Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 was released earlier this year to much fanfare from fans and critics. They enjoyed that the core mechanics were the same and the story was presented with more flash and pizzazz. Seven months later, Namco Bandai decided it was time to do something it had never done before with the series: release a more complete version with all of the DLC. We now have Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst, a game that is both a full-on retail release and DLC for the original title.
Full Burst goes through an HDD installation process, and it is during this time that the game gives you a synopsis of the entire series up to that moment — all of the major plot points from the first Naruto episode to Shippuden. It is a really awesome idea for both series newcomers and those who need a refresher. The scenario reveals two things: there is really quite a lot to remember about the series, and it can be very overwhelming for newcomers. The title isn't an ideal place for players trying to get their feet wet in the Naruto lore.
After the game finishes installing, it starts with something that Naruto fans have been wanting to see and play in full: the actual attack of the Nine-Tails Fox on the Leaf Village. The attack is split up into three sections, with two of them being a fight between Naruto's father and the masked man Madara. Between that, you have the bout involving the giant NineTailed Fox and the Third Hokage. The exciting bouts set up the whole series and let players know the craziness to expect.
Get past the prologue, and the game comes back to the present timeline after Pain nearly demolishes Hidden Leaf Village. Naruto's great awakening helped save the village, and while he's still not used to the attention that comes from being a hero, he and the others are glad the village is being rebuilt and things are getting back to normal. That sense of normalcy doesn't last long, though, as Lady Tsunade is replaced with Danzo as Hokage candidate. To make matters worse, Sasuke's actions against the Cloud clan have put a bounty on his head. Naruto's concern for his former friend leads him to beg the Ninja Council for forgiveness, but the ensuing events lead everyone into the Fourth Great Ninja War.
Since the beginning of the series, the game has made a point to stick to the original stories from the show and manga, Generations notwithstanding. Full Burst marks the first time the series has deviated from the canon since it wasn't complete by the time the game was released earlier this year. The developer's ending is still a good one, though.
The extended focus on the story is important because the story mode is filled with cut scenes. More than any other anime-to-game series to date, the Ultimate Ninja Storm series shows off as many cut scenes as possible to the point that the time you spend with the campaign is significantly shorter if you skip the cut scenes.
Beyond the cut scenes, the gameplay remains the same. The exploration aspect follows the template set forth by Ultimate Ninja Storm 2. In the towns and environments, you'll find cash and stray items, do some shopping, save the game at birdhouses, and engage in idle chat among people. Important dialogue will automatically be triggered once you see someone important or reach a designated area.
As for the fighting portion, fights take place in arenas with natural walls, and full 3-D movement is allowed. Both fighters have a long life bar at their disposal rather than going through multiple rounds at full health. Health must be refilled before each bout, or the player goes in with the amount of health remaining from the previous match. One button activates projectile attacks and one is for melee attacks, with the simple scheme allowing users to unleash combos of decent length. Chakra can be used to augment the attacks for bigger moves, though the resource is limited and must be replenished. You can use a limited number of items to keep your opponent in a zone with traps or gain a quick chakra or health boost. In certain situations, partners can be called upon to lend a hand.
As for defensive capabilities, you have a standard block move and a substitution move that helps you escape an attack barrage at the expense of chakra. Battles against much larger foes and some important characters add in some Quick Time Events, which activate special cut scenes.
The fighting aspect adds some tweaks and changes. Support characters now have health bars, and the length depends on how many support characters are chosen for the fight. There's a real possibility they'll get knocked out if they're hit enough. For some of the fights in story mode, you'll take on a mob, and their large numbers compensate for their relatively low health meters. One of the more interesting changes is the Ultimate Decision, where some fights let you choose between being a hero and a legend. Though there's no clear distinction about which is better, the moments give you the chance to take slightly different paths in the story.
Admittedly, the fighting system in Full Burst is different enough from other games that it can be an acquired taste. Playing it makes you "get" how the system works, but a spectator would only see chaos. This is especially true of matches where lots of teleportation occurs and the camera does lots of quick cuts and pans to follow along. This fighting system is all about management of space and planning the right time to use special moves and assists rather than figuring out how to pull off devastating combos as in standard fighters. The lack of immediate depth in the system is replaced by the fun battles.
