The Ultimate Ninja Storm series is the pinnacle of licensed anime gaming. With careful attention to detail, CyberConnect2 more-often-than-not faithfully replicate the events of the Naruto story and make it a visual spectacle beyond anything you’d ever see in the anime itself. They’ve created a fighting game that isn’t really a fighting game, but with its own style, it has been fine tuned over the course of six games (two of which aren’t numbered) to bring fans of Naruto an awesome experience. I’d love to tell you that this final entry is the best they’ve ever done and that, with this being their final installment before moving on to another project, they’re leaving Naruto on the highest of notes. Yes, I’d love for that to be true. Unfortunately, though it is a good game, it falls short in some vital areas that even an avid fan such as myself simply cannot overlook, and so, this is my Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 review.

Important Note: Yes, there will be spoilers. This is the fourth game in the franchise that directly follows on from the third. As such, it’s expected that you’ve either played the games, read the manga or watched the anime. This is not designed to be your first experience with Naruto, and thus, the review will assume as much. Granted, English Dub fans will not have seen the content in this game dubbed in English until now, and I wouldn’t recommend this as a replacement to the original experience.

Graphics

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For the most part, CyberConnect2 have once again brought Naruto to life in ways few others could. As always, their passion for the source material is evident in the sheer beauty of their work on the visual side of things. Particularly in the Story Mode, where you’ll find yourself in a fair few quick-time events accompanied by stunning cut-scenes in correspondence, you can see just how much effort is made to create a cel-shaded masterpiece. Truly, those moments are masterful. The over-the-top finishing moves, the easy-to-recall battlefields, the clothes swaying in the wind, the rinnegan, sharingan and byakugan – it’s like a moving painting, and Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is CyberConnect2’s greatest work in this regard. The unfortunate side to this is that it’s not consistent. Spliced in to these scenes, which naturally occur through the in-game engine, are actual scenes from the anime itself. This might sound like a great idea, but in practice it’s quite jarring to be expecting that amazing cut-scene and get a still shot of Obito talking. It plays out something like a graphic novel, and it’s not so much bad as it is disappointing when compared with the absolute majesty of the in-game rendered cut-scenes. I’m sure there are many factors as to why this happened, of which I can only speculate, but ultimately this left a slightly sour taste in my mouth as I worked my way through the story. Left with this uncertainty as I’d begin each chapter, the mixing in of the anime scenes bothered me, perhaps to an unreasonable extent. It doesn’t detract from the brilliance of their better scenes, but every time I’d see an anime scene I’d think “Why couldn’t this have been done in-game….”. Particularly with Obito’s transformation in to the Ten Tails Jinchuriki. CC2 made the baffling decision to use still-shot anime scenes for this moment, and the direct follow up to it, where Obito slowly descends to the ground, in the game engine. Some of the decisions just don’t make sense. Not to mention that, in between chapters, the text that pops up to the tell you it’s the start / end of a chapter looks like something I’d swiftly put together in Premiere Pro for a rough project. It’s a minor grievance, but for a company known for its legendary attention to detail, these things stand out in amongst the otherwise amazing presentation.

It should be noted, too, that the animation is done with the Japanese voice acting in mind. I prefer to watch my content dubbed – Yuri Lowenthal provides a stand-out performance as Sasuke Uchiha once more – but the mouth movements don’t match up and this can be distracting given how focused you’re supposed to be on the graphics themselves. Of course, if you don’t speak Japanese, having to read the subtitles may also distract you from the fast-paced sections, robbing you of context. I found it best to go through the story in whichever format you desire, but bare in mind my notes on the situation when you do. It’s not something I’m holding against them in this review, but it’s something a customer should be aware of when deciding what to do about this particular entry.

To finalise my point on the graphics, it’s fairly simple: it’s beyond beautiful when done right, and most of the time right it is done, but some odd choices stuck with me as a fan and did somewhat sully an otherwise immersive experience.

Story

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When discussing the story in a video game, ordinarily you’d judge the developer on whether or not the actual story itself was good. In this case, as it so closely follows the Naruto plot that Masashi Kishimoto originally penned, it becomes more of a case of how faithfully did they replicate the canonical material and how effectively did they incorporate it in to an actual game that’s fun to play. For this, CyberConnect2 get top marks, even if they do somewhat colour outside the lines in places.

