Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Review
Sony PlayStation 3Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360 and PC
It’s pretty common these days for publishers to release Game of the Year editions of their games. It’s a good way of getting your game back into the charts and it’s a convenient way for people to buy a title bundled with some or all of its DLC. Namco Bandai have taken this approach with the latest Naruto title, but have decided to do their own thing with the naming convention. What we have instead is the impressively named Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst. The “full burst” here indicating that this is the director’s cut of the single-player mode, and that it includes extra characters and missions only available through the original title as DLC.
Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst, or as it will be referred to for the rest of this review, Full Burst, is essentially a fighting game with an incredibly deep storyline. Naruto fans will no doubt appreciate the single-player campaign which takes huge storylines from the anime and translates them expertly into an interactive experience. That experience is split up into three main sections: fighting, exploration and cutscenes.
There are a lot of cutscenes and they last for Metal Gear Solid lengths of time. It’s like watching the TV show only every time there’s a fight scene you can take control. Fantastic if you plan on paying attention to the story though it follows the anime so closely that, for fans, it must be an exercise in constant deja vu. For the newcomer that storyline can seem a little daunting unless you’re willing to put a little effort into it. If you read every loading screen text and pay attention during every flashback you can work out most of what’s going on but it’s still very much for the fans. Weirdly those fans will be the ones to notice the occasional deviation from the series, but it’s the ending which will cause problems for everyone.
Since the game goes past the current run of the anime the creators decided to play it safe with an ending that tries too hard not to step on the toes of the series and it ends up falling a little flat. Fans will no doubt feel cheated with the non-canon ending while even newcomers will notice the lack of adequate resolutions to some of the plot elements. Even for a fighting game it’s disappointing that the effort that went into the story doesn’t have that adequate payoff. It seems to be an indication that the game’s makers really didn’t know what to do when they didn’t have established writing to base the story on.
What never fails to satisfy, though are the visuals. Even though the PlayStation 3’s hardware is showing its age now, the artistic style emulates the appearance of the show almost perfectly with simple textures and good lighting effects coming together to create something that’s closer to 2D hand-drawn animation than the high-res CGI richness of modern films. You can see where a few compromises have been made; the number of characters on screen, or some blocky background elements for example, but it’s still highly enjoyable to watch.
These aesthetics carry through to the other areas of the game, but the adventure sections seem to suffer most from those cut corners. These sections take the form of free-roaming maps which are full of the usual adventure trappings with missions and conversations to be found everywhere, but for some reason the game employs fixed camera locations that have a negative impact on the experience. For whatever reason, whether hardware or time limitations, or just an artistic choice to make it look like the player is watching a television show, the experience can be compared to playing the original Resident Evil games with their pre-rendered backgrounds. Exploration becomes a chore especially when trying to jump to different levels and it’s easy to find yourself sticking to the main path more often than not. It’s not a game-breaking experience, but it certainly is Full Burst’s weakest element.
Fortunately the strongest element of Full Burst is very strong indeed; the combat is fantastic. Unfortunately it’s almost impenetrably complex for anyone new to the series. The game’s title is actually a pretty good indication of what seems to have happened to the combat system; Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst is a name built by degrees. Taking something that came before and adding to it in complexity by a small amount so that fans of the series will have something new. It’s the same thing that made the later Pokemon games almost inaccessible to newcomers and it happens here too; there are too many levels of complexity as developers (and for that matter, the anime writers too) wanted to add something fresh for their audience but still had to include everything from previous versions due to continuity or fan expectation. It makes for an incredibly deep system that, when you’ve mastered it, becomes a ballet of over-the-top abilities and athletic moves… it’s just a shame that the player isn’t really eased into it. The combat tutorials and hints are useful at telling the player what to do, but not at informing them how to do it. While the lack of on-screen button prompts work to pull the player into the universe (you’re not pressing a sequence of buttons, you’re performing a combo attack for example) if a newcomer is forced to pause the fight, open the move list and find the corresponding button sequence then it’s going to break the illusion even more. It’s a near vertical learning curve at the beginning that requires a much higher investment of time and effort than your average button masher, but there is a huge payoff when you get to that point where everything just seems to click.
Fortunately, while this game asks a lot in terms of your time, it’s willing to throw a huge amount of content your way to make that time entertaining. The storyline has a branching difficulty system that will let you chose Hero or Legend paths which vary the challenge considerably. It’s certainly different enough to add a little variety to multiple playthroughs, and acts as an extra incentive to practice the combat system. Outside the storyline there’s a wealth of extra modes that are all worth sinking your time into. The survival mode pits you against waves of enemies, the versus mode allows you to play solo against CPU opponents, or against friends in local and online multiplayer. There’s even a competent tournament mode and missions that add extra levels of complexity to the single-player experience.
Add to that the sheer number of characters and costumes available and it speaks volumes for the fan service on display here and even some amazing value for money whether you’re accessing the extra content as DLC or through this Full Burst edition. It’s also worth noting that anyone upgrading to the new content by buying this stand-alone edition will be able to use their existing game saves seamlessly.
Full Burst is not an easy game to get into, but it’s a fun, engaging and exciting experience if you’re willing to put a little effort into it. For fans of the show it’s a must-have title and while it’s not the perfect introduction to the anime, it’s perfectly possible for newcomers to have a lot of fun here too.