The Full Burst DLC adds both significant and insignificant items to the story mode. Fans are mostly looking forward to the story fragment where Sasuke and Itachi go up against Kabuto in Sage mode. The fragment isn't very long, but the fight is intense, and the section does a good job of delving into the brothers' relationship. The visuals in the cut scenes have been punched up, and some scenes even sport new angles. It doesn't make too much of a difference, but when the story mode is considered the strongest suit of the game, it certainly doesn't hurt.
Free Battle mode is just another name for versus mode. Over 70 characters are available, though the number is somewhat fudged by the fact that some characters are counted multiple times due to their different super moves. Matches can be played in solo mode or team mode, and you can select two helpers to come in during the fight, but team fights can get very chaotic if both fighters call on both helpers at the same time. You can choose how they perform, so you can have helpers who dole out offensive moves, defensive moves where they take the hit so you can recover chakra, or are balanced in both areas. Like other entries, this is limited to two players, and fights can be done against any combination of human or CPU opponents. The extent of the Full Burst content really comes through in Free Battle. All of the costume DLC for the original game is on the disc, and there's a good range of outfits.
The extensive roster is increased by one character. Kabuto in Sage mode is now playable in all versus mode types, making him a beast of a character. He's a nice addition, but with the existing roster, adding only one character seems insignificant, no matter how powerful he might be.
The Mission Challenges are the most significant addition to the game. Full Burst sports over 100 missions that play out in normal battles but with small twists. You'll be asked to fight with a handicap, such as less health, less strength or the inability to form a team. The rewards are just illustrations, but the fights are exciting enough for those who crave more battles against CPU opponents.
The online mode is robust as far as aesthetics are concerned. There are the standard ranked and player matches in both team and solo varieties, and it's easy to search for opponents. The hook for the online mode is ninja cards, which act as your profile card and list overall rank and win/loss/disconnect stats. There isn't much to customize except for the first and second halves of your title and the picture. With every mode and fight giving you lots of these pieces, you can spend a great deal of time trying to find the right combo. With every online fight yielding cards, there's a bit of a collection aspect in play.
The online performance is good and surprisingly alive when you consider how many games lose their communities a few months after release. There isn't much lag, but the action pauses every now and then on really bad connections. Since the game is really an extension of the original, players without Full Burst can join matches with those who have the expansion. This does mean, however, that the people you'll meet online have been playing for quite a while, and if you're coming into the game fresh, expect to get crushed early and often.
The Ultimate Ninja Storm series has been something of a graphical showcase for anime-based fighters, and Full Burst is no different. On the surface, the game looks the same as previous entries, with the cel-shaded style producing visuals that have a deeper color palette than the show and movies. It looks gorgeous, especially when larger creatures are in motion, and the backgrounds are mesmerizing. Animations are smooth, and the particle effects do a great job of adding flair. The increase in effects is the one area where the graphics have improved, and while it is beneficial overall, it leads to some slowdown when six or more characters are on-screen and everyone is using attacks with lots of particles. The other issue in this department has plagued the series for a while: the constant appearance of jagged lines. The thin lines on each character add some definition to the cel-shaded style, but without anti-aliasing, the jagged lines can be distracting.
Like the graphics, the sound has been a hallmark of the series, and the tradition continues. The music maintains its wide range of tones from epic battles to quieter and more reflective moments, and it does so with music that sounds better than the televised and theatrical stuff put together. It's good enough to be soundtrack material. The voices remain the same as before, with the actors getting very comfortable in their roles and delivering their lines well. Both the English and Japanese tracks are included, so fans of either cast will be pleased. What really stands out is the use of surround sound, which fighting games rarely use. The games take every opportunity it can to deliver an immersive audio experience, and the richer audio is a great benefit.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst is strictly for the fans, but that's not meant to be negative. The story mode is packed with the kind of lore that fans crave, even if it diverges from the canon, and the fighting system is simple but wildly effective — something the still-thriving online community apparently appreciates. Though the new content isn't necessarily bountiful, it's a worthy pickup for those who are still invested in the series.
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