect and merely provide you with a way to replay old battles and unlock trivial collectibles. The items you’ll gain from fetch quests, for example, can only be used in Adventure mode, making them even less important. You’ll also pick up endless amounts of money that holds no purpose except to purchase profile titles and icons to display during online battles.
In contrast, the game’s combat system provides a surprising level of depth and is an improvement on Cyberconnect2’s past titles. In addition to a projectile, jump, and block button, you can pull off fancy combos by simply tapping the main attack button--an effortless way to play but one that can also feel like button-mashing. Luckily, combat is enhanced by a chakra meter, which essentially boosts the power of your basic moves and lets you cancel an attack, link it to another, or dash right up to your opponent and start pummeling away. Chakra also lets you pull off character-specific special moves like fireballs, sand burials, and other flashy displays of ninjutsu. You can also use it to enter Awakening mode if you’re health is low enough, increasing your moveset and even transforming some characters into giant monsters. Of course, your chakra depletes the more you use it, so knowing when to use it and when to recharge it adds a strategic element to battles.
The game includes an impressive roster of over 80 characters to choose from that specialize in different types of ninjutsu and battle styles. No character fights the same as the other, and despite including several different costume swaps of Naruto and Sasuke, each one comes with a unique arsenal of moves, ninjutsu, and items to use in battle. In addition to single matches, you can also fight with up to two computer-controlled allies that can be called on for support, done by way of a simple press of a button. Team battles are not only more chaotic, but they also elevate this seemingly basic fighting system by adding in more ways to exploit your enemy’s actions.
Cyberconnect2 has taken what made its past two Naruto games so good and brought them together into a fighter that surpasses its predecessors. Its impressive Adventure mode stays true to the anime and creates an experience typically not found in a fighting game. Its enhanced combat system, coupled with its large roster of characters, makes for fun offline and online matches that will keep you exploring the ins and outs of each character. But don’t worry if you can’t correctly pronounce Naruto’s name either, because this is a game anyone can enjoy.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 3
Want to play as all of the characters? Check out our Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Character Unlocks Guide.