Review: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is the sequel to Cyberconnect 2's surprise hit Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm, which was a fantastic spectacle for the PlayStation 3. This game takes the series to its Shippuden story arc, adds online play and presents a new story mode. Does it succeed its predecessor?
- Worth The Time?Yes, definitely to any fan of the anime.
- Things LovedThe fast-paced and exciting gameplay, the jaw-dropping eyeball-explodingly spectacular visuals, the epic boss battles, the addition of online play.
- Things HatedThe massively tedious beginning to the main story mode and the utterly boring missions, the fact that it takes quite a while before you unlock the great characters, the frustrating and frequent loading screens, the slow speed at which you traverse the game world.
- RecommendationIf you're a real big fan of the anime, and especially if you loved the original title, then Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is a must-have title, despite it remaining largely the same to its predecessor. It might be best to wait for a price drop because of this, but any die hard fan will not regret buying this.
- Name: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2
- Genre: Fighting
- Players: 1-2
- Multiplayer: Online (2 players)
- Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer: CyberConnect 2
- Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
- Price: R546-599
- Reviewed On: PS3
Perhaps it would be best to clear the air now and reveal to you that I’m, in fact, a large fan of Naruto, and that I also very much enjoyed the original Storm title on PS3 back when it released. I bring this to your attention so that you can rest easy knowing that I’m no stranger to the game or anime in question. With that out of the way, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is the follow up to 2008’s Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm, once again putting you in control of your favourite anime brand of ninjas to battle it out with. Ultimate Ninja Storm 2’s single-player mode takes players through the Shippuden story arc of the anime TV show, right from the beginning of the story until the end of the Pain saga, which is 175 episodes in the anime. It’s undoubtedly the full Shippuden package, and capturing virtually the entire TV show’s progress in episodes in a single game is definitely a very impressive feat.
The story mode has undergone a great many changes since the first game, in terms of how you play it. Instead of having only the Hidden Leaf Village, Konoha, as your playground like before, you’ll now be traversing the Naruto world on foot, visiting all of the popular locations from the anime, such as the Training Field, Hidden Sand Village, Tenchi Bridge, Uchiha Hideout and so on – you get the idea. As you’d expect, all of these locations become accessible as the story unfolds and requires you to be there, and you’ll control a variety of main characters throughout the game, other than Naruto, depending on the story situation. The structure of the game is relatively simple. You’ll take missions from quest givers in the various areas – often the Fifth Hokage Tsunade for main missions – and then you’ll run to the area to carry it out. You’ll get to talk to random NPCs and main characters scattered around the world, collect materials found everywhere which are used to create items and weapons for battle, and visit shops to buy stuff.
However, there is not much to do while traversing the game world other than run and jump, which makes travelling everywhere on foot a mission itself. In the original game, Konoha really was your playground, and you were able to explore freely, scale rooftops, throw shruiken, speed through the village with Chakra dashes, use Kage Bunshin clones to throw Naruto like a cannon to move across large distances and hunt for collectibles. It was all great fun and provoked exploration and jerking around. In Storm 2, all of that is lost, and what you’re left with are dozens of small, constricted mini areas that divide major environments up. It’s understandable that the world is much larger this time around and is not restricted to one village, but unfortunately between you and all these mini areas are an endless supply of minute load times, which only makes the experience more irritating, especially when you take into consideration the slow speed at which you move. As you play, it seemingly becomes evident that aside from giving you beautiful environments to look at, traversing the world only serves to prolong game time, reducing the speed at which you progress through the story.
The story mode is packed with tedious and boring missions, more so in the first few hours of the game than anywhere else, and it takes the game quite a while to really begin revealing what makes it great. It practically goes without saying that what fans want to do more than anything else is fight with their favourite characters and relive the epic fights from the anime, but firstly the game seemingly only begins to understand this much later, as though it’s afraid to show how spectacular it can be, and secondly it’s very disheartening that it takes so long to unlock all of the awesome characters, because once you do the game becomes a lot more enjoyable. What’s great though is that you’re able to unlock game content, including characters, by acquiring Storm Points outside of the story mode, such as in Free Battle against the computer or a friend. Even though this method takes a lot longer to rack up points compared to the main story, it’s good to know that you aren’t obligated to play through the entire story mode to get what you want.
