Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 – Full Burst
Let’s start with full disclosure: I’ve never played a Naruto game before, nor previously encountered Naruto in any way. So you could argue that Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 – Full Burst might not be the best place for a Naruto newcomer to start, given that it’s the third in the Ultimate Ninja Storm series of games, and takes place (by my Wikipedia-fuelled estimate) 49 comic volumes (and 400 TV episodes) into the overall continuity. But you know what? Despite starting out without the foggiest idea what was going on, I found Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 to be a genuinely excellent game.
Allow me to address that issue of confusion straight away. It’s certainly true that Ultimate Ninja Storm certainly doesn’t go out of its way to welcome newcomers. While the backstory is told through the loading screens during the install process, this is chock full of unknown names and tough to follow: Naruto seems to be the most prominent good guy, the Akatsuki the prominent baddies, and Naruto’s best friend Sasuke seems to have recently changed from the former to the latter. And despite that effort at explanation, interspersed with oodles of information about most of the 80-strong cast, the story starts on a seemingly-unrelated note, as the Hidden Leaf village is attacked by a gigantic, nine-tailed fox monster. But honestly, who isn’t ok with trading understanding for getting to fight a gigantic, nine-tailed fox monster?
It has to be said that for the first three or four chapters of the Ultimate Ninja Storm 3’s ten chapter story, your grasp on the story may be similar to the grasp you have on a freshly caught fish: seemingly firm, but capable of slipping through your fingers at any moment. However, once the main parts of the somewhat gargantuan cast are drawn together and the overall thrust of the plot established (mysterious bad ninja wants to destroy the world; good ninjas want to team up to stop that happening), Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Story Mode emerges as a remarkably well plotted and rewarding tale.
As you’d expect from the title character, Naruto is the main focus of the story and the gameplay, but Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 flits around between characters extremely well. It also does a truly excellent job of providing small story arcs for most characters within the overall story. And while a newcomer may not initially know the backstory between two characters pitched in battle against each other, the cut scenes do an excellent job of quickly sketching this, to make these mini-arcs feel satisfying. This is helped by generally excellent voice acting, with Neil Kaplan (as Madara Uchiha) and Skip Stellrecht (as Might Guy) particularly outstanding. Rapping ninja Killer B though? Let’s call him an “acquired taste”.
While the cutscenes are generally enjoyable, they do represent one of the Story Mode’s few flaws: it’s extremely cutscene heavy, to the extent that attention can wander, especially in some stretches of the mid-game. It should also be noted that boss fights tend to have QTE sequences which are unlikely to change your feelings, positive or negative, about QTEs. And, unfortunately, the ending is deeply unsatisfying. Apparently the plot of the game outstripped the progress of the manga and TV series, leaving a non-canon ending to be developed, and very disappointingly for a newcomer, this ending chooses to leave a great deal unresolved, rather than risk either conflicting with or pre-empting plot developments from the source story.
Luckily, it’s hard to get too annoyed about a weak ending, purely because Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is just such good fun to play. The approach to plotting is carried over into the gameplay for newcomers, as you will have to figure a lot out for yourself, with the game being very parsimonious with the explanation of the fighting system, limiting itself to brief hints during loading screens.
Although it may take a little while to understand, the fighting system is actually very simple: one button for (weak) long ranged attacks, one button for (much more powerful) melee attacks (and multiple taps for combos), one button to jump or dodge. More powerful moves can be performed by tapping the chakra button first; chakra can be regained by holding the chakra button, and wildly over-the-top Ultimate Jutsu moves can be performed by double-tapping the chakra button and following that up with a melee attack. It’s gloriously simple, but also gloriously effective, giving Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 a great pick-up-and-play feel. Support moves from allies are also easy to perform with quick taps of shoulder buttons, and timely use of these can be crucial to create and exploit openings, or in desperately defend yourself, particular in the more difficult bouts.
While such a simple control scheme could get dull quickly, the countering mechanic, Substitution Jutsu, prevents this, and adds a real layer of tactical complexity to proceedings. As long as one of the four bars of your Substitution Gauge is filled, a quick tap of L2 will cause your character to dodge an incoming attack and appear directly behind his opponent, even in the middle of a combo; no fancy button combinations or intricate timing required. But because either player can easily trigger a Substitution Jutsu whenever they have one left in their Gauge, encounters between opponents with fully-charged Substitution Gauges can be lightning fast exchanges of blows and dodges. And you’ll soon learn to be aggressive when you notice an opponent’s empty Substitution Gauge, and get cagey when your own Gauge is empty.
Overall, the control scheme owes more to action-adventure games such as Devil May Cry (and action-oriented RPGs) than the beat-em-up that Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 ostensibly is. Swift fingers aren’t necessarily as effective as efficient fingers. In reality, the whole game owes more to RPGs and action-adventure games than beat-em-ups. With a twisting, dialogue-heavy story, a wide cast of playable characters, an MP substitute (chakra), and some character advancement and inventory management, Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 often feels like an RPG in beat-em-ups clothing, with every enemy encounter feeling like a boss fight.
Beyond Story Mode and the standard free battles and tournaments, the Full Burst edition includes a series of 100 challenge matches of increasing difficultly and reward for you to battle through. These are fairly linearly arranged across 10 tiers, with each tier needing to be cleared to progress to the next.
Although the story provides the meat of the Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 experience, there’s a lot of veg of the side once you’ve finished devouring that. Which raises an interesting point: if an RPG-esque beat-em-up can create significant content outside of story mode simply by having unrelated or intrinsically allied characters pitted against each other in single battles, wouldn’t actual RPGs also benefit in terms of post-completion replayability from allowing you to create similar pitched battles that wouldn’t occur in the course of the story?
That can be something for you to ponder while playing Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 – Full Burst, which is something you’re heartily recommended to do. While it can be initially daunting for a newcomer early on, mainly due to a lack of clear explanation, and while the story lacks closure, it cannot be denied that Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is just flat-out fun. It’s a fast-paced, hugely over-the-top experience, and it should put a big smile on your face for the vast majority of the time you spend with it.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 – Full Burst was reviewed on PS3 with a review copy provided by Namco Bandai.
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