I can’t believe it’s actually been well over a year since I last reviewed a Naruto game. I’ve done so many in such a short period of time, that it just doesn’t feel right.
Anyway, I was beyond ecstatic for UNS3. Not only was it the proper sequel to UNS2 (Generations was a bust for me), but it also continued the storyline further than any game out there. Heck, it even reaches past the anime! The Fourth Great Ninja War was shaping up to be a can’t miss event for Naruto fans everywhere.
So, did it live up to it’s potential?
There are three main modes in the game. First up is the story mode, which takes you through ten chapters of the latter half of the Shippuden era. It starts with the Five Kage Summit and ends with the hiatus of the ninja war. Overall, the game does a good job of relaying the plot. It doesn’t skip over too much, and makes sure to leave in the emotional impact. However, this attention to the story comes at a cost. The game’s pacing is atrocious. You can often go an hour with only one battle to break things up, and that one battle will probably last less than a minute. At one point, it was like I was simply watching the anime, which would be fine, except I came to play the game. The story mode is also lacking the substantive exploration and subquests that made UNS2 so much fun to play. It’s pretty much a linear shot through the plot. Only during the post-game do you have access to the whole ninja world.
For non-fans, the story isn’t going to make any sense. You’d have to have seen/read/played through the previous entries in the franchise in order to understand who the characters are and what the heck they’re talking about. The game doesn’t tell you who all of these people are, what the heck a Kage is, or why people calling themselves ninjas are attacking with fireballs in broad daylight. This game is purely for fans, who will likely get a kick out of the retelling. I myself was brought to laughter and/or tears at certain parts, though anyone who didn’t know the background would likely think I was just the victim of mood swings.
The story has a tendency to get long winded, to be honest. There are many scenes that could have been cut to save time and that wouldn’t have hurt the plot in any way. Kushina’s speech to Naruto, though touching, is way too long. I personally like the plot just fine, as I really like the characters, but it can be a chore to sit through if all you want to do is get to the next battle, but aren’t willing to skip through things.
The next mode is free battle, where you can participate in exhibition and tournament matches. Regular matches allow you to set some basic parameters before battle, while tournament matches put through several opponents in a row. There’s also a practice mode so you can try out some of the eighty plus characters before you jump into battle. A survival mode would have been a nice addition, though, as there’s not much content to work through here.
Finally, there’s the online battles. These work just the same as last time. You rank up by winning battles, you can create your own custom card using various art and titles, and you can play in private or ranked matches. The online is a bit unbalanced because the characters aren’t balanced all that well, and there are frequent connection issues. It’s far from ideal, but workable if you’re desperate for an opponent.
If you’ve never seen a UNS game before, you’re in for a treat. The art is simply phenomenal, taking the 2D anime and bringing it to live in 3D greatness. During gameplay, the game looks fantastic, with brilliant effects and smooth animations. The CG scenes are out of this world, which you’d expect from CC2. Honestly, it looks better than the show at times, and I’m sure I’m not alone at wishing the show could look this good. If I had one issue, it’s that the drawn lines occasionally get blurred out, which creates a distorted effect that messes with the eyes. Still, that’s one small blemish on an otherwise beautiful face.
Your aural experience depends on which language you select. The English dub is atrocious, with words being mispronounced and tones going all over the place. I’ve never liked the English cast, but this is one of the worst examples yet. The Japanese track is fantastic, and highly recommended. The downside with the Japanese language track is that, during battle, you might have to read subtitles. The music is standard issue stuff that CC2 has been using for all of their recent Naruto games. It works, but one can’t help but wish for licensed tracks from the show. The effects are nice, but again, are the same as they ever were. In general, the presentation is on the same level as the previous entries. If you liked it before, you’ll like it now.
Combat in UNS3 sticks to the series roots in pretty much every conceivable way. There have been minor changes, new move sets added, and a surprisingly high number of new characters brought in for this year’s entry, however.
Battles take place in small, circular arenas. Two combatants square off and try to lower the health bar of the other. Combos can be strung together using the circle button with the analog stick. The square button throws shuriken. Cross is used for jump, dashing, and other movement abilities. Triangle gets some interesting use. Holding the button down charges chakra, which is needed to use special abilities. Tapping the button loads chakra, and tapping another button performs a special move/ability depending on the situation. You can throw charged shuriken, make a quick dash to the opponent, or perform a character’s signature jutsu. If you have enough chakra, you can double tap the button and then hit circle to perform an ultimate jutsu, which greatly depletes your opponent’s health. Also key to success is the use of substitutions. A substitution is basically when your ninja replaces himself with another object, dodging an attack and teleporting behind your opponent. This gives you a free shot. However, you can only use substitutions so many times before the meter needs to recharge. Use them wisely.
