Inside Pulse 12

Review: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 (Sony PS3)

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: CyberConnect2
Genre: 3D Fighting
Release Date: 10/19/2010

Within the past three years, I’ve gone from Naruto hater to Naruto fanatic. I pretty much grab any Naruto game available for the systems I own, and I usually review them. Back in 2008, I had to hear about how awesome Ultimate Ninja Storm was from reviewers and fans. The gameplay wasn’t particularly deep, but it never is for this kind of game. Still, it had one of the best retellings of Naruto’s story and had absolutely killer graphics. I couldn’t help but want it.

So, when they announced that it was getting a sequel that would cover further into the Shippuden storyline than any other game, I got excited. When we got the game in for review purposes, I jumped at the chance to cover it. It was a game I found trouble finding sixty dollars to pay for, but one that I really wanted to play. I lover working for this place.

Anyways, CyberConnect2 has pretty much made a name for themselves by making the best Naruto games. Have they managed to make a new high for the series, or will this end up being just another anime fighter for fans only?

Story/Modes

UNS 2 covers the entire Shippuden storyline up through the Pain saga. Thankfully, it cuts out the Guren/Yukimaru saga that was just filler for the anime. Why thankfully? If I ever see that brat Yukimaru again, I may just rip off my ears. He is the most annoying character in series history and I HATE him.

Ahem.

Anyways, the game does a pretty bang up job bringing the story to the video game world. There are some cuts, such as Kankuro’s illness and the bits where the leaf ninja attempt and fail at tracking down Sasuke when he first forms Hebi. There’s nothing particularly compelling missing, and the heart of the stories is still abundant. Still, it is either for fans or for those who’ve at least played the previous game. There are some references you just won’t get. Still, the game does a good job of doing more than a simple recap.

If you want to know how good the story is in general, the answer depends on how much you like Naruto. I personally enjoy the characters, especially Naruto himself. You can watch him mature greatly from a snot nosed punk into someone the entire town loves. Given his past as an outcast, there are some real emotions evoked from the player.

Ultimate Adventure Mode, which covers the story, plays almost like an RPG. You control your character and traverse the landscape in search of quests. Your current story objective is always clear and the minimap in the corner shows you where to go. There are objects than can be picked up and used to create new items in the shops, NPCs to talk to, and side quests to complete. All of these can be safely ignored if you so choose. There aren’t any puzzles or obstacles to get through. It pretty much boils down to basic traversal, sitting through lengthy story segments, and getting into fights. It isn’t anything special, but it is a worthwhile mode nonetheless because of the strength of the story.

As far as other modes go, there really aren’t any. You have an offline and online versus mode outside the story. With the former, you can set the difficulty, pick the stage, and pretty much fight to your heart’s content. The game keeps track of your wins, losses, and how many points you earn. The points earn you bonuses at key intervals, and are also earned in the story and online mode. The online mode is pretty basic. You gain experience when you win and lose it when you don’t. You can go up ranks when you earn enough experience, and there is an online leaderboard. There are plenty of people online at this point, but getting a match can be a pain. You see, the game loads a list of available matches, but it doesn’t update. Ninety percent of the time I try to get a match going, I get told the match is full or the session was abandoned. Then I get kicked back and it has to search for matches all over again. Otherwise, the mode is solid.

This game may not have many modes, but the story and online components should keep you busy enough to make the game worth the asking price. Still, I can’t fathom why the package is so bare bones. Other Naruto games have offered a lot more content than this. A survival mode, challenge mode, or even a practice mode would have been more than welcome. At least what’s here is solid.

Graphics

I’ve said it before, but the point of any anime-based game should be to replicate the visuals of its source material. In that regard, no game has ever come as close as UNS 2. This game is flat out beautiful.

Let’s start with the backgrounds. This game pulls the old trick of using 3D characters against 2D backgrounds (at least for the exploration sections). Not only does this allow the environments to look clean, crisp, and incredibly detailed, but here it is pulled off to perfection. Everything goes together, which doesn’t always happen. During battles, you’re given a proper 3D environment, but these too capture the art style of Naruto to a tee. There is also enough variety in these backgrounds to keep things fresh and interesting.

The models are another high point. There’s no comparison for how close they are to the source material apart from the previous game! In motion, you could honestly get fooled into thinking you’re watching the show. A design or two might be suspect, such as Jugo, but the style is strong. Characters such as Sakura, Sai, Kisame, and even Naruto himself are simply good to look at. They animate well as well, particularly during long combos. These moves never fail to impress with their fluidity and near cinematic quality. The fact that these moves can also be seamlessly broken by a counter or support jutsu only strengthens the look.

The real stars are the effects and cinematic sequences. The effects are fantastic. Naruto’s Rasengan is alive with swirling chakra there is a distinct grainy texture to Gaara’s sand. No matter how times you see these moves, they never get old and you can feel their impact.

