Review: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2
November 8, 2010, Author: James Sheppard
Naruto is one of those fickle things; you’re either going to love the little orange jumpsuited, spiky blonde-haired chap and his animated adventures, or hate his guts for the annoying, excitable little pipsqueak that he is. The extent to which you will enjoy Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 may depend entirely on whether you sit firmly within the former camp, or the latter. The game was developed by CyberConnect2, and is certainly not the first Naruto title by them, and I’m sure it will not be the last, either. If my reliable sources are correct, (*cough* Wikipedia *cough) NS:UNS 2 is in fact their tenth Naruto game, and their other main claim to fame being the reasonably successful, if not critically acclaimed, .hack RPG series on PS2.
The Naruto games by CyberConnect2 on PS2 and PSP ranged from average to fairly decent affairs, but as of late the move to the current gen of home consoles seems to have improved the standard. The first Ultimate Ninja Storm released two years ago on PS3 was a reasonable success, boasting a free-roaming game world, loads of characters from the anime, and solid fighting gameplay. Will Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, coming to Microsoft’s console as well for the first time, continue the trend, or has it turned out about as appealing as a bowl of dog-food ramen?
A storm’s brewin’…
If you’ve watched the anime, you’ll already have a good idea of the storyline. Naruto is the son of the past Hokage (leader) of the Hidden Leaf Village, who died fighting off a powerful demon called the Nine-Tailed Fox. The only way he could defeat it was by sealing it inside his son when he was very young. As a result, Naruto has understandably made his fellow villagers wary of him throughout his life, but at least can draw on the massive chakra (energy) of the demon inside him, to perform some pretty badass ninja powers.
Naruto and his buddies have been training up to become powerful ninjas since they were fairly young, and Naruto in particular strives to become the next Hokage. One of his buddies who plays a big part in Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, Sasuke, is absent to begin with, after defecting to a villain called Orochimaru, who he believes is the only one who can give Sasuke enough training to help him take revenge on his older brother Itachi for murdering his whole clan. Phew. If you’re not a Naruto fan, that probably confused you and to be honest, I imagine that you will experience the same confusion during the game. There’s a lot of storyline all crammed in and it doesn’t help that you see it through the eyes of over forty (!) different characters.
That said, it’s all quite fascinating and absorbing. The extent that it stays true to the anime and manages to pack in over forty of the characters is no mean feat, and will send dedicated Narutards giddy with fanboy/girl excitement and glee. For newbies, as long as you manage to get your head round it all, I think you’ll get sucked into it quite nicely. Some of the cut-scenes in particular are beautifully done and really make for some emotional moments at times, often incorporating scenes from the anime to help tell the story.
Be careful; you’ll do yourself a ninjary
As with the first Ultimate Ninja Storm, the story mode takes place within a free-roaming adventure setting. Unlike the proper 3D exploration that was possible in that however, Ninja Storm 2 opts for a system similar to JRPGs like the Final Fantasy series: pre-rendered, static backdrops, quite often with fixed camera perspectives. They may be static in one sense, but at least they are still animated, with attractive flowing streams for example. The free exploration is a great hub to accessing the fights of the game, and is a better alternative than just going from one fight to the next like traditional fighting games. The free-roaming certainly isn’t without its flaws, however.
Firstly, it’s a bit of a drag travelling from one end of the map to the other, with a mini loading pause between each little section. I sometimes got the feeling they were just using it as an excuse to pad the game out, or give a little breather between brawls. Once I even had to travel a long journey as one set of characters, and then when I hit my destination, there was a short cut-scene, and I had to travel the exact same journey again as another set of characters, to meet them there! For these sections you might as well duct-tape the controller’s analogue stick in the direction you want to go, and leave it to do its business whilst you go and grab yourself a cup of tea.
What’s even worse is collecting items on the way. In every section there will be some storage pots you can open, flowers you can pick, items left by wild animals… obviously you can leave them, but there’s a good chance you’d miss out on something important and useful. This wouldn’t be so bad if you picked it up automatically when walking over it, but no; for each you need to press a button, watch a slow, repetitive ‘picking’ animation and listen to an ear-grating “beep!” when you’ve picked it up.
This is by far the most tedious aspect of the game; some dungeons will have about fifty storage pots on one level to delve in, for example. Constantly bending down to pick random crap up, over and over… it’s like this game was designed as a realistic simulator of the life of a litter-picker at Disneyland.
At least there is a fairly intuitive system for using these items, that rewards your hard, brain-numbing work. Equipable battle items bought from a shop oddly always need a certain list of these collected pick-ups given to the shopkeeper before they can begin ‘making’ it, and subsequently, selling it to you. These battle items are customisable, with four equipped at once, consisting of attack and defense buffs, bombs and poisonous items among others.
The battles in general are definitely one strong point of the game, as you’d hope. They take place in a large, fully three-dimensional battlefield, with limitless freedom to ninja-dash around, strafe, and attack from all directions. This is a breath of fresh air from fighters limited to a 2D plane, and even those like many of the Mortal Kombats that allow sidestepping. One downside to this is that you can be a bit of a wimp and run away whilst constantly firing shurikens, the kind of tactic that would brand you the absolute scum of the universe.
In the biggest and most important story battles, there are several ‘quicktime’ cut-scene events, requiring rapid button presses to dodge and attack in fabulously animated scenes, à la Heavy Rain and God of War. For some this ‘interactive movie’ type of gameplay is to gaming what Ke$ha is to the music industry, but whatever your personal opinions are, it arguably works well in Ultimate Ninja Storm 2. After all, this is based on an animated TV series and these sections are astoundingly faithful to its origins, to the extent that sometimes you could forget you’re playing a game and not actually watching it.