Ninja tools are back and have seen some changes. Once again, you can assign a different tool to each of the four buttons of the d-pad. There are a number of tools that do a variety of things, such as buff your character, deal direct damage, or apply a status effect. A well timed use of a ninja tool can tip the scale in your favor. New this time is how you equip tools. During the story, you’ll occasionally have to choose between being a legend or being a hero. Choosing one and successfully completing the battle will earn you experience in the corresponding set. This experience allows you to equip extra items/more powerful items for either hero or legend. Legend is a tougher prospect, but offers up more skill based items that require timing while offering a tangible effect on your or your opponent. Hero items tend to be one shot buffs or restorative items. Both pathways are valid, but remember, you can’t mix and match between the two schemes. Before battle, you’ll also be able to eat some food, which restores health and gives a stat boost for the entirety of the upcoming battle.
Awakening mode also returns to this entry in the series. Once you’ve taken a certain amount of damage, you can become awakened. This basically either transforms your character, changes their move sets, or gives some sort of major boost. This is a one shot deal though. When it runs out, you can’t use it again, and you’ll be weakened for a bit after it fades. Still, using this wisely should give you a win.
Another key to victory is using supports. You can have up to two support characters that can be called in for a quick attack when their meter is full. Using these often puts you into support drive, where allies can defend you in a pinch, or join you in attacks. You can also perform a team jutsu, which is the most powerful attack in the game, though it take a while to charge this particular meter. Different characters have different support abilities, so it’s best to find a good match for your character.
During the story, a number of special battles will take place. There are some areas where you’re free to roam about and take down enemies. Some new mechanics for these sections allow you to teleport behind enemies and perform unique special moves, as well as finishers. It also adds a lot more characters on the screen. I fought six mid bosses at one point. Also, the boss fights add unique elements, such as giant characters with their own move sets, special mechanics, and amazing quick time events that go over the best looking cinemas in gaming. These extra mechanics are all wholly fleshed out, but they can change things up a bit and get you to think in a different way.
The fighting in UNS3 is fairly simple. There’s not much depth in the basic mechanics, and hardcore fight fans will bemoan the occasional bad camera angle. However, it can still be fun thanks to a quick pace and the various tools/meters at your disposal. It’s a good feeling when you’ve finally drained your opponent’s substitution meter and can safely pound them into the dirt. It’s also a good feeling when you land that ultimate jutsu as a counter. It’s not a great fighting game by any means, but it works fine for what it is. The huge roster makes up for a lot.
The story mode is fairly lengthy, clocking in at around thirteen hours. A lot of that is eaten up by those lengthy cinemas, but there are also some huge boss battles to contend with. The final battle took probably half an hour to complete, what with all of the transformations and second forms. After that, you can add a few hours for clearing up side quests and unlocked battles. There’s also an incentive to earn money to get new characters and unlock special videos in the collection. There’s not much incentive to play free battles or online battles, apart from trying out new characters or fighting against a human. It’s a decent length, but I honestly got a lot more time out of UNS2.
This game isn’t exactly balanced. Certain characters/supports are simply better. Pain’s support ability can deter any opponent and send them flying. Tobi, of course, is still amazing. Slower characters are in trouble, and range characters have a huge advantage against substitution happy opponents. This game is not tournament ready, and it likely won’t ever be.
When all is said and done, UNS3 will makes fans happy. The sheer number of new characters, the old characters that didn’t have to be included but were, and the faithfulness to the source material are all pluses. For those who aren’t fans, this game won’t change your mind. It’s beautiful to be sure, but the story can drag on, the combat isn’t particularly impressive, and the balance just isn’t there. Also, there’s no reason to play this unless you’ve played the other two/watched every episode of the show.
Short Attention Span Summary
UNS3 isn’t the best entry in the series, but it does still manage to take some steps forward. The roster is huge and chock full of new characters to try out, the graphics are as beautiful as ever, and the fighting can still be fun at times. It won’t bring in new fans though, as it is comparatively shallow and long winded. Only Naruto fans need apply, but they’ll surely have a good deal of fun with it.
What Video Game Release for January 2014 are you most excited for?
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