Those cinematic sequences are some of the coolest things I’ve seen in any game. These are during specific boss fights. You don’t control your character, but rather have to complete quick time events. The action that accompanies these button sequences is spectacular. Watching as dozens of clones fill the sky or Kakuzu learns just how awesome a Rasen-Shuriken is something I don’t think I’ll ever forget. It looks even better than the show. If you know me, you’ll know just how much I think of the sequences with my next sentence. It does these QTE moments better than God of War.

Basically, this game rocks in the visual department.

Audio

One thing I still don’t understand is how none of the Naruto games manage to get the license to the music from the show. Still, the original soundtrack does a great job for this game. There are plenty of high tempo beats for the fights, light-hearted tunes for town themes, and mellow songs for sad story sequences. I often had the volume jacked up high and I found the music to be quite pleasurable for any situation. There is a distinctive Japanese flare that keeps the game fitting to its source material as well. It never becomes something that you’ll hum along to or something you’ll listen to outside of the game, but it is great background music.

There is a ton of voice acting in this game. In fact, during the rare sequences when characters speak without voices, it seems odd. It is good then, that the game has both the English and Japanese voice tracks, so fans can chose whichever they prefer. I always find that the Japanese cast does a much better job of conveying sincerity and emotion than the English cast, but the English cast is starting to grow on me in comparison. There seem to be a lot less horrible mispronunciations nowadays. Anyways, the voice acting is solid, selling the story and characters very well.

On an overall scale, I wouldn’t say this game does anything spectacular. The effects are series standards at this point. They fit the show but don’t stand out on their own. The audio does fit well with those crazy boss fights I mentioned, which is saying something I suppose. It is a game you’ll want to play with the sound on, but it isn’t going to wow you in any way.

Gameplay

Let’s get the basics for the story mode out of the way, shall we? You move your character with the analog stick, interact with objects with the circle button, and you can jump as well. There’s no reason to jump other than for your amusement, as there is no platforming. Items you collect can be used at stores to create new weapons and items that you can then purchase. You can also buy items called “bento” which grant you a specific buff for the next fight. It only lasts one fight and you can only use one at a time. You can equip up to four ninja tools to use in battle, with each tool represented by a direction on the d-pad. You can use them the specified number of times per battle, but you only need buy the item once. You can talk to citizens to get quests, but collection items such as ninja info cards, and explore around to find things for your sub-quests. It is a pretty basic system that harkens to adventure style games for the past two decades.

Now that I have that taken care of, we can get to what this game is really about: the fighting!

Fights take place in medium sized arenas. You don’t have to worry about interacting with objects, so the fight is really about who plays the most skillfully. The face buttons control your basic combat options. The triangle button charges up chakra and is also used to perform ninjutsu. Basically, you press this button first, and then pick one of the other three to chose what move your perform. It will either involve a special attack, ranged attack, or a special dash that avoids enemy attacks. If you have enough chakra, you can also double tap triangle and then press circle to perform an ultimate attack. The square button launches shuriken at your opponent, X is used to jump and dash, and circle handles basic attacks. You can mash the circle button to create combos, and well timed movements of the analog stick will allow you use different combos.

One of those most important things to master quickly is the use of substitution jutsus. By pressing the block button at the right moment, you can teleport behind your opponent when they attack you. The timing for this is trickier than most games I’ve played, and it takes chakra. Still, if you don’t spend some time learning how to do this, you’re going to get creamed by the end of the game. Still, it doesn’t become cheap like I’ve seen in other Naruto games.

At this point, the gameplay doesn’t have much depth. It sounds like it is yet another button mashing fest of a licensed fighter. Heck, if you wanted to describe it as such, I wouldn’t blame you. However, I would say the next bit manages to divert some of that feeling away.

At the beginning of this section I mentioned ninja tools. It turns out the managing of these tools is vital to the strategy of the game. With four slots to fill, you can customize your character to a bit. Sure, you can’t change ninjutsus, throws, or combos, but you can augment their strengths, patch up weaknesses, or even add a little oomph to your repertoire. There are around three dozen tools. Some deal direct damage if they hit, some boost your strength, some poison the enemy, etc. Interestingly, there are usually more powerful versions of each tool. The caveat is that you’ll have less uses of that item in that battle. This forces you to choose whether a big one time boost is more favorable to several smaller boosts. It may sound like I’m overselling this a bit, but I’ve won and lost battles because of how I managed my tools as much as how well I’ve timed my attacks.

Another nifty feature of the game is support characters. You can have up to two support characters equipped, and they can be called into service during battles. Each character has a gauge under their portrait. When full, you tap a corresponding shoulder button to have them come out and perform a signature attack. However, you can also forgo this ability. You see, each support character has one of three types. These are guard, attack, and balance. If you choose guard for instance, the support character will come out and protect you while you’re charging chakra. If you chose attack, they’ll come out to land an extra hit or two during combos. Using support characters wisely is an incredibly important part of how you play this game. If you chose to use them up whenever you have the chance, you won’t do so well. If you time it right, you can use them to save you from a big hit, distract the enemy long enough for you to land one of your own, or other nifty possibilities.