The actual fighting is well implemented and satisfying, but could definitely be referred to as ‘simplistic’. If combo lists of ‘up, diagonal, right, x, o, handstand, o, nose-pick, L1’ give you a headache (as they do for me at times) then you’ll be well at home here. You can quite competently fight by mashing away solely on the main attack button, like a madman playing Track ‘n’ Field on amphetamines. There are other moves though, like a ranged attack (shurikens etc.), throws, and special ‘jutsu’ attacks. The range is definitely on the slim side however, which means those expecting deep, complex combat will come away disappointed.
Another aspect that could be seen as either a positive or negative attribute is that the playing style of different characters is all quite similar. There are of course, small differences with each having different combo lengths and a vague sense of strengths and weaknesses, and everyone’s attacks at least look different, all with moves accurate to the anime, but at the end of the day it is all the same combat system re-skinned forty-odd times. This has the benefit of easily being able to pick up each different character in the story mode, but definitely lowers the variety, and basically means you might as well base your fighter choice on which character you like the most.
Sometimes you can fight with an ally, or even two allies at once. This is dumbed down however, and instead of being a true tag-team style system, this simply works as an extra special move selectable with the shoulder buttons. These special moves vary from defensive to offensive and can be very useful to be fair, adding an extra tactical layer to the gameplay.
Another system put in place to simplify matters during the story is that your inventory is persistent across all characters. This doesn’t do wonders for the realism, but to be fair, it would be a pain in the arse if it wasn’t the case. Irritatingly, however, some of the side-quests can’t be undertaken, and some of the shops can’t be used unless you are a certain character; something of which you never have a choice. For one point during the game, I wanted to use a certain shop and work on a side-quest but I was forced into using a different character for several chapters in a row, meaning I was unable to.
There are undoubtedly some problematic design decisions in the story mode, but it’s still definitely good fun, and does the anime justice. Battles are intense, and the action-packed storyline is forever driving the game onwards. The setting is immersive and faithful to its source, although sometimes a bit plain in design, especially the dungeons which look like they were designed in five minutes by copy-pasting the same square cell repeatedly, and layering it all with “Generic Brick Texture 03.” Overall, the gameplay isn’t perfect but it’s nonetheless a reasonably enjoyable experience from start to finish.
Beaut ‘em up
For a game based on an anime, the visual style is undeniably of quite high importance. Thankfully, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 definitely succeeds here. The quality of the animation is absolutely fantastic, at times arguably looking better than the anime itself. The backgrounds may be all pre-rendered, but they are beautifully detailed and create very fitting surroundings to the events of the game. The game is attractive in a unique way; these days we are used to character models made of a billionty polygons, plastered with textures a higher resolution than real life itself, all topped off with glaring lighting making even the character’s nose hairs cast self-shadows. Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 instead dazzles you with smooth, detailed, colourful animation.
One of the main issues with the visual quality is the bad aliasing (jaggies) present on the characters and some of the game world objects. These are very incongruous from the backgrounds and make things stick out worse than a Disney actor with an obvious erection. It doesn’t totally spoil the graphics to be fair, but some anti-aliasing would certainly have been welcome.
The voice acting is fairly decent, although some is a bit cheesy and irritating, i.e., very loyal to the anime original. Not absolutely all of the dialogue is voice acted, but a large majority is; something to be thankful for, particularly if you’re averse to reading through hordes of speech bubbles. The background music is nice and catchy, although can get a bit repetitive eventually as it doesn’t have a lot of variation: sitting around in the Hidden Leaf Village can be like listening to customer service hold music for three hours in a row.
NaruPro or NaruNoob?
If, after saving the world in the story mode, you want to continue to prove your ninja prowess further, there is always the multiplayer mode. You have the choice of fighting with an AI character, a ‘real’ friend sat next to you, or going online to face the world. In my opinion, this mode is a welcome inclusion but it’s definitely best for just a short blast, playing a few games at a time. It helps extend the potential gameplay further but it’s not something I would personally play all day long.
The combat gameplay is certainly competent, but due to its simplicity it’s not deeply involving. A lack of a decent range of moves and the fact that all of the characters are very similar to each other, mean that it can get old after a short while. Additionally, in multiplayer there obviously isn’t the excellent storyline present in the single player mode to add an extra compelling layer to the proceedings.
Narutastic or Narutarded?
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is exactly what you’d expect from a Naruto game. It’s filled with more fan service than a comic book convention, but is definitely also a decent game in its own right. The visuals are one of the most impressive aspects, but the gameplay is also solid. That said, it isn’t perfect by any means and there are a few glaring issues. The combat is well realised with a great 3D battlefield, but it also appeals to the lowest common denominator, allowing you to pick up and play instantly but not leaving much left to master. Exploring the world can also be an awful chore sometimes, with repetitive wandering and item-gathering proving as enjoyable as unplugging a blocked toilet with your teeth.
For a Naruto fan though, Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is just one little joyous cameo appearance after another. Forty characters from the anime, all looking, talking and acting just like they do in the series. Getting to fight as your favourite characters, walk around the village and watch some impressively animated scenes of them: yet another delightful indulgence. For a stranger to the series? Some of the joy might be slightly lost, not to mention the storyline, rather uncomfortably all squeezed into the game. I do, however, think that most newcomers will still appreciate that it is a respectable game at heart. It’s not flawless and it won’t appeal to everyone though, for which reason it receives a…
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360 | Tagged action, Adventure, Animation, anime, Beat em up, Console, CyberConnect 2, Fighter, fighting, Jutsu, Naruto, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, Ninja, Ninjutsu, playstation 3, PS3, tv, Xbox 360