A brief summary: Following directly on from where we’d left the action in 3, 4 retroactively sort of fixes 3’s ending, with Kakashi and Might Guy standing either side of Naruto as they hatch a plan to find out who’s under the mask of Tobi, knowing now that it’s not Madara as he’d once claimed to be. The Fourth Great Ninja War concludes as Naruto clashes with the Masked Man and Sasuke continues his search for an answer by resurrecting an old foe.

As a fan, perhaps I’m too critical, but there are moments that weren’t as impactful because something was missing. We’re about to go in to major spoilers here, but when Naruto dies (albeit temporarily), Sakura just carries him over to his father, Minato. That’s fine, I understand the need to move a video game along a bit quicker, but a vital plot point to that moment – making Naruto’s fight with death all the more meaningful – is that Sakura had to plunge her hand inside of him and pump chakra in to his heart in the official plot. Not only that, but Sakura was given the advice to seek out Minato by Gaara’s tailed beast, Shukaku the One Tail, and is then assisted by Gaara and his sand to reach Minato in time. CyberConnect 2 have been taking some narrative short-cuts ever since Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, and it bothers me because Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 was practically perfect (though, I’ll admit, it has been a while). A great many plot points are also spoiled by the low age rating that accompanies the game. No hole in Obito’s heart, we don’t properly see the cross-slash to Kakashi, Sasuke being stabbed by Madara isn’t shown effectively – there were many edits that disappointed me as a fan. Still, they do indeed follow the main plot points to a tee, and I suppose that’s more than what most manage to achieve. For all of my criticisms, they absolutely nail the final fight between Naruto and Sasuke to a point where the anime-nerd in me almost wept with joy. Were I not a cold-hearted beast, it may very well have done so. Yes, much like the point about graphics, when CyberConnect2 does it right, they do it better than anybody, but when they misstep, they take a real tumble.

Nevertheless, as harsh as I can be on all of the things that didn’t go the way I wanted them to, they’re more faithful the core franchise than most developers would be. In fact, I’ve never seen a company more dedicated to their product than CC2. It’s for this very same reason that I wonder why certain decisions get made, knowing how closely the developer follows the canon itself. They certainly know as well as I do what it is they’re not putting in, and no doubt they know why more-so than I ever will, but as a critic and a fan, I say they did a great job, but it could have been a perfect one, and I’d like to know why that is someday.

Gameplay

 

Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 has more game modes than ever before, offering a wide variety of ways to play this time around, but the basics remain the same: one-on-one fights between your favourite characters with the same basic controls but different specialisations. I say one-on-one, but you can take two other characters in to battle as support just as you’ve been able to in the past, except this time, you can switch them in as a playable character. Your team shares a health bar and chakra gauge – in fact, everything about your team is treated as a singular entity, but the ability to switch allows for more strategic approaches to the battles, like extending a melee combo by switching out in the middle of it to your next available character. Whatever action you initiate with your support characters, it’ll trigger a cooldown so that the ability can’t be spammed unfairly. It’s a great addition but an obvious one given the direction the series was taking with the combination ultimate jutsus and what-not in the previous entry. That aside, not much has changed in regards to the fighting mechanics. When your support gauge builds, your reserve characters still do whatever special technique they do such as auto-guarding you as you charge chakra or taking an Ultimate Jutsu in your place via substitution, leaving your health meter unscathed. The most enjoyable addition, however, is a carry-over from a lesser-game in the series: “Revolution”. Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 incorporates a fledgling idea from the Revolution entry known as a “Combination Ultimate Jutsu”. This requires a team of 3 capable of performing a joint-attack, so Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura have two they can perform and the others I won’t spoil, but this results in a little more damage should you pull it off as well as an awesome visual spectacle you’d otherwise never have the chance to see. This encourages experimentation with teams too.  All in all, the new additions to the battle system serve to enhance the core gameplay, and that’s a joy to hear.

