(originally published February 14, 2016)
The Naruto Ultimate Ninja series is practically as revered by Naruto fans as the manga itself. For 10 years, it set the standard for anime-based fighting games, and how well a video game can do justice to its source material. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 marks the end for the story of Naruto as well as the beloved series. A delay in early August kept fans clamoring for what would was surely one of the most anticipated anime games ever produced. But what should have been the perfect storm settles for a mediocre shower of shame, due to its downright lazy execution.
Storm 4 picks up at the end of Storm 3‘s DLC, just before Naruto and co. unmask Tobi. With the previous games’ free-roaming portions relegated to a separate Adventure mode, players now experience the manga’s climactic battles back to back in Story Mode. While the previous Storm games are known for their gorgeous cell-shaded visuals, the earlier moments of the story that have already been shown in the anime are represented using still frames from the show, rather than being animated in-game. It’s a lazy cop-out given that the previous numbered Storm games all had in-game cut scenes despite covering way more of the Naruto story. Listening to the dialouge over a still frame is incredibly dull, making the large bits of narrative in-between fights painful to sit through.
But the fights themselves are well-done, and characteristic of the over-the-top action fans have come to expect from CyberConnect2. The fights at the climax of Naruto’s story are all batshit insane, and the cinematic boss battles in Storm 4 meet that high standard of ludicrousness. The battles are fun and varied, but the lack of rendered cut scenes makes the story feel disjointed. The emotional highs of the manga are unable to be properly conveyed as the story is choppily experienced piece by piece.
In an attempt to fill out the relatively short amount of story, there’s a separate Adventure mode (using the same environments from Storm 3), where players can take up odd jobs and side missions. The 2-3 hour main quest in Adventure mode involves Sakura following around Naruto and Hinata and trying to spark their romance. It’s surprisingly engaging, and honestly explores the relationship between Naruto and Hinata better than The Last movie did. But after it’s over, the rest of the mode comprises of mindless side quests, of which there’s little incentive to finish aside from reaching 100% completion.
As for the fighting itself, this is the one area Storm 4 truly surpasses its predecessors. The biggest improvement is the frame rate, which is double what it was on last-gen consoles. Fights are remarkably faster, and the result is battles that are smarter and more intense. Standard matches are also decided on the best of 3 rounds, which is a step in the right direction given how quickly versus matches would end in previous games.
Additionally, the ability to swap between characters puts a much larger significance on team composition. Apart from being able to use partners to extend combos without expending chakra, having a teammate with a killer Awakening can make a previously unplayable character suddenly viable. The concept of having a “team” was never fully realized in a Storm game until now, and it adds a ton of new depth to what was admittedly a shallow fighting game series.
But what many were expecting out of the final Storm game was a be-all-end-all Naruto extravaganza, brimming with new content as well as everything else from previous games. However, in this endeavor, Storm 4 is the most disappointing Storm game ever released.
Starting with what’s new, there are 14 new characters in Storm 4. When compared to the generous heap of new ninja supplied by Naruto Storm: Revolution, the character select screen in Storm 4 feels pretty stale. Although the major players from the story mode are playable, half-built characters from previous games like the Seven Ninja Swordsmen of the Mist seemed like obvious candidates for inclusion in this conclusive Storm game, but are frustratingly omitted.
As for costumes, there is only one new costume in the game. Not even Seventh Hokage Naruto is unlockable; instead, Naruto and Sasuke’s appearances from Chapter 700 are sold in separate DLCs. As for the bonus costumes from the previous games, all of them are on the disc. However, only about half of them are available to unlock via in-game currency, and the other half are only available through buying DLC (even though the computer still uses them during Survival mode).
Compared to Revolution which was completely filled with random but thoughtful content like Mecha-Naruto and costume accessories (both of which are not in this game), Storm 4 cuts corners in almost every way possible. It was delayed for 5 months in August, yet the finished product feels lazy and rushed. As one of the many people who’ve followed these games for years and vehemently anticipated this concluding act, I just find it so sad that this is the bang that such a storied series goes out with. It’s hollow and mediocre, and we deserve better.
Devs that put out unfinished games are scum. But devs who shamelessly try to squeeze every last dollar out of their loyal fans are even lower than that.