Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 – the PS3 Attitude Review
NARUTO Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2’s gameplay can be broken down into two genres: firstly, it’s a traditional JRPG adventure story; and secondly, it’s a dynamic 3D fighter. It feels both familiar and obscure.
The JRPG side of things is relatively straightforward: there’s a progressive story, revealed through cut-scenes and dialogue; it’s split into chapters and signposted by boss battles. Away from the main story you can explore the world, partake in side-quests, shop in the local stores, forage the ground for materials and chat to the locals. It’s standard JRPG fare, but good old fashioned fun.
The side-quests are a mixture of treasure hunts and assassination missions, as well as the occasional game of, er, hide-and-seek. The side-quests alone can make up several hours of gaming and they kept us interested long after we completed the lengthy story.
Shopping and foraging are linked to each other. The shops don’t have many items from the beginning, so for them to expand their shelves you have to fulfil the shopkeeper’s order requests. You’re asked to bring back three different ingredients that make up the items you want. These can be found scattered across the world: in containers on street corners, in bushes in the forest, up trees, and on rocks – basically everywhere.
Each screen will usually have at least three different items that can be picked up, and just travelling around and collecting things from the floor is actually a very moreish activity. It’s very satisfying when you find that missing ingredient, that finally makes that much sought after item obtainable.
There are three kinds of items to buy from the stores: recovery items which heal your wounds; bentos which cause status altering effects for the next fight – i.e. better defence; and battle items that can be used mid-fight to cause damage to an enemy or alter their status, or your own.
The side-quests and ingredient hunting parts are extensions to the story. They offer reasons to explore the world rather than just strictly following the arrow, that’s pointing to your next objective, on the map. Yet, as fun as exploring the world is, it’s also one of Storm 2’s biggest let-downs.
Yes, all the locations are there, for NARUTO fans to admire; from the Hidden Leaf, Rain and Sand Villages to Mount Myōboku, home of the Pervy Sage. CyberConnect2 have them looking fantastic and true to Masashi Kishimoto’s original designs. It has to be said, the game’s vibrant anime style is beautiful.
But for all the prettiness, the locations feel empty. You’ll enter the Hidden Sand Village expecting to find lots of entertainment, but all you can do is speak – about nothing in particular – to a few interactive locals. This is a big letdown. It’s made worse by the fact that the Hidden Leaf Village is such a lively place. It has several shops, tens of characters to talk to, and numerous side-quests to partake in. It’s also the place where you begin the game; so you’re being teased with all this depth at the beginning, only to find it’s not representative of the rest of the world. It’s not a major issue; just disappointing.
Ultimately, CyberConnect2 put all their focus into creating an engaging story, and they have succeeded in bringing the feel of the series to the game. There’s lots of snappy dialogue and intense scenes, and the boss battles are grand events. Everything looks and feels authentic, and how it should be.
The story’s focus is on Naruto, a young and boisterous ninja, who inside him is locked a powerful demon called the Nine-Tailed Fox. It was sealed there by the Fourth Hokake (read: respected leader) after the demon devastated the Hidden Leaf Village. The other villagers feared the demon and became suspicious of Naruto, and in the end he left.
The game begins with Naruto returning home after spending the past three years in intense training, under the tutelage of Jaraiya - a legendary warrior. People are pleased to have him back, although they are dismissive of his powers. This sets us up for a tale of honour, endurance and also of courage in the face of adversity, as Naruto strives to earn the respect of his peers.
Naruto is faced by many challenges on his journey – all because of the Nine-Tailed Fox. The demon is a powerful weapon, offering its master unmatched power, and it’s sought after by the criminal Akatsuki organisation, who want the demon for their own evil ends. The Akatsuki are remarkably powerful and have a ruthless streak, and make excellent antagonists. Naruto is also under threat from the demon itself, which could potentially overcome him at any time.
Depending on your tastes, this will either sound ridiculous or sublime. NARUTO is rarely subtle; with the focus on intense, emotionally charged moments throughout – with a(n) (un)healthy dose of mushy sentimentality. There’s also a lot of genuine sadness to absorb – Masashi Kishimoto never shies away from tackling death head-on in his writing. However, don’t let this lead you to thinking that NARUTO is an overly series borefest because that’s not the case at all. The tone is normally cheerful and warm with lots of light-hearted humour.
The story is flexible: like the series, the focus isn’t always on Naruto. His name may be on the box but you will spend whole chapters playing as the awesome Susuke and Jaraiya, and throughout the other chapters you’ll get to switch characters and take control of other fan favourites such as Kakashi.