We’ve mentioned Story Mode. This will be your primary focus at first. You’ll go through stages featuring various types of battles, be it one-on-one or one vs a mob of lesser enemies. The lesser enemy fights really aren’t that interesting but the one-on-one main fights still maintain that fine coat of paint they always have. They often result in Quick-Time Events, wherein you’ll press a corresponding input as it prompts on-screen in order to achieve a minimum amount of “stars” to unlock a short, “secret” scene. In truth, I’ve always felt the secret scenes get in the way of the devastating cut-scene unfolding before you, but each to their own. They’re short and add some context most of the time. You’ll find that the path in Story Mode branches off. Why? I honestly don’t know. You have to complete both paths regardless, but I imagine it’s so that you can keep Sasuke and Naruto’s individual plot threads straight. Truthfully though, they could have just had a single line and had you complete it all seeing as you have to complete both branches to progress. They key hook to Story Mode is the completion rating. You can get a standard 100% complete, but there’s also an S-Rank completion for achieving S-Rank on every mission. A class design hook but the ability to replay only the fights you need to achieve this in make it worth doing and not too time consuming. My one gripe is that S-Rank isn’t entirely obvious. You might think you’ve done enough to obtain it, but you don’t find out until the battle ends and there’s no rematch screen, meaning you have to slog your way back through the menus and loading screens before retrying if you decide to complete the battle in hopes of attaining S-Rank. It seems an odd choice, given that you can restart mid-battle, but not immediately after completing one. Overall though, Story Mode provides an awesome, if a little flawed, experience for the solo inclined player with moments that shouldn’t be missed. Some sketchy giant Susano’O shooting segments aside….

Where the game falls apart is in the separate “Adventure Mode”. Genuinely, I was devastated by this. In the past, Naruto’s story mode had put you in the shoes of Naruto during the main conflict. This didn’t work too well, as the adventure segments were always pretty bland and pointless. This became even more true with NUNS3, where Naruto’s movements seemed to become heavy, sluggish and just generally harmful to the overall experience. This time, I hear that it’s taking place after the main story’s events. I allow a glimmer of hope to shine inside of me, thinking “Maybe this is where they put some actual effort in to an adventure-like mode, kind of like Ubisoft’s old Naruto games!”. Of course, they didn’t. It’s shockingly short, the movement is stiff, the camera angles are terrible, the places you visit are practically pointless and it just seems completely tacked on. This mode actual makes the game worse. To call it an adventure is a laughably broad description. The main quest is boring, the side-quests are boring, and if I want to fight, I can do it from the main menu via many other, less cumbersome options than this absolute waste of time. I never thought CyberConnect2 could do a worse job of free-roaming in a Naruto game than they did in NUNS3, but they outdid themselves here in the worst way. This mode is the very reason that I’ve made the conscious decision not to platinum this game, and that’s unfortunate with it being the last in the series, but above that, it makes me worry greatly for CyberConnect2’s involvement with Final Fantasy VII’s remake. NUNS3 was a slight stumble, but this Adventure Mode actively shook my faith in the company’s ability to deliver high-quality exploration. It’s that bad.

Fortunately, if you can allow yourself to move past – but not ignore! – the weakness of its one minor mode, The Free Battle has Survival Fights now, so you can fight whilst working towards a goal outside of the main story. There’s also the returning online functionality – during which I was promptly served my own arse on a silver platter but the few I dared to engage with (I don’t defend! It’s my weakness) – and that functioned very well, with the usual Ninja Info card customisation to add a bit of a personal touch to the proceedings. You can even assign your own audible greeting via an unlocked character phrase. There are leagues, tournaments and limited time events to enjoy. The Bingo Book gives you characters to target online for rewards, and though the rewards aren’t really appealing, it’s fun to hunt down players online using that character by chance for added incentive.

You can also purchase various things with the in-game items you’ve obtained in your battles at the Bandai General Store. Ninja Info Card modifications, substitution jutsu items, additional costumes etc. Nothing is worth noting, but if you’re invested in Naruto, there’s a lot of fan service to enjoy.

Overall

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In the end, Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is not the greatest anime-based game every created. It’s in the upper echelon, but I must say I expected more from CyberConnect2 on their swan-song. Though the tried-and-true battle system is refined to its best state to date, the drawbacks of some missing plot points in the story and a dreadful Adventure Mode make for a big drag on what could very well have been a perfect game. With that said, this is still a faithful depiction of the finale to Naruto’s story, and it cannot be denied that it’s a visual work of art with eye-popping dramatic scenes that the anime itself will never live up to, and not a piece of filler content in sight for the Story Mode. That clash is something to behold. It’s not the finale I wanted for Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm, but it’s a fine one all the same.

Game: Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 4
Review Format: Playstation 4

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