Friday, August 7, 2009

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm Review. Believe it!

Are you ready for a storm? How about ninjas? How about if we put those two things together and have an ultimate ninja storm? Sounds pretty cool, right? Well, in Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm for the Playstation 3, you too can experience the joy of being a ninja with special ninja powers fighting other ninjas for the position of being the best ninja ever.

Okay, that’s probably not really accurate. While it does not really give real ninjas justice, this game will be good if you like Naruto. If you don’t like the license, well… Just don’t read this then.

If you happen to not know the anime, Naruto is about a boy who strives to become the top ninja in his village, also known as a hokage. However, he has a demon fox that pretty much gives him powers when he’s in a pinch. Over the course of the series, he makes a lot of friends, and blah. That’s pretty much all you need to learn at this point.

This is because the people over at Bandai Namco and Cyber 2 Connect decided to put the story of this game in the first series rather than the later, much more mature, second. From episodes 1-135, this game is pretty much a refresher course for fans and a primer for newbies or (if you’re like me), people that miss a bunch of episodes and want to know what happened in a nutshell. You’ll find the whole story in its mission mode (separated by its arcs).

The main mode (as there are really only two, the latter being a versus mode) is Ultimate mission mode, in which you control Naruto to explore the vast Leaf Village (the main hub) and complete missions. You can either play flashback missions (which, as aforementioned, are basically a retelling of the series), or free missions (which are unlocked by talking to various people). Unfortunately, instead of successively completing flashback missions (which are the only way you can unlock other characters), you must play free missions to fulfill the “experience needed” requirement. This builds into artificial length, which I don’t really like. However, some of the free missions are creative, such as playing a game of hide-and-go-seek or fighting matches under special conditions. Because of the length added (my English teacher told me never to start a sentence with because, but oh well), the story mode will easily take 8-11 hours to complete, and another few to complete every free mission.

The graphics, in short, are truly amazing. This is the equivalent of what would happen if the creators of Naruto decided to change the animation to 2D. It just looks stunning and fluid, as I only experienced frame rate drops a couple of rare times. The character models look really detailed as well (I mean, as detailed as anime can get), and the scenery is just gorgeous.

Unlike its predecessors (the surprisingly decent Ultimate Ninja PS2 series) that had you fighting on a 2D plane, this game has two players fighting it out on a 3D arena. Most of the attacks are performed by mashing the circle button, which I find pretty easy to learn, which equals more accessible. However, there are other techniques you can use as well, such as throwing projectiles, or summoning support characters. While the size of the playing fields can cause many time outs in two-player games, it can be fun solo.

The main meat and potatoes of the fighting are the jutsus (special attacks). Provided you have the energy (chakra, which can be charged up), using the triangle button followed by the circle button, players can use signature attacks from the anime. Pressing the triangle button a second time enables the ultimate jutsu, which are cutscene based super attacks. Both players must enter a string of buttons (or you can change this to spinning the control stick or mashing a button), and if the attacking player wins, he or she gets to continue the attack. If the defending player wins, he or she dodges the attack and suffers little to no damage. While I did enjoy this, I found that only one ultimate jutsu per character was limiting, and later matches were won just by spamming the ultimate justu button.

The other problem I had were the lack of new characters. I know that this is the first series of Naruto and everything, and the publishers were focusing on flagship characters ( the game has a roster of the 25 most noticeable characters in the series, from the obvious genin 9 and most of their mentors to just one of the sound ninja five, Kimmimaro), but I was really hoping for more. While some of the other characters are available as downloadable support (free, I might add), I really felt that the game could have easily put in five to ten more to tell the story correctly. An inclusion of the rest of the Sound Ninja five as well as perhaps Haku and Zabuza would have been great.

One last thing to add is the inclusion of a Japanese audio track. If you’re a Japanese purist (I, by all means, am not), you’ll love the addition of Naruto… in Japanese! While the English audio works, you could try out the wonders of other voice actors saying their lines.

While limited special moves, artificial length, and a basic lineup of characters (not to mention this is Naruto) may limit appeal for this game, it’s perhaps the most definitive version of an anime license I’ve seen. If you’re a fan of the series, like anime, or even remotely care about pretty graphics, Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm is right up your alley. And even if it isn’t, hey, you’ll always have Street Fighter 4.

Score: 8/10

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