There are also many extra things to do in the story mode, such as use money you’ve earned to purchase items and special content for your Collection, which includes videos of Ultra Jutsus featured in the game, cutscenes and profile cards for your online rap sheet. These are viewed in the main menu via the Collections option, but what’s annoying is that there are loading screens surrounding navigating and viewing the content here. You’re also able to unlock titles that tie in with in-game achievements and Storm Points earned, but these are mostly arbitrary and contain no sense of real achievement. In the story mode there is also a friendship system with the main characters of the Naruto universe, where increasing your friendship rating, up to a maximum of five, can unlock special events, but these aren’t essential, and mostly boil down to buying five costly gifts to max out ratings with characters and replying positively to entertaining letters they send you during the game. It’s nice, and can be comical, but doesn’t add much value to the experience.
Once the game begins to pick up in the story mode, it really begins to shine, and Cyberconnect definitely deserve massive amounts of credit for how well they’ve replicated the Shippuden story in their game and how epic they’ve made it. It’s blatantly evident that many of the big battles were altered to make room for fan service, but it’s hard to object when it all just looks so incredible visually. Naturally the amazing boss battles stand out, especially the later ones such as Four-Tailed Naruto versus Orochimaru, Sasuke against Itachi and Jiraya versus Pain, but it’s just a shame that it takes so long to get to them and you have to go through so many boring missions before you do. On the note of things being long, the loading times in the game are questionable, because while they aren’t unbearably long, they’re extremely frequent, despite having to install the game to your hard drive during a lengthy, initial setup process. You’ll experience brief loads in between cutscenes, when travelling to different areas or accessing the Collections option in the menu and, of course, when starting a battle. It can often become too much and too annoying, and just feels unnecessary.
Moving away from the roller coaster story experience, the gameplay is virtually identical to the first game and it’s still as fluid and fantastic as ever, but it has also experienced a variety of alterations. Unfortunately, not all of them are good. Core changes include player health being reduced to two bars instead of three, and Ultimate Jutsu losing their mini games to determine whether they’ll be a hit or miss. Instead, Ultimate Jutsu are all in real time, and if you’re hit by the initial attack the move will carry out, whereas missing will reduce chakra and, depending on your character, leave you vulnerable for a second or two. It’s great because it adds a lot more flow to the combat, and gives players a more fair chance in battle as opposed to being unable to land an ultimate because your opponent was simply better at the mini games. The ability to chakra back dash has been added, for getting out of dangerous situations, and changes have been made to jutsus, in that some can be used in the air or charged for completely different results.
In Storm 2 you can select either Single Battle or Team Battle when versing the computer or your friends, and the latter is basically where you’re able to choose two support characters to help you in battle, while the former leaves you on your own. The support system has been modified, and it’s mostly for the better. Support characters have more involvement within the battle than before, and are now divided into three types, namely attack, guard and balanced. These three types will determine the behaviour of your team members not only when you summon them, but also when they act on their own accord. For example, if a dangerous attack is coming your way, like an Ultimate Jutsu, and you have a defensive support character, he or she will appear to take the hit for you, and this will put them out of action for a while. It’s a healthy step forward for the system and works really well in the game, making fights all the more exciting.
Furthermore, the more you use your support characters, the more your “Driver Gauge” builds up, which has two levels. Once it reaches level one, your support characters will do things like add in an extra hit to knock-back moves and throw power shruikens whenever you do. Reaching level two allows you to perform an Ultimate Team Jutsu, where pressing the chakra button three times and hitting your opponent with the initial attack will have your two support characters perform a combo that ends with your Ultimate Jutsu, and this does a large amount of damage if you manage to hit. Overall, the support system has been improved for the most part, and it’s a lot more fun to engage in Team Battles.
