Having never played the previous Ninja Storm games, Number 4 tells an abridged version of the manga (and anime). For people who have never followed Naruto before, this is a quick and dirty way of catching up to the entire series, but the story given in the main mode is highly pruned and streamlined to the bare essentials. There are a lot of gorgeous cutscenes that carry the story well enough, and the well acted English AND Japanese voices add to the story. However, if you are a casual fan or one who barely dabbles in the series, this game isn’t necessarily the best starting point for you.Bare essentials means, well, bare essentials. There’s a lot of back and forth and a lot of lost side plots as the game attempts to be the Ultimate Ninja Storm wrap up. This is also the fourth and final game in the series, so it does start off from where the last one ended. The series itself however is lengthy and complicated, so having the bare essentials is quite a positive thing especially for those who just want a sort of quick synopsis of the overall plot, and the story as a whole, while streamlined, is still manageable to follow and contains enough character development and strong voice acting to make it worthwhile.Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 (UNS4) is absolutely gorgeous. The traditional anime style translates very well to gaming, and this could easily be one of the best looking games I’ve played this year. The fighting style animations, the huge boss battles, the amount of particles on screen during fast paced fights are beyond insane. In fact, it’s almost a little too overwhelming, as there can be so many things on screen at once that it can be hard to track your character(s). It’s especially overwhelming when you throw in huge elemental attacks and beast boss battles, and the frame rate does suffer somewhat. I noticed significant slowdown during particle-heavy segments, which would lead to a bit of input lag. However, it wasn’t a huge issue, though the online modes were not tested to see if this issue was as severe.Cutscenes are absolutely gorgeous, and while some may balk in the length of many of these (long dense cutscenes break up the story mode gameplay segments often), they’re so well animated that it’s hard to skip any of them. While environmental destructibility is sadly quite limited, they remain varied enoughIf you’re not turned off by the lengthy cutscenes and hard to swallow mythology, UNS4 does contain a robust and fun fighting engine. The majority of attacks are limited to one button which may sound repetitive and shallow, but with a mix of elemental attacks, chakra and Storm attacks the combat quickly becomes less repetitive and more strategic. For newcomers it can definitely be a little overwhelming, especially with the sheer amount of everything that’s happening on screen at once, but it’s a fighting system that’s very fun and very rewarding. Story mode is consistently broken up between cutscene and gameplay, and for the most part follows traditional fighting game campaigns by conducting fights on a 3D plane, sometimes throwing different objectives into the mix. While QTE’s are rarely a good thing, they actually work in UNS4, as not only they are NOT linked to a fail state, but nailing them quickly enough will unlock more Stars which will unlock Secret Factors, alternative or secret cutscenes that contain extra bits of story.
In versus mode, you can play with up to three different characters simultaneously (like Marvel vs Capcom 3), but for fans of the franchise, pairing up characters with known backstory creates unique special abilities exclusive to them. It’s an extra bit of depth that fans of the franchise will salivate over, yet enough experimentation and even newcomers will learn to harness these extra abilities.While the one button combo remains the crux of gameplay, the huge roster of characters makes each fighter unique enough to make experimenting and variety a breeze. It helps that the animations are so fluid and the game itself just looks so gorgeous, because while I’ve never been a fan of the one button combo system, the game remained consistently enjoyable over the course of Story and Adventure mode.
While the majority of returning players will be drawn to the Story mode, Adventure mode is no slog either. While far simpler compared to the whiz-bang of Story mode, Adventure is like an old school RPG, playing as Naruto after the Great Ninja War, with a more open world to explore and unique rewards and loot to collect, from everything to one-use items and different costume cosmetics to storyboard art.. It’s a simpler form of RPG, with less voice over work and less cutscenes, but the rewards and collectibles that come with it are consistently satisfying enough to make Adventure mode worth at least one run through.There’s also free battle and practice modes, which are fantastic in introducing the gameplay mechanics to players. Having these modes are essential in mastering the fast paced and frenetic 3v3 battles, but overall the difficulty in the main Story mode isn’t too overwhelming. I found myself managing to beat half of the bonus objectives without breaking a sweat, and rarely, if ever, found myself failing on the regular difficulty. It’s definitely a more forgiving game than other fighters, but the harder challenges are there for the initiated.In the end, UNS4 is a fitting conclusion to CyberConnect 2’s legacy to Naruto, and absolutely worth a purchase to any Naruto fan, new or old, casual or hardcore. The fighting system is hugely satisfying, the amount of modes will keep you engaged for many many hours and the animated style is absolutely gorgeous to look at.