What do you get when you cross one of the best and most-loved anime series in years with cutting-edge gaming technology? A perfect storm, that’s what. Bringing the furious conclusion to the Naruto: Shippuden series to Xbox One, Naruto: Shippuden – Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is more than just a cash-in, this is a window into the very heart of the anime, bursting with as many heroes, heartaches and hairdo’s as you can shake a bo staff at.
NARUTO SHIPPUDEN: Ultimate Ninja STORM 4: PlayStation 4, Xbox One [Reviewed], PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Release Date: 5 February 2016
Price: £44.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Getting straight into the latter stages of the Naruto: Shippuden series, Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 certainly is not the most user-friendly Naruto game. Without a wealth of knowledge surrounding the lore of the Naruto series, the attention to detail and lovingly re-created moments of Naruto: Shippuden may be lost to those new to the series. That being said, the sheer spectacle of some of the battles in the game will impress even the most ardent Naruto haters. The opening battle, for instance, is graphically sumptuous and epic in equal measure. Several battles throughout the game intersperse typical combo-based fighting with the more esoteric features of ninja battles in the Naruto series. From projectiles to kaiju-esque forms known as ‘awakenings’, each and every fight feels as if it is being lifted from the very pages of the manga. To add to the spectacle, the game incorporates various quick-time events that allow you to uniquely interact with your opponents in order to re-create classic instances from Naruto: Shippuden battles. Despite the fact that QTEs have been done to death in gaming, the inclusion of them in Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 further enhances the effect of the game as a portal into the anime, rather than a game based upon it.
When you aren’t being treated to prompts and QTEs, you’re expected to actually pull off some moves of your own during fights. Simple combos can be achieved by pressing the B button. Even a few presses of the B button can have extravagant results, however, and simply mashing the button will make even the most unfamiliar player feel like a hokage. The X button summons projectile attacks that can disrupt your opponent although they aren’t all too powerful, so the poor old X button may be left on dust-gathering duty while the other buttons on the controller enjoy the party. Charging and using chakra, however, will separate the ninjas from the noobs. Pressing Y will infuse attacks with chakra, meaning that pushing the B button afterwards will turn a standard attack into a ‘Ninjutsu’ attack, making it stronger. Similarly, Pressing Y and A will turn a jump into a chakra-infused dash that bolts towards the enemy.
Mastering the use, and conservation, of chakra is key in battle, and disables players from simply mashing buttons since capable enemies will be using chakra-based attacks against you. Knowing when to attack and when to charge up gives battles a layer of strategy that is further built upon by the inclusion of guarding and evading attacks. By holding RT to guard, you can weather an opponent’s weaker combo and counter-attack in kind. Holding your guard up for too long will result in a ‘guard break’ though, so again, strategy is key. If your opponent is about to go into a powerful attack, you can spend a portion of your substitution gauge and perform a substitution jutsu by pressing LT. If timed correctly, this sudden evasive manoeuvre allows you to disappear and reappear right behind your opponent – allowing you to repay them in kind for the combos they were so eager to dish out to you.
These moves and techniques are just scratching the surface of Ultimate Ninja Storm 4’s combat: from jutsu cancelling, to team attacks, to secret techniques and beyond – the depth is immense and somewhat overwhelming for those who aren’t initiated via previous experience with the series. Expect to pay the tutorial section a visit as you battle your way through the game. Knowing how to fight and tap into the true potential of the 100+ characters you’ll be handling both on and offline will make all the difference to your experience. If you are looking for a simple, Naruto-based brawler then you will enjoy Ultimate Ninja Storm 4, but those fans of the series looking for the opportunity to step into the key battles and moments of the series will love the depth and seek to get the most out of each character so as to re-create the anime and fully realise their favourite Naruto: Shippuden moments.
