Having got my start as the “video game guy” in the groundbreaking anime magazine Animerica, I have probably reviewed more anime-based video games than just about anybody. When anime was red hot, there was an absolute boom of games based on various titles. Ranma 1/2, YuYu Hakusho, Ghost in the Shell (the PS1 version was the first game I ever reviewed!), Shaman King, Inuyasha, Fullmetal Alchemist, Lupin the III and many more all had games released here. Unfortunately, most of those games were “cookie cutter” at best.
Fast-forward to the future: there are very few games based on anime released here, mainly just the hottest properties like Dragon Ball Z and Naruto. And out of all the numerous anime-based games I’ve ever played, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is the most ambitious. This game feels like anything but a quick cash-in on a property. The scope, the attention to detail, the graphics, and the storytelling are on a level far beyond anything I’ve ever played based on an anime. This, folks, is a REAL game.
The Ultimate Adventure, or story mode, is a giant meaty feast for fans. It is downright ponderous and huge. It easily clocks in at over ten hours, including some lengthy cut scenes bordering on Xenosaga levels. And I’m not complaining, because it’s done so well. CyberConnect2’s retelling of the Naruto Shippuden story is done with much love for the source material and attention to detail. I would describe it as a Grade-A class act. These guys know their stuff, and love it. And it shows.
The story starts right after the battle with Pain, and the village is being rebuilt. Naruto has gone from being a “bratty kid” to now being hailed as the “Hero of the Village.” From there, the story is told in ten chapters, and climaxes with the major battles of the Fourth Great Ninja War.
The storytelling is a mix of exploration, questing, in-game cut scenes, and battles. And you’ll play as quite a few characters along the way. You’ll play as numerous characters from the anime, even including Naruto’s very pregnant mother at one point! I assumed most of the game would be played as Naruto, but there are massive chunks of the game where you play as everybody but him.
The battles are mixed in well, so you’ll get plenty of action along the way. And even in the battles, there’s quite a bit of variety. There’s the classic one-on-one style, sometimes you have support characters on your side, other times you start off with a health disadvantage, and more.
There are also sections where you have to fight random mobs. The mob fighting has a neat mechanic where, after you defeat an opponent, you can hit the “A” button and immediately jump to attacking another guy. It makes the battles look pretty amazing, as you’re jumping from foe to foe all over the battlefield like a real ninja. Well, like a real ninja from the anime! And if you rack up enough kills, you can pull off a special move that allows you to defeat several enemies in a row with a quick-time event.
There are some battles that mix a bit of everything up. You’ll be taking on multiple main bad guys like Ginkaku and Kinkaku with weaker mobs thrown in the fray. Some of these fights can get a little hairy, especially in the later parts of the game.
And of course, there’s the giant over-the-top boss battles this series is famous for. You’ll be fighting the Nine Tails more than once as well as a variety of giant biju. Personally, the crazy battle between Godzilla-sized Choji and the Gedo statue was my favorite. Super-slow, stomping-around combat!
Of course, the game has plenty of quick time events during boss fights and other battles. Now, I’m not the world’s biggest “quick time events” fan, mainly because when the pressure’s on, I tend to forget where the buttons are. Which is pretty silly, because I could describe the entire Xbox 360 controller to you in detail tied up hanging upside down underwater with my eyes closed. In any case, this game doesn’t over do it, and is pretty forgiving when you fail.
Another interesting facet of the game is you can now control the difficulty during some battles. You can choose between Legend or Hero mode before the battle. Legend is harder and Hero easier. Each rewards you with points. These points can be used to level up two different item palettes with corresponding names. The items for the Legend palette are mainly weapons oriented, and the Hero items are focused on healing, augmenting your character, and affecting your enemy. And as you get more points, you’ll be able to assign more items to each slot.
But you’ll accrue both kinds of points as the game progresses through regular combat. Before each fight, there are a set of conditions to try and meet, and depending on how you do, you’ll get either Hero or Legend points, or both. I pretty much only used the Hero palette items, because if you can’t heal, how are you going to deal with a foe that’s making you ill? (Sorry, went into Killer Bee mode there for a sec.)
This is a very pretty game. Naturally, the combat looks amazing and the characters move with grace and fluidity, just like the anime. And the Ultimate Jutsu attacks are just as over-the-top and impressive as ever. But even the backgrounds in the Ultimate Adventure Mode are nice on the eyes. The menus, the loading screens, everything in this game looks slick.
The game's absolutely jam-packed with extras and collectable stuff. There’s even a store called “Bandai” in town where you can buy all kinds of collectable doodads. Another example of CyberConnect2 going the extra mile is the massive Ninja Timeline in the game that allows you to play through events you’ve already seen in the Ultimate Adventure Mode. It’s truly massive and filled with every major event in the story.
There’s lots o’ fun to be had outside of the Adventure Mode in the form of beating the crackers out of people in the Versus and Online Modes. Even in the Versus Mode there’s lots of variety as you can pick from tons of support characters and even get special bonuses for picking groups that match up to real teams in the anime—like Naruto, Sakura, and Kakashi.
There’s also a pretty neat online tournament mode called the Perpetual Change Tournament, in which you can play online or offline with up to eight players. In this tournament, you get two random conditions that affect you in the match. Stuff like both characters Chakra is draining, or neither can use Substitution Jutsu, etc. It’s a cool extra mode that should give you a bit more variety than the regular battle modes.
Aside from the massive Ultimate Adventure Mode, things like the Ninja Timeline and Perpetual Change Tournament are perfect examples of CyberConnect2 going above and beyond in making this game. This game is a labor of love, and the incredible attention to detail in every aspect of the game and numerous extras show that. I’ll not only go on record saying this is the best Naruto Shippuden video game ever made, it may well be the best video game based on an anime property ever made. It’s certainly the most ambitious I’ve ever played.
NARUTO SHIPPUDEN™: Ultimate Ninja® STORM 3
game software © 2004-2013 NAMCO BANDAI Games Inc. NARUTO artwork and elements © 2002 MASASHI KISHIMOTO / 2007 SHIPPUDEN All Rights Reserved.
Hint: There are a couple of unexpected difficulty spikes in the game, so always stock up on supplies before matches, and don’t get mad and rage quit like I did. I have a problem with that.