These sections are some of the best in the game; they add variations to the mood and introduce new combat styles. The story is also more interesting for it, because you get to view it from different perspectives. Plus, it’s good to have a break from Naruto, who’s personality can grate if you’re exposed to him for long periods.
He’s extremely obnoxious and tiring at the beginning of the game. It’s all part of the story arc – even the in-game characters find him difficult – but as the game progresses Naruto becomes more self-aware, and it’s hard not to admire him by the end of the game. Still it’s nice to get a taste of the other characters. The cast is wide and full of likeable personalities.
Once you control a character in adventure mode, you can then use them in free mode. Free mode is basically a one-on-one fight mode, where there’s no story to get in the way. We’d like to say that this is where the fighting fans will end up once they’ve unlocked the complete roster, but that’s unlikely because of the lack of depth to the options.
However, the new online mode offers more hope. Sure, it’s also limited with only ranked and unranked one-on-one fights to choose from, but nevertheless, we’ve already had several exciting battles against skilful players. With a massive roster of over 40 characters, there’s plenty to choose from. Each character has their own playing styles too, so there’s plenty of opportunities to find the character for you. Included in the roster is Lars Alexandersson from Tekken 6. Nice.
There are signs that people are appreciating Storm 2’s online mode, with a number of impressive scores already filling up the busy leaderboard. We’d need to revisit this in a month or two to see if it’s still going strong, but the early signs are promising.
The fighting is actually very interesting. You fight on a 3D plane with complete freedom of movement. At first, it feels clunky and simple: press ‘circle’ repeatedly to do a combo, ‘square’ to throw a shuriken, ‘X’ is jump and ‘triangle’ charges your powers (Chakra). It takes time to learn the subtle nuances and tactical aspects of the combat, but once you do, fights become fast and fluid events.
Unlike most fighters it’s not about intense concentration and awkward button combinations; tactics and timing are key to winning. Dodging and blocking attacks are important, but Chakra is the game changer: press it once to charge a moderately powerful Jutsu (attack powerful ninja attacks), press twice for more powerful moves, and again for an Ultimate Jutsu attack. Chakra is in short supply so you have to use it wisely and make sure you connect when you do.
Chakra can also affect your movement. Double press ‘X’ and your character will zip along the ground towards your enemy. Use it in the air and they will fly towards them. Once you master these two moves, the fighting stops feeling clunky, and then becomes fast and dynamic. Fighting is very expressive with lots of movement and bucketloads of style. It has many similarities to Dissidia on the PSP.
What adds further interest to the battles are the addition of support players. You can have two supports who can come in and help you during the fight. Each support has their own tactical mindsets: aggressive, defensive or balanced. Aggressive fighters go on the offensive; they distract the enemy leaving them vulnerable to your Jutsus. Defensive fighters are a godsend, they can free you from your enemy’s combos. Balanced is somewhere inbetween.
Boss battles are much more dramatic than your regular fights. CyberConnect2 have tried to recreate several memorable battles from the series, so are pretty heavily scripted. When madness starts descending on to the screen the gameplay then switches over to QTEs. Yes, you do feel out of control, but it’s still very exciting due to the superb animations.
One early battle, Gaara vs. Deidara, sees the two partake in a normal fight until Deidara’s minimum health level is triggered; from then on it becomes chaos. Lots of button prompts, fast animations, on-the-rails flight-chase sections with shooting, before culminating in a huge display of magical power above the town. Later boss battles see even more madness.
There’s no denying it: Storm 2 is an incredibly niche game. It’s not for everyone. The numerous expositions covering the stories of feuding teenage ninjas with mystical powers will leave most people staring blankly at their screens. Yet, this density is also one of Storm 2’s great quality. NARUTO fans will love the game – that’s a given – but it’s also likely to appeal to any JRPG lover – or anyone on the lookout for an deep fictional world.
The main concern we have for non-NARUTO followers is that the story presupposes that you have previous knowledge of the series. Characters fall in and out of the game unannounced, and this could be frustrating for some. Either you approach the game with your NARUTO encyclopaedia in front of you – ready to be picked up every few minutes – or you sit back and relax and just go with the flow, with the acceptance that you won’t know everything that’s happening. The latter is very much possible, and you’re unlikely to lose any enjoyment as a result.
Overall, Storm 2 is a very enjoyable adventure with interesting combat mechanics. Yes, more modes for the fighting fan – and more depth to the locations outside the Hidden Leaf Village – would be welcome. However, let’s not dwell on what this could have been. CyberConnet2 deserve much more than that for all their efforts.