Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
It’s time to concentrate your shakra and ready your shuriken as Naruto Shippunden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 (and for the sake of your eyes I’ll be referring to is as Naruto Storm 2 from this point on) is here. Naruto was one of those animes I never really got into (I was more of a Full Metal Alchemist fan) but I was aware of the exploits of the little ninja from Hidden Leaf Village, demon imprisoned within him and all. Fans of the series will know of the huge universe of characters within the manga/anime and will be pleased to know that they all feature in the game. But is there an exciting experience beneath the Japanese animation or is it essentially an interactive fan service? There’s only one way I was going to find out; I was going to have to get my ninja on.
And by that I mean mash my control pad’s buttons. A lot.
Developed by Cyber Connect 2 (the minds behind the PS2 series .hack) the game is, at its heart, a 3D arena fighting game in which there are only two characters fighting at once. In typical Tekken-esque you have health metres at the top and using varying skills of each character you unleash the hurt on your opponent. Variation comes with the use of items that come in the form of weapons to turn the tide of the battle or abilities to improve your defence or attack (as well as lower your opponent’s stats.) The arenas take inspiration from locations from the anime with 23 choices in total (although some are the same location set in the afternoon or night, which doesn’t really change anything… except the mood lighting perhaps.)
The controls seem fairly basic but get the job done, with attack, jump, block, ranged weapon and chakra (or power up) buttons. Different combinations produce different results, and once you learn these different combos they become the core of the gameplay. Further customisation of fights comes with the partner system which allows you to add in up to two additional characters in certain fights that act as special moves. Activating them brings them briefly on screen to dish out some pain before jumping back off again, leaving you unable to use them again until their move has recharged. Timing is everything in this game, as well as learning your opponents strengths and weaknesses leading to some fights that are terribly easy whilst others are suddenly, and frustratingly, hard but as always practice is key (that or turning down the difficulty setting, either or.)
So what separates this title from other fighting games? It has different modes to entertain the player with the arcade-style Free Battle mode so you can get into the action quick as easy, however the main meat of the game comes from the Ultimate Adventure mode, which acts as the single player and is your main means of unlocking everything. It plays out the story of the Naruto Shippunden series allowing you to re-enact key moments from the storyline and provides you with 7 chapters of ninja-ing action. Cutscenes keep the story going but it is the free-roaming that fleshes out the experience (and is very reminiscent of .hack’s free-roam.) CC2 have carefully and faithfully recreated the locations from the Naruto universe for you to explore and will surely excite fans of the series to visit the Hidden Leaf training grounds or take a trip to Hidden Sand Village. The drawings, animations and voice-overs are faithful to the anime, although I will have to admit that I did change the voiceover from the default American to the Japanese audio (for such a popular show, the inability to cast people who can pronounce Japanese names correctly baffles me) so for those who are looking for an authentic experience the option is there.
Whilst in free-roam sections you are able to talk to the NPCs that inhabit the game, some of which will provide missions or requests for you that will reward you with money. You can use this hard earned cash to buy items and weapons to use in battles, although the majority of items will not be initially available. This is due to you having to collect materials that litter the game and hand them in, only after which do the better products become available to buy. Materials can also be sold to certain shops so you can boost up your cash flow, which makes money almost trivial if you’re the sort of player who likes to pick everything up. Free-roam also provides you with a mini-map that guides you to your objective and those that completely forget what they are doing need only leave the controller alone for a few seconds before a reminder of the current mission pops up on-screen and disappears again when you start moving. It’s a nice touch that ensures that the UI isn’t cluttered and means you don’t have to go into the menus to know what to do next.
Combat in Ultimate Adventure has some differences as well. Most fights have battle conditions which mean opponents cannot have stats lowered or you may find that certain special moves are unusable. Quick Time Events also play a role in the boss battles and reward you for quick reflexes with backstory from the first series. All fights are graded at the end depending on how well you performed and are translated into Storm Points, which unlock additional content for Naruto Storm 2 at certain milestones. The biggest change to the combat in the single player is persistent health. If you had your health knocked down to 50% in the last fight then it will stay that way until you use a healing item. Depending on your view of micromanagement in games you will either find this an interesting twist or highly annoying.
But hey, at least you don’t have to dress your character and pack their lunches. There’s a lot of talk of ramen in-game though. Man, I’m hungry.
Online multiplayer action is also available for those that wish to prove their worth. Battle points are won or lost in ranked matches that increase your online rank as your earn more BP. A record of your wins and loses is available (including a disconnection frequency record, so watch out rage-quitters) and you can view global rankings as well to keep an eye on who the top ninjas are. And for those of you who are just looking for a random fight, unranked matches are also available so you can hop right into the action.
It’s not all sunshine in the land of ninjas; problems are to be found throughout the game and are largely the fault of the camera angles. There were points during the combat when my view of my own character was blocked by my opponent or by explosions happening on-screen causing me frustration. These also appears to be a limited distance you can be from your opponent, which made running away from super-mega-death-dealing-moves of certain bosses impossible if you were caught in a bad position and felt fairly unforgiving. Free-roam traveling between fights can also seem annoyingly tedious, especially when you are switched to another character in the story mode and have to cover the same ground you previously just did, with nothing put picking up materials to distract you. While it was clearly done to beef up the gameplay time, they perhaps did it a bit too much for my liking.
However the game’s biggest fault arises from how it halts the action for the player between fights. After winning a fight you are informed of what materials and items you have won, and then before you regain control of your character you are informed of said acquisitions again. It’s not only unnecessary but it leaves you without control for an extended time. Add to this some curiously large loading times (even when the game is installed) and you start to become very aware you are playing a video game. The worst offender of this is when you manually save the game at the save points dotted throughout the game. You are asked if you want to save, then watch as it writes some data, then asked if you’re sure you wish to overwrite the data, then told it is saving, and then told it has finally saved, and then asked if you wish to return to the main menu. The process is long, over-informative and detracts from the experience.
But despite all of this, Naruto fans will more than likely get their money’s worth with Naruto Storm 2. You get to fight as the heroes and villians of the series, you get to re-enact some of the more memorable scenes, and the styling of the game is faithful to the source material in a single player that is lengthy, with additional content to complete after the main compaign. That said, to others who have no idea of the insanity of sexy-no-justu it’s a fairly basic fighting game with some tweaks to the traditional formula that make it surprisingly disposable fun if you’re able to stomach the Japanese manga’s story. If not, it might be sensible to look elsewhere.
- Naruto fans will enjoy the faithfully recreated Shippuden story
- Plenty of way to customise fights to your style of play
- Plenty of content to keep you busy
- Camera angles can be more annoying that your opponents
- Story Mode has too many unnecessary stops in the action
- Micromanagement in Story Mode may be off-putting
The short version: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is a fun game but is ultimately a fan service for existing Naruto fans, with playing through the Shippuden story being a huge selling point if you can get over the regular and sometimes annoying breaks in the action. Take away the license and it’s a basic yet oddly entertaining fighting game sure to break the buttons on your controllers. A definite buy for the Naruto fans, just don't go expecting a fighting game revolution.