Saturday, January 19, 2013
Review: Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm
Fuck me, there are so many Naruto games out there that it's hard to figure out where to start. More to the point, it's hard to figure out which ones are actually worth buying, because a lot of them are pretty similar. Well, you could just buy all of them because unlike with Dragon Ball Z, there aren't any outright stinkers or anything like Budokai 2 and Legacy Of Goku 1; just some outright mediocre games and som good games. Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm, fits comfortably in the mediocre section mainly because of some oddball mechanics and decisions that just make me wonder what was in the air at CyberConnect headquarters that day.
If you don't know the story of Naruto, it goes a little something like this – 12 years ago, a powerful demonic nine tailed fox was on the loose, ready to unleash hell. Fortunately, the fourth Hokage was there to subdue it and seal it inside a newborn baby. So 12 years later, that newborn baby has grown into Naruto, the hyperactive knuckleheaded ninja to end all hyperactive knuckleheads. He manages to graduate from the academy and becomes a certified ninja... a low ranked one, but it'll do for now. From there, he goes out on missions with his teammates, but something up in the air smells funny as there's evil afoot. Ah well, he and the rest of squad 7 – Sasuke, Sakura and their leader, the ever so badass Kakashi – as well as other characters this game doesn't give a shit about (don't worry, Shippuden in general doesn't either) are on the case!
Now, the problem the anime suffers from in terms of storytelling is the overuse (almost self-indulgent usage) of flashbacks and monologuing, which doesn't necessarily make it unwatchable but it does slow things down considerably and does feel heavy handed more often than not; this game does the exact opposite by condensing it so much that you pretty much have to have watched the show before you can give two shits about what's going on in this game. To put it simply, it's just text that gives a basic description of what's happening. Outside of the last battles of each arc, there are no cutscenes to get you into it. Why? The older games had cutscenes and they were on fucking DVDs – this is blu ray, motherfucker; it can store five times as much data. I might also add that this game cuts out one arc entirely. It doesn't seem like a big deal because it does have the other major arcs, but this particular arc was meant to help set the mood not only for our fledgling ninjas but also the viewers – that is to say, being a ninja isn't all that glamorous and that there's plenty of hardships to endure, like being treated as a weapon and witnessing the deaths of your comrades. It's clear that this feels more like a cash in than a legitimate effort and the excuse of there being millions of Naruto games to play instead is at moot point because this is the first one to be on the PS3. Not everybody who owns a PS3 also owns a PS2. Even if they do, this could very well be their first game!
It's also indictive of the amount of effort put into this game, which is split into four different styles – a sandbox-y overworld, fighting, jumping through trees and running up trees. Getting this out of the way, the latter two styles are fucking terrible. When you're tasked with jumping from branch to branch, the idea is to avoid branches that stick up vertically while trying to touch the shoe icon so you'll blitz through the forest faster. Usually, you'll either need to go a certain distance or try and catch something like a dog or a small toad. Each of these segments are interchangable and not even all that interesting to begin with. I get that that's how they travel in forests, but come on, this doesn't need to be in a game unless it's a platformer or if it was a hell of a lot better developed.
When it comes to running up trees, you just need to avoid trunks that stick up out of the ground and get to the top of the tree. Not only are the shoes here to help you run fast, but you can also get access to techniques that'll either let you through trunks for a limited period of time or items that you leave behind, hoping that opponents (if any) will run into them and set off an explosion. I don't even know why this was put into the game – in the anime, it was just an exercise that Naruto did because he had to learn how to control his Chakra (source of energy to perform special techniques known as Jutsu) before they had to fight one of the bad guys. Here though? Oh wait, that arc was cut out of this game! So really, it's a classic case of variety for the sake of variety because they had no confidence in the sandbox and fighting segments! I might also add that each of the arcs are split into parts, and each part cosists of either tree jumping, tree running or fighting. The last arc does cut down on that, but you pretty much fight this one guy as four different characters before the big match that pretty much ends the original series (it mercifully doesn't cover the filler arcs).
But then, I can't really blame them for having no confidence in the sandbox segment – it isn't really that well developed. You don't really interact with any of the buildings here, nor do you have anything else to do besides main and side missions. There's literally fuck all to do in the village besides collect scrolls to purchase items for battle and some support moves. Said support moves can be useful in battle if used correctly, but the problem is that not a lot of main missions even give you the option of having support characters. Side missions do quite a bit, but... well, let me put it this way – to access a side mission, you have to find somebody in the village, talk to them, open up the mission menu and select that mission, and then you have to find that person in the village and talk to them to initiate it. Main missions, though? Eh, you can just open up the mission menu and select them... it's like “why bother” unless you want to get the side missions done.
