The Naruto franchise has been going strong for quite some time. However, like all good things, it had to (sort of) end eventually. UNS4 carries the video game portion of the franchise all the way through to the end of the manga, surpassing even the anime at this point. It finishes the Fourth Great Ninja War and provides some of the biggest battles yet. In addition, it boasts the largest roster in series history, while claiming to add significant depth to the combat via leader changes. Does this (supposed) last hurrah send the series out on a high note?
Out of the box, the first mode you’re going to want to take a look at is Story. Story takes you through four chapters of content detailing the final battles in the Great Ninja War, and finishes things off with the expected final showdown between Naruto and Sasuke. You knew it was coming. Unlike prior entries in the series, the story mode for UNS4 does not include running around various locations and completing missions. Instead, you’re going through a fairly straightforward slog through cutscenes and battles. Sometimes, you’re allowed to pick which section you do first, but there’s very little you need to do until the next fight loads. Another thing worth mentioning is that the first half of the story is told mostly through screenshots. Sure, the camera pans out and there are some effects, but those hoping for animated sequences will have to wait until the latter half. You don’t even have the option to customize your ninja tools this time around. It’s about as hands off as it gets.
As for the plot itself, well, that’s going to be in the eye of the beholder. If you like Naruto, you’ll likely get something out of this. However, there are certainly some key issues holding it back. Firstly, the story jumps at odd points and makes it impossible to keep track of the goings on. People will show up for an important sequence and then disappear for hours until showing up as if they never left. Some characters are dropped and never heard from again, which makes their earlier scenes seem pointless. The story also has this insane infatuation with not quite final forms. Pretty much the entirety of the ten hour campaign is spent fighting the same two people. They just keep finding ways to get extra power, and then your characters find a way to gain extra power. This is a common trope in anime in general, but this one really takes the cake. It made me long for the days when Freiza only had four forms. Still, there are enough cathartic moments with beloved characters to make the trek worth it. The post credits scene alone feels worth the time spent, and hey, at least some of these story missions include the series’ trademark over the top action sequences. They certainly spice things up.
After you’ve finished the story, you can head to Adventure. For those hoping for the more traditional Storm experience, this is where you’ll find it. There’s not much plot here, as it’s basically delivery missions and trips down memory lane. There’s some cute stuff, but mostly it’s there to give you the mode in some fashion. There are various quests to complete, but it all boils down to mindless fetch quests or replays of past battles. If you just feel like killing some time, this is a decent mode, and at least it lets you run through the locations one last time.
Free Battle is back as expected, and comes equipped with a few different modes. You can fight in simple one on one matches, tournaments, leagues, and survival. Tournaments are single elimination affairs where the last shinobi standing wins. League matches have you earn points for victories, and the highest point total between you and up to three other players (or AI) wins. There are even some challenge leagues to keep you busy. Survival mode is what you’d expect; the goal is to see how many foes you can best with a single life bar.
Online also returns with a one minor addition and another major subtraction. The addition is limited events. These events task you with winning a series of preset battles against AI character in exchange for rewards. It’s not too dissimilar to what MKX did, but on a much smaller scale. Online fans will lament, however, the lack of spectating during online matches. This is unfortunate during tournaments and king of the hill style matches, as it leaves inactive players with nothing to do but stare at the screen until their turn comes back. At least the connection seems to hold up when you do get a match.
Visually, the series still makes an impact with its brilliant cel shaded graphics. There doesn’t appear to have been a whole lot of improvement really, but it’s impossible to deny how spectacular the light shows can get. The characters simply don’t look better in any other medium than they do here. The only complaints I have to make in this department are a few blurry character models for background characters and some awkward facial animations for those with unusual teeth, but these are minor. What really makes the game pop is the fantastic use of lighting and color that make each attack feel like an event. It never stops being impressive.
Aurally speaking, if you’ve heard one Naruto game, you’ve heard them all. You have options for both English and Japanese audio, a similar suite of musical tracks featuring the Japanese flute, and the same sound effects. It’s still a stellar job from top to bottom, in both its authenticity and impact. Whether you prefer the dub or not, you’ll get what you’re hoping for here.
Let’s move on to the gameplay. At first glance, the game appears to have change little from its predecessors. However, on closer inspection, something major has been done here. You still use the same control scheme, so Circle launches your combos, Square fires your shuriken, Triangle loads your chakra, and Cross performs a jump or dash. You can attempt to block an incoming attack, or try to counter by blocking at the precise moment. This uses your chakra, and won’t let you block if you don’t get the timing right. If you’re stuck in a combo or simply want to try and get the jump on your opponent, you can use a substitution jutsu to get behind them. The catch is that you only have so many you can use and they need to recharge. You might also have one or two support characters that you can call in with shoulder buttons. They just launch an attack and then have to recharge.
The big change this time is that you can switch out your main character on the fly between either of your support characters. They share the same health, chakra, and meters, but it can be a handy trick if you need to switch out strategies. More importantly, you can switch out characters mid combo to create a powerful and unique string. The only catch is that your support gauge can’t be empty when you try to switch out. This makes it so you’re actually selecting a full team rather than just a single character, and makes combat a lot more fun.
Outside of the story mode, you can still edit your ninja tools, and even create different layouts for different characters. These tools are limited use per battle, and are activated using the d-pad. They might damage your opponent, stun them, debuff them, or even buff yourself. They often don’t have a massive impact on any one battle, but clever use of them can certainly give you an edge.
The combat systems is still frantic and wonky. It’s not tournament ready by any means, but the chaos can be in good fun. The ability to mix up your combos and switch out characters mid-battle is definitely a shot in the arm, though the game still suffers from character imbalance. There are some characters who telegraph their moves from a mile away, and they tend to be hard to win with. Others have moves that have an extremely limited threat range. It’s nearly impossible to hit someone with Iruka’s ninjutsu attack, for example. On the other hand, you have a character like Jugo who has tremendous range for his throws. It’s definitely a feather in his cap. Also, the mechanics are still lose, as you have to deal with an auto lock system and a camera that moves about the field. It can even be possible to lose track of your character at times. However, the vast roster will let you find several characters you enjoy using to make up for this. It’s not great, but it’s decent fun.
Clearing everything in the game is likely going to take you around twenty hours. Much of that is grinding through all of the battles in Adventure mode, which isn’t all that impressive. You’ll get more time out of it if you want to unlock all the artwork and costumes and such, and there’s always S rankings to hunt up. If you really put the work in, you can get some decent play time out of this game. However, you’ll need to be a pretty big Naruto fan to see that through.
Short Attention Span Summary
The tale of UNS4 is the same tale that’s been told for every game in the series. If you really like Naruto, you’ll find plenty to love about this game. It has beautiful graphics, authentic presentation, tells the last chapter of the story, and has a massive roster to use in a decent combat engine. However, if you’re not a fan, you’ll find a fairly shallow brawler lacking content worth digging into. You pretty much already know if you’re going to like it or not. That being said, this is a solid send off to the series, but it could have been a lot better.