I have been a long time fan of the Naruto anime and manga series, and a long time begrudging purchaser of the Naruto video games. It isn’t that the games are bad, exactly, but rather that they seem content to do the absolute minimum amount of work because the developers know fans will purchase them all anyway. If there have been any bright spots, it has been the Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm series which refined all the rough points in the Ultimate Ninja series until the game was actually fairly enjoyable. The recent release of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst is essentially the complete version of Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 which was released earlier this year. While this is basically just a glorified DLC (and it is an actual DLC if you already own the original title) pack, it represents the most comprehensive and complete Naruto title to date, and if you can slog your way through the intrusive story and mediocre combat there is enough here to appease most fans of the series.
The story here focuses around the titular Naruto, and fans of the anime or manga should already be largely familiar with the events covered in the game. It throws you right into the action without much explanation as to what is happening or what has already happened, so hopefully you’re already entrenched in the Naruto storyline otherwise the plot will be lost on you starting sometime shortly after the opening credits roll. Naruto’s father is battling a mysterious masked man and an enormous fox creature known as the Nine-Tails. While both seem intent on destroying his home village, they unfortunately picked a fight of a village consisting of super powerful ninjas, and the opening battle is grand in scale and impressive visually. After resolving this situation in the punchiest way possible, the game throws you into the future as Naruto and the events surrounding the Fourth Great Ninja War. While the intensity drops a bit from the opening sequence initially, the story still manages to be relatively compelling provided you have the slightest clue as to what is going on.
The story itself is enjoyable enough, but it keeps getting in the way of the game, shouldering its way on to the stage and demanding it gets another guitar solo because it’s afraid you’ll take control and mess things up. There are multiple times where an intense fight will finish and right when you’re ready to jump back into the action, the game slaps the controller out of your hands and throws a twenty minute series of cutscenes at you. Because of this, the pacing ends up being completely uneven, and these huge gaps in the action occur basically every chapter. Even worse, because of how dense the lore and backstory for this game is, the huge focus on dialogue and story is going to be completely lost to someone who hasn’t been following along so far. Even with all the time the game spends talking at you, newcomers aren’t going to be able to find their way to the path of story coherence without at least three roadmaps and a Sherpa Indian guide to help them along. This is absolutely a game for hardcore Naruto fans only, with a story so front and center and completely inaccessible to outsiders that I have a hard time imagining anyone who hasn’t already been following along will glean any enjoyment out of this at all. With all of that being said, if you are invested and can follow along Full Burst tells a compelling tale all the way through, with the only questionable hiccups occurring near the very end of the game.
The game varies in quality depending on exactly what sort of fight the game throws at you, but there were parts I found genuinely enjoyable. The focus of the game is clearly on the story mode, and in the story mode you will either be taking part in big epic boss battles, frantic mob battles, or more traditional one on one fights. While the gameplay feels a bit uneven in each segment, the emphasis seems to be on the spectacle rather than actual complex and immersive gameplay. The very first encounter in the game throws you up against an enormous boss that is destroying buildings, and by leaping from one building to the next you can trigger some cutscenes that require you to press the correct button prompts. The actual gameplay really isn’t that impressive as it isn’t that much more complex than most quick time events, but the whole encounter is grand enough in scope that it still feels epic. All boss fights are like this, and while they could’ve used more creativity in terms of gameplay, the frantic energy they provide is a nice boost for the game. Mob battles play out a bit like most large scale brawlers, like the Dynasty Warriors series, although these too are fairly simple. More combos or moves or anything would’ve been great, because while everything looks impressive it ends up getting boring after a while.
I was, however, decidedly less excited about the actual one on one battles which are pretty much the meat of the game. You have your big epic boss battles or mob fights every once in a while, but for the most part the story is connected by a series of fights that are more reminiscent out of what would appear in a typical fighting game. While these retain some of the spectacle, for the most part they are fairly brainless in comparison to the more interesting battles in the game and to the fighting offered in various other fighting games. Mashing the attack button and dodging seems to work well for even the later fights, and as long as you have enough health and stat boosting items on hand, most of these encounters are fairly trivial. There are some other minor elements to the story that could’ve been interesting, like the free roaming segments and the ability to purchase items from store and equip them in battle to help customize what items you can use, but these things feels somewhat under utilized to really have much of an impact.
There is a versus mode outside of the story mode that allows for both local and online play, but honestly this is even less interesting than story mode. They did a bad job balancing the game, giving you large chunks of the roster that are either useless or completely overpowered. People online seem to use the same handful of fighters with the same basic strategy, making the encounters boring and predictable. Even taking these things out, the battles are simply not complex enough to hold anyone’s interest for a long stretch of time. You can choose from support characters, and their sudden appearance and attacks when triggered do add to the intensity and complexity of the battles. Still, these do more to enhance the spectacle of the fights than the actual substance behind them, and while they are a nice idea you don’t do much other than choosing when to have them come out and attack.
In terms of new stuff, Full Burst doesn’t really offer as much content as I was hoping for. There is a brand new chapter added to the story mode, and while it is fairly substantial and meaty, it doesn’t really add nearly enough to justify another look at this game if you’ve already finished it. Perhaps the best addition is the inclusion of 100 new missions, which is by far what I spent most of my time on in regards to new content. There is some real challenge here, and if there is any reason to look at this glorified DLC this is absolutely it. You also get your hands on 38 different costumes, which mean nothing to me, but are likely to appeal to someone that loves to dive into fan service. And then you get a whole one new character to use in the versus fights, which is actually just a variation of a character that you could already use. The playstyle is completely different so it isn’t like you’re just getting a new skin, but again it feels like versus takes a backseat to the other stuff as these minor additions are barely even worth mentioning.
I’m a bit confused as to who the target audience for this game is supposed to be. The huge focus on the story and insane amounts of fan service tell me this is for the hardest of hardcore Naruto fans, but surely if someone is that hardcore they already own Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 not full burst edition. These relatively minor additions make this game better suited as DLC (which it is and is available if you already own the previous edition) and a full release feels almost silly. There’s an interesting story here and it does a great job of creating a spectacle to watch during the battles, so if you are a huge Naruto fan but somehow managed to miss out on Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, then this is certainly worth a purchase. If you haven’t been fully committed to the series before now, however, this is a terrible point to jump aboard as there aren’t enough good features to attract non-fans of the show.
Version Reviewed: Xbox 360