After playing so many Naruto games, I was glad Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 didn’t rehash the Kazekage Rescue arc. While the game starts at the very beginning of the series with the Nine-Tails attacking Konoha, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 quickly skips to the Five Kage Summit arc. Ultimate Adventure mode retells the Shippuden saga through cutscenes with the occasional battle or field running event every couple of minutes.
You will spend more time watching the adventure than playing it, but CyberConnect2 treats the series with such care it’s enjoyable even if you know what happens next. Oh, and if you’re just jumping into Naruto and are puzzled when the word "Jinchuriki" shows up don’t start with Ultimate Ninja Storm 3. This game expects players have been following the anime or manga at least up to Pain’s arc. And if you have been keeping up with Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 goes up to the Shinobi World War plot, one of the best arcs in the series. There are touching moments when Naruto learns about his origins and a surprise (for some?) villain. The only thing that bugged me about the story how it ended on a cliffhanger, but given where the anime is now CyberConnect2 probably didn’t have a choice. If you just want to move from one fight to the next you can skip all of the cutscenes. Usually it’s three or four skips to get to jump to the next action sequence.
The majority of the gameplay tweaks in Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 show up in the game’s single player mode. Ultimate Decision lets players decide if they want harder or easier fights. When Naruto fights the Nine-Tails he can either get help from Killer Bee or challenge the demon fox on his own. Going the harder route grants players more Legend points, which unlocks more slots on the item palette for useful ninja tools. The easier path rewards players with hero points that… also expand the item palette but only for basic ninja tools. You can purchase ninja tools from shopkeepers who always seem to be at the right place, but you need to find blueprints to make the best tools.
Using items like explosive tags are really a novelty. Even the toughest battles can be won with your fists and ninjutsu. The only real reason you need money (called ryo in the game) is to stock up on bentos, items that restore your life and give you an attack/speed/defense boost before battle. Healing yourself before a bout in a fighting game is an unnecessary step too and I suppose players can get stuck in a situation where you’re fighting a boss with less than a 1/3 of your life and no bentos. CyberConnect2 also added mob battles similar to Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Impact. These Dynasty Warriors-like areas seal a character in with a group of brainless enemies to pummel. On top of your usual combos, you can counterattack with by pressing X at the right time and do God of War style finishers to eliminate weakened enemies. Adding these in makes sense with storyline since the White Zetsu Army is an important part of the arc, but these battles feel like a chore.
The larger-than-life boss battles missing from Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations are back for Ultimate Ninja Storm 3. You start the game fighting the Nine-Tails by leaping on rooftops with the Third Hokage. Later, Naruto will face the demon fox inside him too during a heartfelt battle. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 has a fantastic final fight too. Boss battles end with one long QTE sequence, but CyberConnect2 makes these events feel epic. After you complete story mode you can run around a 3D rendered Konoha village and do fetch quests. If you are the type of person that likes collecting stuff, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 has tons of digital trinkets like ninja cards to unlock. Personally, I prefer fighting so like a missing-nin I bowed out of Konoha and went straight to versus mode after finishing story mode.
Now might be a good time to mention load times because Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 loads fights slower than Gaara’s walking speed. Installing the game helps, but Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is still sluggish. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is still a flashy fighter with simple to learn combos just like other games in the series. Every ninja has the same basic moves – an attack, chakra charge, ninja tools they can throw, a chakra infused dash/backstep, and replacement technique to escape combos. While the commands are the same, it’s signature ninjutsu techniques that make Rock Lee different from say Kakashi.
The replacement jutsu meter introduced in Generations is in Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, which gives players at maximum of four vanishing acts before they have to wait for the meter to replacement jutsu meter to refill. Ring outs and a change to the awakening system are the main differences in this game. Instead of waiting until they lost 50% of their health, most characters can activate an awakening right away. Awakenings super charge characters by granting Sasuke Susanoo, for example, or making Choji go into butterfly mode. These buffs only last a few seconds and after an awakening expires your character is temporarily weakened. While activating an awakening doesn’t guarantee victory, it’s an overly powerful ability.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm has always tilted towards beatdown characters, the kinds of fighters that relentlessly pummel the other player. There are a few zoning characters that can play keep away like Tenten and Dediara, but the chakra dash reduces their effectiveness. I think battles really come down to whoever has more replacement jutsu bars left because once that meter runs out it’s pretty hard to avoid attacks.
CyberConnect2 has a handful of pre-time skip characters so you can pair young Shikamaru with reincarnated Asuma. Kimimaro, Obito and Young Kakashi are playable in the game too. What’s disappointing is there are characters you fight in Ultimate Adventure mode like the reincarnated Kages, but they aren’t playable. I guess CyberConnect2 has to save something for the inevitable sequel. Next time around, I hope we’ll be able to earn ninjutsu attacks to customize characters similar to the PS2 games instead of earning useless ninja tools. That would give the game more options for different play styles and evolve the game’s mechanics from chakra backdashing and replacement jutsu timing.