When it comes to anime titles, certain aspects have to be looked at in a certain light. The story is typically not meant to be original, but a faithful retelling of the events from the source material. Graphics are praised for how closely they resemble memorable scenes with our favorite characters. Even the sound is graded on whether or not original voice actors and musical scores are used to recreate everything we love about animes. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is probably one of the most solid examples of how an anime title should be done.

 

GRAPHICS: 10/10

Every detail of every character represented in this game is on point. From the Edo Tensei (Impure World Resurrection) characters and their cracked, paper-like detail to the Jinchuuriki (hosts of the tailed beasts) in full beast mode (many of which some have never seen) are all beautifully animated. Even the backgrounds you see while traveling through the story mode are given ample detail to immerse you further into the various foregrounds you will explore. Running by a squirrel or bird will cause it to scurry or fly away and running through a pile of leaves makes the leaves kick up; it is minute details like those which really make the world come alive. Similar to the Clash of Ninja Revolution series on the Wii, there are objects in some of the battlefields, which add new depth to the flat arenas from the past few titles.

 

STORY: 8/10

The story is typically the most challenging part of rating an anime game. On one hand, because the story is not meant to be original, you pretty much have to nit-pick every minor detail that is left out. On the other hand, especially when dealing with a series as long standing as Naruto, it can easily be said that some of the more obscure details are left out for the sake of time (be it development time or gameplay time).

Even with that in mind, I feel like Namco Bandai could have gone further into the story. Since it chose to focus almost exclusively on the Fourth Great Ninja War, the fact that certain character interactions are absent just does not sit well with me. The opportunity to introduce even more characters is there; instead, these characters are not even included in any manner.

Fortunately, what is included and expanded is done very well. For those of you who watch the anime or read the manga, this game will be a pleasant walk down memory lane. For those of you who are more fans of the games than the anime and manga, you will be able to enjoy a full story and get caught up on events just a few chapters short of where the story currently is.

 

GAMEPLAY: 9/10

As a fan (not an expert) of fighting games, I love what they have done with the combat system. I will be the first to say this is not on the level of Street Fighter, Tekken or any other tournament level fighter; however, the team at Namco Bandai did what it could to mix in some of those fighting elements into an easily accessible, but difficult to master game.

Though team battles are usually the choice in versus battles, one on one fights can be enjoyed just as much. All the gameplay elements we have come to expect are alive and well with some tweaks to make things even more fluid and responsive. The chakra dash cancels have had their timing adjusted just a bit, so that it is not quite as easy to abuse. The substitution jutsu will not be a saving grace every time, since some attacks have lingering effects that will catch you afterwards. The support characters have had their roles expanded as well. Not only do they have their own energy bars, which leave them susceptible to being KO-ed, but they can also be called in to do coordinated attacks. After holding the attack button for a second, your fighter will do a short dash forward. If this attack connects, you will be given the option to have your teammates jump in for two attacks: the first of which knocks the opponent into the air and the second slams them back to the ground, bouncing them high enough for you to air dash and finish the combo. Ring outs have also been introduced into combat this time around. After crashing your opponent into the “glass” at the stage’s edge, a hole will open, allowing you to eject your opponent from the stage. In a team battle, a support character can save you, but if they do not, it is an automatic loss. Also, to add more tension and epic-ness to battles, when the opponent can be finished by an ultimate jutsu or team ultimate jutsu, a notification will pop up on the screen. If the attack lands, you not only see the finishing blow itself, but you are also treated to a flashback frame from the anime with a voice-over line before the enemy’s actual demise. Again, these are the little touches which make this game great. The best addition to the combat system is the Instant Awakenings. For certain characters, like Neji, you can toggle the right analog and your fighter will enter an awakened state. It makes so much more sense that a character like Neji would have access to Byakugan techniques before getting beat half to death. Of course, with great power…never mind. Instant Awakenings do have their drawbacks. While in this mode, not only do you lose chakra at an alarming rate, but also your chakra meter decreases in size, greatly limiting how much energy you can store for dashes, charged kunai or jutsu.

As far as the story mode, the epic boss battles have been brought back. As seen in the demo, the gameplay takes a turn towards a larger scale as you face down enemies of gigantic proportions. Elements such as support characters, jutsus and the like will all be adjusted accordingly and scaled up to massive levels. The further into the game you get, the more over the top the battles become.

Like any other Naruto title, unfortunately, there is still a lack of depth in move sets. Not that things were all that complex to begin with, but the combo list in this title has one less set to it (specifically, the forward + attack combo). This leaves us with a standard attack combo, a down attack combo and an up or launching combo. I really would have liked to see developers mix things up a bit more, but since Naruto has such an assumed young fan base, I will have to chalk this decision up to accessibility; it is a shame. This series could have stepped further into the leagues of more legit fighters, but instead, took a step backwards.

 

SOUND: 10/10

It is a lot easier for anime games to have high sound quality. As long as they have the full support of the source material, there is really no way to mess this part up. Respect is given where respect is due to Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 for taking steps to go just a little bit further. The voice acting is perfect in both English and Japanese. Every sound effect throughout the game is taken straight from the anime. The jumping, the chakra charging, even the sound of the fire sizzling from the Gokakyu no jutsu (Fireball technique) is spot on. Namco Bandai took it a step further and made sure ambient sounds were added. In the Leaf Village, you can hear the hammers of the villagers as they work to rebuild their town; in the forests and deserts, every footstep sounds different depending on the ground; every pile of leaves you run through, every pile of snow trudged through, makes the appropriate sounds. A lot of times, corners are cut on the more minor details when dealing with a licensed property like anime, but I am happy to see this was not the case here.

 

ONLINE COMPONENT: 8/10

If you want to have a fighting game these days, you have to have online versus. Namco Bandai did fans justice by not only having an online feature, but also having various features to keep the fighting fresh and title cards; mix and match unlockable titles you can use to identify yourself to the online community. The matchmaking is solid. You can use the world map from the ninja war to pick people to fight against. If you prefer to set up your own rooms, there is an “endless battle” mode similar to how Street Fighter IV is set up. You can even watch the fights of other people in the room while you wait your turn. Once you get used to standard battles, you can add a roulette feature that randomly places stipulations on your fights. Constantly decreasing chakra, more chip damage taken while guarding and even an instant kill if hit by an ultimate jutsu: these are just some of the possibilities.

I did run into some connection issues, which is more due to the individual’s connection than the servers. All and all, I guess I am just being picky, but it would have been great have a feature that is not available in other fighting games. With such a colorful world to take advantage of, I would have liked to see more creativity.

 

FINAL WORD: 9/10

This review is biased; by that I mean I understand what makes a licensed game different from a new or stand-alone IP. As a fan of both forms of source material for this game (the anime and manga), I acknowledge all the effort to provide an experience as close to, if not exceeding, the quality of what it is based on. As a pure fighting title, this game is not on the level of fighting standards such as Street Fighter, Tekken or Mortal Kombat, but that is not what this game was made for. For all this game is made for, it is greatness and anyone who would like to test the depth of this title, you need look no further than the demo. You may be pleasantly surprised.

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