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RELEASE DATE (NA): September 25, 2017 GENRE: Beat-'em-up
// review by EscapeRouteBritish

Taking the anime world by Storm.

I'm one of these folks with a real love-hate relationship when it comes to Masashi Kishimoto's NARUTO franchise. The characters and the world are so endearing, while the fights and techniques are an absolute spectacle. It's a world you'd just love to live in, even for just one day. Despite the excellent source material, the animated show is riddled with so much filler that it's borderline unwatchable. The NARUTO series tends to lend itself to games much better, especially the excellent Naruto Ultimate Ninja series on PlayStation 2, high-speed brawlers loaded with unlockables and secrets to discover. The next video game series from the same developer, CyberConnect2, Ultimate Ninja STORM takes the sideways combat of the Ultimate Ninja series and turns it around into a fully 3D fighting game. It's kind of difficult to play at first, but once you get the hang of it, STORM really is the next step for the franchise.

Almost ten years on, I have finally gotten around to giving this game a go. Instead of the PlayStation 3 version, I'm playing the 2017 PC port, which isn't the best optimized of Bandai Namco's PC offerings, not by a long shot. There are framerate issues for me if I turn on any post-processing effects, whereas other Steam users have experienced slowdown with different settings enabled. It's really hard to say what will cause the game to run slowly on your PC, but there are community guides available to mitigate some of those issues. Of course, it would have been better if Bandai Namco had sought to fix these issues themselves, but they're not stupid — why waste their time when they know fans will make patches for free? It's a sad state of affairs, really.

He sure likes turning red often.

NARUTO: Ultimate Ninja STORM has one major gameplay mode, the Ultimate Mission Mode. This is a free-roaming adventure mode set within the idyllic ninja village of Konoha. As Naruto, you can run and jump around like a grasshopper with a caffeine addiction, collect hidden scrolls that can be exchanged for new "Jutsu", cook various concerning types of ramen to increase your maximum "Chakra", and do various other totally not grindy things. (Except they are, totally, grindy.) From the pause menu, you can access story and side missions, which yield collectables, money and mission experience. If you've played Saints Row 2 or the original, think back to how you needed experience points to access the next mission — it's the same here. This stops you from just blasting through the story and encourages you to take part in side activities.

The main story missions often lack cutscenes or preamble, sticking to a basic text dump of the story so far. This is the one "ultimate ninja criticism" I have with NARUTO: Ultimate Ninja STORM. It simply does NOT explain what is going on. This game expects you to be a fan of the series in order to follow what is happening, unlike later games in the series which are so in-depth it's no different to watching the show. The sequels go into incredible detail; unfortunately, STORM 1 does not. The story missions are usually some form of fight between pre-set characters with certain moves; the game, however, also likes to throw in tree climbing, racing, and other irritating activities to pad out the total playtime.

There's no denying it as you're playing — this game intentionally pads itself out with sidequests and repeated sections as if to avoid having to put work into any of the story elements themselves. The extra missions are even worse - these require you to finish a fight with further conditions, like hitting an enemy while they are on the floor a certain number of times, or reaching a 20-hit combo. (These challenges can get especially brutal when you need to finish them with a particular number of combos AND fill up the Storm gauge. The game never even explained to me what the hell the Storm gauge even IS.) Later missions require you to complete up to five battles in a row, each with their own victory conditions.

Naruto: Obnoxious Overfeeding Grandma Simulator

Everything that this title does in terms of an open-world Naruto experience has already been done by Ubisoft Montreal's far better Naruto: Rise Of A Ninja. Yes, a Canadian-developed NARUTO title, eh. The open world is more enjoyable to traverse, and the side activities could even be loosely described as fun! It's a stark contrast to STORM's scroll collecting, tree climbing, and racing more stale than last week's bread. I believe that the mission mode featured in STORM was in direct response to Rise Of A Ninja's open-world focus. If there is any company that knows how to make an open world, fill it with the same crap every five seconds, and somehow make it not boring, then it's Ubisoft, right?

The core combat of Ultimate Ninja STORM is perhaps the game's biggest strength, and the "Giant" battles such as the amazing three-way fight between Katsuyu, Manda, and Gamabunta. There are times when it's pretty clear that CyberConnect2 actually cared about the NARUTO franchise and about creating a game worthy of the "Ultimate" moniker. But these moments are few and far between, and kept only for the most iconic and important of battles. Thankfully, the following games in the STORM series focus more and more on the spectacle of the fights, and provide a greater deal of story content.

My recommendation of NARUTO: Ultimate Ninja STORM relies almost entirely on whether you are someone who watched NARUTO back in its heyday and want something mindless and grindy to sink your teeth into. If that is not what you are after, pick up the series from STORM 2 instead to enjoy a more story-driven and polished experience.

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