Then you start fighting and... man, what's this feeling I'm having? Is it... is it fun? Is it the feeling of knowing I'm not just wasting my fucking time with underdeveloped and unneeded dog shit? Yes, yes and – you better believe it – yes! Unlike the older games which were on a 2D plane, this one is on a 3D plane, meaning you can make full use of a circular arena. But that's just the beginning. Fighting seems to be simple as you have a a jump button, an attack buton, a button that either charges Chakra or lets you use a special attack when you press it and the attack button right afterwards, a blocking button (which is also a makeshift dodge button if you press it just as you're about to get hit), a button that unleashes a few shurikens (ninja stars) and two support character buttons, but you also have to keep in mind your support characters which can, if used at the right time, set an opponent up for a combo attack and/or just fuck them up. Before battle, you can select what support attack they can use, which range from combos to one strong attack. If you have the right attacks and the right timing, you could turn a potentially losing battle into a winning one! That's really about as complicated as it gets because beyond that, a string of attacks with only two Jutsu at your disposal is all you have. Speaking of which, you have one Jutsu that's like a more powerful attack, and another that's really powerful, but using the stronger Jutsu of the two will then result in a button pressing duel. Basically, you press more buttons that appear on screen than your opponent does in order to pull it off for massive damage. If the defender presses more buttons though, they can simply dodge your attack and you've just used up half your maximum Chakra.
It might not sound like a big deal because you'll be like “oh well I can just recharge my Chakra”. Well, opponents have a tendency to jump around a lot and fire rounds of shurikens, only running in for a combo attack every now and again. Shurikens are weak as piss, but they can interupt you if you're charging up your Chakra, and the same thing applies to your opponents, so a jumping shuriken barrage tends to be a good way to interupt their Chakra flow whilst staying on the move. It's a matter of picking the right time to charge it up, and thankfully, it also charges up if you land hits on them. Really though, fighting is pretty simple, but unlike everything else in this game, it's the good kind of simple – the kind that's easy to pick up and play because it's not only simple, but it's also fun. It's easy to learn and the earlier fights are easy enough to let you learn the ropes, and as you get further and deal with tougher opponents who move around more often and make smarter usage of Jutsu and support attacks, you're prepared enough to take them down (if not lose at least once).
But hey, CyberConnect had something good going on here, so what's the catch? Oh not much, just conditions that sound more like an arbitrary means of making shit harder than it has any right to be. This is found more in the side missions, though it does sneak into some of the main missions (and I'm not just talking about the optional conditions either). These include “use Jutsu 3 times”, “get a 15 hit combo” and “use support characters 4 times”. I suppose some of these can make things more interesting/challenging and some of the others can at least force some experimentation, but really, it just feels like a cop out because they can't come up with different AI for individual fighters and/or different fights.
The game looks pretty good though. The cel shading gives you the feeling that you're playing key fights in the anime as it's all bright and colorful, although the 3D animation pretty much buttrapes the substandard 2D animation often found in the series as it flows like a calm downstream river (that, and they actually fight for more than 10 seconds at a time without yanking the animation budget because IT'S EXPOSITION/EXPLANATION TIME). There isn't much else to really say about the graphics besides the fact that at least there's authenticity – yeah, I remember them doing this fight in this forest or inside an arena. Still looks pretty good, which is what matters the most.
Now, one thing I absolutely love about the anime is the music. It was either upbeat, suspenseful, blood pumping or even sad when the scene calls for it. The game, on the other hand, seems to have this stock music that doesn't pump you up. It sounds more like elevator music. Oh, and while the anime's music is catchier than a cold, I'd be hard pressed to remember even a 2 second loop of any given song from this soundtrack. The voice acting is at least faithful to the anime as they seem to have each characters' actors/actresses – too bad there aren't many opportunities to utilize them because the story is told mostly in text format.
Bottom line: There's so much superflous bullshit in Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm that it makes you wonder if they were confident enough in the overall design of the game. A lot of what you're given is hideously basic, underdeveloped and a general waste of time. The story was hastily retold so that it could give context to everything you do in this game, but it might as well have just said “Naruto is fighting Gaara, believe it” and it'd give just as much information to you as each beginning mission text does. Despite my constant bitching though, the fighting is fun to do and it is pretty well executed. Really, it's just bogged down by all this filler content that you just wish would be better developed and flow more cohesively with everything else, or at the very least, be something resembling fun or even worth your time.
6/10 (Above Average)