The word “overwhelming” came to mind several times while playing Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 – in both positive and negative ways. The visuals, the story content and the roster… all aspects that stand out. Luckily, at the end of the day, the positives outweigh the negatives.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is, like its predecessors, based on the popular manga Naruto Shippuden. Part four will actually be the last in the series as far as the story is concerned, since the game deals with the closing elements of the story arcs that started with the original Ultimate Ninja Storm on PS3 and X360. This last entry, however, is the first one to be developed for current (or next) gen systems – and it shows – it is easily the most stunning game within the franchise.
Central to the experience is the game’s story mode, which is (not surprisingly perhaps) best enjoyed by longtime fans of the original manga – or those who played through the first three games already. The story is told using a combination of pre-rendered and in-game cutscenes, and supported with tons of dialogue. This is a wonderful way for fans to relive the original manga in an interactive way, but a daunting experience for (relative) newcomers, especially if you have no background knowledge about the game or the previous videogames.
The game’s Adventure Mode and Free Battle Mode are a bit more accessible, since they don’t rely heavily on the source material. This speaks for itself when you look at Free Battle (which can either be solo or in teams of three), but is also true for Adventure Mode – which sees you tackle quests while being fed more background on the adventures that took place in the past. It helps if you have a little bit of context, but because the story elements aren’t in a fixed sequence it’s much easier to digest.
The gameplay in Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is familiar, not just to fans of the previous game. The format, in which combat takes places inside small battle arenas, is a little like what we’ve seen in other Bandai Namco titles like the One Piece Pirate Warriors series. You have a large cast of characters at your disposal, and each one of them has a range of basic and special attacks that you can use. Making matters even more interesting is the ability to swap other team members in and out on the fly, allowing for a bit of cooperative play as well.
The most spectacular attacks are reserved for the main characters in the series, and “interactive actions” can unleash cinematic showpieces that really show off the game’s visuals. It’s to be noted that these “interactive actions” are in fact quick time events, requiring you to press a correct button combination in a short amount of time to be able to launch that “action”. They’re a love it or hate it type of affair – on the plus side they offer a break from the action that allows you to marvel at the visuals, but if you’re not a fan (or not very good at them) then they just tend to break up the action.
No matter how you play, it’s a combat system that’s fairly easy to pick up and become decent at. The finer mechanics take quite a while to master, but a healthy dose of button mashing can get you a long way. This is especially true in single player modes – you’ll encounter heavier resistance when you go online. I’d suggest playing through the single player portion first though – there’s a wealth of content and it’s very enjoyable to play even if you don’t care too much about the story or source material.
I’ve mentioned the game’s visuals a few times already, but want to stress the level of quality that developer CyberConnect2 has poured into this title. The fact that the series has jumped up a generation of consoles really shows – and I don’t remember even seeing a videogame that better replicated the feeling of a manga in-game than Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 does. This makes for spectacular battles that fans of the series will go crazy for, but will also make many novices forgive the hard-to-follow story elements that pop up in between.
Primarily geared towards fans of the series, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is most likely an instant buy for its intended target group. They’re also likely to really enjoy themselves, since this is easily the best and most visually impressive title so far, with solid and fun gameplay at the heart of the experience. For those not yet invested in the franchise, it’s probably smart to watch the manga or pick up a previous game for a cheap price to get a sample – if you enjoy that, you’ll absolutely love this.