The massively popular Naruto anime and manga series has spawned numerous video game adaptations, but there’s something that gives Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 (Naruto Shippuden UNS 4 as I will be abbreviating it to from now on) a slight edge over its predecessors. This is the first Naruto game to grace the next generation of consoles, surely opening up a world of possibilities for the developers, CyberConnect2. With almost nothing holding them back, could we see Naruto Shippuden UNS 4 being the greatest version of the Ultimate Ninja Storm fighting series?
From the outset, it’s worth pointing out that the fighting in Naruto Shippuden UNS 4 is probably going to be slightly confusing to grasp at first. Although the main attacks are instigated using just the B button, you’ll be using buttons all over the controller in what is often the fastest paced battles in the genre. Players can unleash powerful Ninjutsu moves that often look amazing, using energy called Chakra, and not only can you perform standard guard blocks, but if a swift getaway is needed from a barrage of attacks then it can be done via Substitution Jutsu. Are you with me? Don’t worry, it’s taken me a couple of Naruto video games to understand it fully, however if you’re willing to give it a go then it becomes clearer with practice.
There are two standard types of fights across all the modes; single and team matches. One of the newest features comes in the team battles, where up to two other characters can support you if needed. Now, you can actually switch your main character out for a supporting one which is handy if you decide the latter has better attack prowess, although they’ll all share the same health bar.
Now you know the basics, the sheer presence of a ‘Story’ mode would make that the best mode to begin with. I don’t want to spoil any major plot points, just in case you’re not up to date, but it aims to cover the latter story arcs of the Naruto journey. The narrative carries on from the previous Ultimate Ninja Storm instalment; here the masked man ‘Tobi’ is the initial protagonist, however he isn’t the only villain you’ll encounter.
Naruto Uzumaki is the focal point of the series as he’s always on the frontline, ready to risk his life for his comrades to try to eliminate any and all threats to the ninja world. Fortunately, to avoid repetitiveness, the developers have managed to tell plenty of stories, both past and present of several characters associated with Naruto such as Sasuke, Kakashi and the origins of certain enemies. Therefore, across the 22 main missions there’s plenty of variety to keep proceedings pleasantly ticking along.
You’ll be able to spend a good ten hours at least playing through all the main missions and the couple of side missions included too. Participating in one versus one fights over and over again in any fighting game could easily become samey; however not in this ‘Story’ mode. Mission types come in four different forms to help avoid such monotony – Free Battles, Boss Battles, Mob Battles and Dramatic Battles. In one mission you could be taking on a mob of clones, destroying them all single-handedly – which is extremely satisfying – whilst in the next mission it’ll have you in Tailed Beast form trying to annihilate a massive boss, blasting it as much as possible. The only drawback comes in the slight input issues during Quick Time Events, where buttons sometimes don’t register or seem delayed; not that it affects an awful lot.
This is where I spent the majority of my playtime because, despite not being the most clued up Naruto fan, I wanted to learn more about the great ninja and how these battles came to fruition. The storytelling, which was comprised of stills from the anime and a plethora of action scenes that were created using the game’s own character models, was absolutely enthralling. There are so many cut scenes of varying length that have been voiced greatly; the ‘Story’ mode is quite frankly brilliant.
Even if you aren’t the best fighter, it’ll allow you to be resurrected with either greater attack or defence whilst the enemy will be stuck having the same amount as health as when you were defeated. You can say goodbye to gaining an S Rank for your performance though; you’ll need to not die nor lose much health and be alert for the occasional QTEs to ensure the highest battle ratings are achieved. That’s something that offers a bit of replayability to the missions.
For those wanting to prolong the adventure after the final battle without replaying the same events, then the appropriately named ‘Adventure’ mode can offer a little bit extra. There aren’t nearly as many action packed cutscenes but you’ll at least be able to follow a short story involving Naruto, Sakura and Hinata. Although the mode itself is a roaming type, where you can travel all around the ninja world to places like the Hidden Leaf Village and Hidden Sand Village via fast travel, the most interesting part is the mission based tale included. It doesn’t last long though and any battles that occur are based on flashbacks recalled by our trio of characters.
Other than that, there are various side missions that aren’t overly exciting and a series of memory fragments to discover, which enable players to participate in even more classic battles from yesteryear. It’s not nearly as engaging as the ‘Story’ mode, but offers additional objectives to perform and for fans that remember the battles from watching the anime or reading manga, they’ll be able to reminisce over the historical clashes.
I’ve been praising Naruto Shippuden UNS 4 so far and rightly so, but I’m going to have to pull the developers up for a serious problem. The online side is absolutely appalling, despite offering various 1vs1 modes such as Ranked, Tournament, League etc. And why is that? Because it doesn’t work! Not once have I been able to get a match via searching, nor have any friends been able to join my private sessions, rendering the whole Online Battle mode pointless and useless. People will want to test their skills against the best ninja across the globe and it’s just not possible from my experience.
At least the offline Free Battle will provide a spot of localised battling against the A.I. or a couple of pals in the same room as you. It gives players the best opportunity to try out all their favourite heroes and villains from a roster that easily consists of over 100 characters, with a few duplicates of some in different stages of their life. Whether that’s in a one-off single match or a knockout tournament featuring up to eight players, it’s up to you. Survival mode provides the biggest test; having to play smart and not lose much health, whilst getting a win to move onto the next opponent really pushes your skills to the limit.
I personally don’t enjoy partaking in battles against the A.I. without purpose nor consequence, but for those who do, the vast character roster gets a chance to shine. Various treasures are earned throughout the many modes and therefore could be seen as a reason to fight the computer over and over again, however the ‘collectibles’ they can be traded in for aren’t worth the effort.
There’s an entire area dedicated to a Collection of these so called collectibles, yet they lack any real excitement to encourage me into desiring them all. With the correct amount of treasures and Ryo, the in-game currency, you can unlock different things that have no bearing on a fight; they are purely aesthetic or audio additions. For example, I can collect new titles or pictures to put on my Ninja info card for everyone online to see or grab myself a new voiceover. Yawn.
I’d have been absolutely convinced this was the best Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja game so far, if not for the complete let down of the online play. Should you be able to overlook that then there’s a great game here in Naruto Shippuden UNS 4, full of fluid fighting mechanics, exciting pace and a series of cutscenes displaying emotive situations of love, betrayal and corruption. The huge roster should ensure the well seasoned veterans can switch up their play and keeps things fresh for longer.
I can only recommend that fans of the Naruto anime and manga series pick Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 up, there’s an incredible amount of love gone into the design and gameplay. For anyone else, it depends on your determination to learn a whole load of alien terms and whether you can handle frantic yet strategic battles.
It’s just a shame I can’t enjoy the experience with others around the globe…