Naruto has been one of the biggest anime and manga franchises in the last twenty years – offering up a Dragon Ball-esque tale that continues throughout the generations of the cast. Unlike Dragon Ball, things are split a bit more evenly with the father in Naruto getting his own series and then the son gets one named after him. It’s a unique franchise, though, with a ton of characters, combat and a blend of humor thrown in for good measure. Like Dragon Ball, the adventure generally does more for the characters than reaching the destination does and with it being a ninja-themed story, you can bet that a lot of battles ensue.
The games have been around since the GameCube and GBA games, with most focusing on fighting. The Ultimate Ninja games broadened the scope into a bit of world exploration mixed with fetch quests and fighting — offering up more things to do and early entries gave you a more open world to see and enjoy. Later entries offered up a more fighting-centric setup, with crazier battles as more fighters could join the fray. Seeing the franchise evolve not only allows you to get a feel for the fast pace of everything, but also see the characters grow as time goes on.
The scope of the storyline is huge — and that makes games based on the franchise difficult. Going with self-contained storylines may work out the best for newcomers, but does leave long-time fans disappointed as they usually want to play out iconic moments in the franchise. The Ultimate Ninja Storm games have found a nice middle-ground in the sense that they still let you have big moments from the franchise in a playable form, but also give you a lot more core content. For a manga-to-anime franchise, these may come off as the gaming equivalent of filler episodes — but it works for the medium.
What works in a character-driven drama may not work so well in action-heavy video game. The first Ultimate Ninja Storm game set out to build the world by having it be open to exploration, and that results in some of the most fun in the franchise. It’s a riot to just jump around from building to building and do nothing of real consequence to simply have fun and screw around. Naruto’s character isn’t usually serious – especially at the point in time the game takes place, so doing that isn’t just fun for the end user, it fits the narrative to some degree as well.
As time went on, this compilation allows you to see the progression of not only Naruto – but the rest of the cast. Naruto goes from being entirely fun-loving to now having more responsibility on his shoulders as a leader and eventually, father. Having all of the DLC included allows more of the cast to shine and brings you into the storyline more. You can’t just play the game to get caught up on all of the storyline – it would just be impossible outside of something like a visual novel, but you can get enough broad strokes to get a rough idea of things.
A visual novel may work for the narrative, but in an action-heavy series, it would be a death knell for its gaming side. Much like Dragon Ball, going with action is usually the best way to do things and fighters/brawlers are a natural fit. Since Naruto has such a large world in it, the in-game exploration fits things well and the battle system keeps things frantic. While this franchise may lack of the depth of something like Tekken or Virtua Fighter, for a game with both solo and team-based battles, it works well and the fast pace keeps your energy levels high. There is never a moment where you feel like you can get into a rhythm and destroy enemies. To some, this isn’t as fun because you’ve got an ever-present challenge, but it does force you to get better in real-time.
Failing to do so means that you will fail a ton – and that will really hurt you if you try and fight online. Online play would theoretically be a strong point of this compilation since it’s a fighter and that genre fits in easily online. However, actually finding an online game is nearly impossible and the player base is minuscule – so buying it for the online action isn’t recommended. As a narrative-based game with a lot of fighting in it, the collection shines brightly. Having additional content in it that allows to replay the events of full movies is cool too – and these are probably the best ways for veteran fans to welcome newcomers into the franchise.
Having something that can act as a bridge between those two very distinct audiences is important and allows new fans to avoid feeling like they’re left out in the cold. Being able to have a jumping off point works well, and if it’s in an established genre like this series it, it can make becoming a fan that much easier since it’s in an easier to digest format than a giant wall of text explaining the characters. Showing and not telling works best in that scenario, and this series does a fine job of letting you know the players and learn their place in the world without a giant exposition dump. This franchise is outstanding when it comes to explaining the major goings-on while still making sure the core fighting action is solid.
Ultimate Ninja Storm Legacy is a pricey compilation at $80, but is still something that both newcomers to the series and veterans will get a lot out of. Having the entire franchise available in one package is nice and allows players to go through the games at their own pace. Veterans will enjoy playing through events they maybe haven’t seen in the anime in many years, while newcomers can enjoy everything for the first time and hopefully not be too lost in the sauce when it comes to the storyline. The best overall way for someone new to enjoy it is to probably buy it with a long-term fan and then pay half — then split off the games to see which ones each player would get the most out of initially. It’s a solid compilation and it offering up all of the DLC makes it feel like the definitive experience for the franchise.