The Awakening gameplay feature, where characters can charge up and become more powerful for a short period of time if they reach low health, has also been modified. It’s been given great changes, in that it now has various pros and cons. The first and obvious pro is gaining a huge power boost, that sometimes even changes your character’s moveset and playstyle entirely – like with the case of Sasuke unleashing his curse seal, or Naruto turning into the Four-Tailed Kyuubi. In Storm 2 you now also can’t be the target of throws or Ultimate Jutsu while you’re Awakened, which means your opponent has to resort to evasive tactics and safe play. However, the cons include being unable to use any items, your support characters or your Ultimate Jutsu, and once Awakening mode expires you’ll be in a weakened state for a short time. It’s a great system, and allows you to really experience the Naruto characters’ evolved states.
However, the problem with it is that one would think these pros and cons would balance it out, but this only brings me to the point of Storm 2 being very unbalanced overall. I understand that it’s a fighting game made purely for fans and for fun, and being hectically skillful or technical wasn’t the idea for the game, but some Awakening modes manage to feel broken and way overpowered, whereas others are just plain useless. The same thing applies when factoring out Awakening mode, in that many characters have it easy while others have disadvantages that are just plain curious and irritating, such as having easily punishable and delayed throws and moves. It’s logical to assume that the main and popular characters would be given all of the attention and power, but the game is also inconsistent. It’s frustrating when a side character like Temari of the Sand Village is powerful and fun, while Ino is so useless you wonder why she was put in the game at all.
Perhaps the most saddening thing about Storm 2 is that, in a number of ways, it feels limited compared to the original. In the first game, each character had multiple jutsus to choose from in the character selection screen, and these same jutsus could be selected when picking your support characters. This added great variety to the game as well as a more tactical feel to each battle, allowing you the freedom to try out various combinations in order to string together working, fun and dangerous teams. In Storm 2, characters have only one jutsu, and very few characters, most notably Naruto and Sasuke, can unlock an extra Ultimate Jutsu. It’s very disappointing, but can be fixed somewhat by the impressive amount of awesome and fun characters featured in the roster, and the addition of Tekken 6’s Lars Alexanderson is welcome.
A notable addition to Storm 2 is the ability to play online. It’s a very simple ordeal, where you’re able to play either a Ranked Match or a Player Match, or you can create your own game. The former has you fighting opponents around the world for Battle Points, where winning will increase your points while losing will decrease them. Earn enough points, and you’ll gain a rank. On the other hand, Player Matches are simply free battles that do not take rank into account, so you’ll be able to play as many as you want until you’re comfortable with raising the stakes. It’s all pretty standard, and if you have a group of friends who own this game, you’ll easily be able to work something out or simply enjoy versing each other.
When it comes to graphics, Storm 2 does anything but disappoint. It can only be said that the overall visuals, level of detail and special effects are quite simply phenomenal, and will leave your jaw hanging on a number of spectacular occasions. The characters all look perfect and the animation is fluid and amazing, making cutscenes and fights a dream to watch and play. The fighting stages all look amazing as well, but are pretty bland for the most part, and don’t have any impact on gameplay. One of the game’s most awesome highlights is undoubtedly its music. The sound tracks featured in the main story and fighting stages are so incredibly epic that blame can’t be given to anyone who’d pick up the game and play simply to listen to its music. All in all, when it comes to graphics and audio, Storm 2 is close to perfection.
Naruto: Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is a healthy step forward for the series, but is also an unfortunate step backwards. Still, the game is any fan’s dream and is undoubtedly as fun and enjoyable as ever. It’s just unfortunate that it all begins so slowly and it takes so long to get to what makes this game truly great. But if you’re one of those die hard Naruto fans, and especially if you loved the original title, then us being critical about this game shouldn’t matter to you and there will ultimately be no regret in making this purchase.