So, the gameplay has a lot more depth that one might think thanks to ninja tools and support attacks. I do think the basic gameplay isn’t very deep itself. I find that each character having only one or two special attacks is a bit silly. I wish the developers would find a way incorporate more variety into the proceedings. You can pretty much jump in and play each character well, which doesn’t add to a game’s depth or challenge at all.

I’m starting to contradict myself a bit I suppose. I suppose I’ll sum it all up by saying that the game isn’t very deep, but it isn’t as shallow as it could have been. Veteran fight fans aren’t going to get much out of this, but for what it is, it plays well, has a fast pace, and is accessible.

Replayability

The campaign is surprisingly lengthy, clocking in at around fifteen hours just to beat the final boss. After you’ve done that, you can go about finishing off side quests, taking on missions, and unlocking the last few characters in the game. You can also go about unlocking all of the various videos and extras in the shops. You can easily get another ten to fifteen hours out of the game if you want to see/get everything out of this mode.

As far as the online goes, it all depends on how much you enjoy the combat. I have friends that have poured several hours into this mode already, but I can’t see it holding my attention against other online games for the PS3 I’ve gotten this past month.

All told, you can easily get upwards of thirty hours out of this game, making it last much longer than most licensed games. Your mileage will depend on what you want out of this game, but even the basic package has enough material to make this a great time killer.

Balance

At the beginning of the game, you can pretty much button mash your way to victory. Enemies don’t use much in the way of defense and their combos aren’t as long as they could be. At the end, however, you’ll be hard pressed to land a hit, let alone a full combo. You need to time all of your attacks and use the substitution jutsu like a pro. It isn’t terribly hard, but you will lose a few times before you get that elusive S ranking.

As a fighter, one of the most important things is that there is a balance among characters. I haven’t had much of a chance to use every one of the characters extensively. However, I did find that no character seems particularly overpowered as long as you know how to fight them. In other words, fight the long range guys up close and slow the fast guys down with ninja tools.

The online matchmaking does a good job of letting you fight people your own rank if you so chose. I did get my butt kicked a few times, but that was a good deal because I hadn’t practiced much. Once I started getting the hang of things, I was competitive. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Originality

I can’t give this any props for originality. Everything that it does was done before in the last game. Well, at least in terms of the combat. For that fact, this is basically the same fighting system that the Ultimate Ninja games have been using since their inception. It has just moved to 3D in the past few years.

What is new is the online multiplayer, which isn’t something we’ve gotten with a game in this series. However, the functionality is basic at best, doing nothing to compete with the big title games.

You don’t buy these types of games because of their originality. You buy them because you want a good Naruto game, and that’s what you’ll get.

Addictiveness

As much as I like this game, I can’t say that I was particularly addicted to it. Moving through the levels in the story isn’t very interesting. Sure, the backgrounds are pretty and you can pick up various items for the shops, however, none of that is really compelling. I went ahead and plowed through for the story, and picked up the items because it just made good sense.

As a fighting game, this will most assuredly not hold your attention as compared to games like Tekken and Street Fighter. The combat just isn’t deep enough. Naruto fans will definitely get a lot more out of this game. Were it not for the strong license, I would have struggled to keep going.

Appeal Factor

There are two groups of people this game is going to appeal to. Those would be casual Naruto fans and hardcore Naruto fans. If you don’t like the number one knuckle-headed ninja, this game simply isn’t for you.

Fighting game fans have far too many other options to play to give this game much of a chance. It isn’t deep enough in terms of gameplay and it doesn’t have enough modes to keep you interested for much time after you’ve played through the story and dabbled online a bit.

Naruto fans only need apply.

Miscellaneous

For bonuses, this game doesn’t offer much, but it has enough to keep fans interested. You can unlock videos of all of the ultimate attacks and watch the amazing scenes from the boss fights without having to worry about quick time events. Considering the praise I’ve laid on those scenes, I guess you could say I find this to be pretty cool.

From a trophy standpoint, the game is pretty easy to platinum. Most of trophies merely take time, such as collecting all of the items, earning a certain number of storm points, etc. That shouldn’t be a reason for you to go out and buy this game, but I admit it is something people look for.

My overall feelings on the game is that it is pretty darn solid, but not great. It takes an established formula and puts it in a pretty wrapper. If you didn’t like this kind of game before, this won’t change your mind. If Naruto games are your thing, this is undoubtedly one of the best.

Oh yeah. You get to play as Killer B in this game! Hell yes!

The Scores
Story/Modes: Enjoyable
Graphics: Classic
Audio: Good
Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Good
Final Score: Above Average Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is one of the best Naruto games out on the market. It combines a solid gameplay experience with outstanding visual design to leave a good impression on all of those who play it. It doesn’t manage to bridge the gap between fans and non-fans, but those who get into it will be rewarded well for their time and cash investment. If you’ve been jonesing for a good Naruto game, this will definitely fit the bill.

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