A comprehensive story mode, replete with hours of cutscenes, unique artwork and faithfully voice-acted scenes, will be immensely welcomed by fans of the Ultimate Ninja Storm franchise who have come to expect this level of loyalty to the source material. Split between paths for Naruto and Sasuke, the story mode takes players on a tour of the key battles and moments of the final part of the Naruto: Shippuden series. Alongside these two branches, side missions can also be unlocked that explore other parts of the story, or focus on other characters. What you do in the story missions depends on the style of battle you are asked to fight: Dramatic Battles see you dealing with a typical fight while allowing you to utilise the interactive elements of the game (QTEs) to influence the outcome of the battle, free battles are the standard format of fights in the series, and allow you to make full use of your characters powers, Boss battles are pretty similar to Dramatic Battles, albeit the scale of the fights are often huge, and then there are Mob battles. These battles see you fighting multiple enemies with relative ease. Although clearly attempting to deliver more authentic fights that adhere to the anime, these fights are rather boring and easy, and can be sauntered through with enough B-mashing.
Although these modes offer somewhat different experiences, the intended effect is obvious – CyberConnect2 are trying to get as much of the anime into the game as possible. The dedication to authenticity is simply impressive, if not bordering on touching. Furthermore, the graphics of Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 give the Naruto: Shippuden series a facelift that would make Orange County wives sick with envy. Achieving a sophisticated graphical style that is peerless in the field of anime-to-game titles, the Ultimate Ninja Storm series has long been the standard bearer when it comes to graphical fidelity. Evoking a style that is easily comparable to the best looking games on the Xbox One, while imbuing the anime with a fresh new look that brings new life to classic moments from the series, Ultimate Ninja Storm 4’s art style walks the line between being objectively impressive as a game and startlingly loyal to the style of the anime. A J-pop intro sequence and a carefully crafted original soundtrack add to the immersion on offer here, plunging fans even further into their beloved series.
Aside from the Story mode, there is an Adventure mode set after the events of the story. Adventure mode is a pseudo-open world that sees Naruto traveling across the Ninja World in order to complete various missions and take on battles. Playing through Adventure mode and scouring the locations on offer will allow you to find ‘memory fragments’. These items allow you to fight battles from past series of Naruto, so Adventure mode will be a must-play from fans wanting to walk down hidden nostalgia village lane. Unfortunately, this mode is somewhat stunted by the lack of voice-acted dialogue, meaning that the high-energy intensity of the Story mode is slashed to pieces the moment you start Adventure mode. Once again, fans will enjoy revisiting key and historic locales from the Naruto universe, but the muted nature of Adventure mode may leave some gamers with a sour taste, especially coming off of the back of the intense and epic fights littered throughout the Story mode. The emphasis on reminiscing in Adventure mode will leave newcomers out in the cold too – I for one had no idea who half the characters were, yet I was expected to keep playing so as to earn the right to fight them? The incentive of Adventure mode will strictly appeal to long-time fans, with little reason for anyone else to play through it.
With hours of content in the single-player portions of the games alone, the online aspect of Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is a weighty offering in and of itself. Limited Time only events appear in the online section and allow you to battle A.I opponents while adhering to strict rules or conditions. This mode is a challenge mode of sorts, with new battles appearing often, meaning the Destiny level of stagnation will not set in after you clear a challenge for the umpteenth time. The conventional online modes are all here, too: ranked, player, league, tournament, endless and friend search modes will cater to all experience levels, meaning you won’t find yourself staring into the face of ninja masters every time you want a quick spar. With so many modes, plus local multiplayer, Naruto fans will be hard-pressed to find a complaint with the wealth of options on offer.
Ending on a high note, Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is by no means another rushed out, expected sequel. Building on the strengths of the Ultimate Ninja Storm franchise, this title eagerly invites Naruto fans to celebrate the world and history of the series, without indulging too much in nostalgia. Fit to burst with memorable moments from the series, as well as expanding the experience with the Adventure mode and online mode, Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is more than just a sequel: more than the next CoD game, more than the next FIFA title – it’s a love letter, bringing together the best bits from the Naruto franchise, both game and anime, and forging another superb entry into a series that has single-handedly set the standard for anime-to-game releases by not merely letting you see the world of Naruto, but explore the franchise in a new way that transcends the simple moniker of ‘fighting game’.