When the latest Naruto game was announced, my first thoughts were about how many could they make, but then upon seeing the game in action, I quickly put those thoughts aside as the game looks amazing, but can shiny visuals save the series from becoming stale.
The game offers you a few different game modes, so depending on your level of interaction with the story that has played out in the manga or anime, you might want to approach things with some caution. The bulk of the game plays out in the Story mode, which tells the events that happen after the start of the Fourth Great Ninja War and plays through until the very end. Of course, as the story or Naruto is playing out, that of Sasuke is also taking place and the game does a nice job of showing that parallel. The problem that it has though, is that while you are moving along through the Naruto story and you complete all the sections in that chapter, the next mission wont unlock, until you do the Sasuke missions as well, meaning that you can progress through the story, gaining new insight to things, only to have to then go back and do stories that undo that work. I myself, never cared for anything Sasuke did during the war, so being forced to play these missions in order to push forward was irritating.
Once you finish the Story mode, the game then suggests you play the Adventure mode, you can actually start it at any time, but if you are not aware of the story, some aspects might leave you confused. The adventure mode is a shell of an experience and not even a nice one, you can move around the world, somewhat and interact with people of the towns, as well as fellow ninja, though you can’t do a whole lot else. Konohagakure, the village hidden in the leaves, is rendered in one large go, with the ability to explore the large corridor that you are given access to, sadly even though it’s a poor open world experience, it is still the best that the Adventure mode can offer. The first mission that you are given sends you to the village hidden in the sand and that is built in a resident evil style approach, only showing small sections at a time, loading the next as you enter it and the rest of the locations are similarly done as well. It is a shame that the developers have not done anything to make the adventure mode immersive, even more so when other developers created massive open locations from the Naruto world, on the last generation of consoles. What makes it even worse is that it is not an original story, sure there are new missions to undertake, but upon delivering the letter to Garra, Naruto and crew reminisce about Granny Chiho, who Sakura fought alongside early, which then forces you to “relive” the fight and until you defeat the baddie, you are not allowed to move along. If this were a once off then it might be ok, but you are forced into that scenario before then and after constantly, which as they were the same fights from the earlier games in the series, just makes the entire adventure mode feel cheap.
The other game mode you will spend time in is the fighting mode, which has you selecting teams of three fighters, of which you can add child Naruto, teen Naruto and then tailed beast Naruto in one team, so there are no rules on who you can add to a team. Then you choose your location and fight, it plays a lot like other fighting games in that regard, but keeps the fighting system used through the game. Playing locally is fun, but online will really test your skills, at first I found it hard to locate people to fight against, but as the game went on sale, the numbers increased, to which I was grateful. While online is not what I would use a lot of, it worked well enough in my time there and I can report no faults.
The gameplay of the Naruto fighting games has always been incredibly simple and they keep that system here, one button is your attack, another lets you use chakra or gather more, another for jump and one for throwing objects, outside of that, the only other button you will use is the substitution, allowing you to remove yourself from harm. While the game does only use a few buttons, there are still an impressive number of combinations that are open to you and when you manage to get one right, the results can be inspiring. The problem is, that the game holds a number of them back, until you achieve an awakened state or take enough damage to unlock a team attack. The other issue with the combo attacks, is that while it’s nice to see Naruto sync with Kuruma and unleash a tailed beast bomb giant Rasengan, watching that impressive shot dozens upon dozens of times wears thin and fast. Without the option to skip the visuals, you are left to watch, even when sometimes the attacks you do, do almost no damage compared to a simple combo.
While it would be nice to skip those shots after the hundredth time, there is no doubting the visuals that are on display during them, in fact now that the series has made its way onto the new consoles, the power of them is being used to render the game in amazing detail. Characters look like their anime counterparts and seeing a few hundred characters rendered on screen at once is quite the site, sadly the game does not get everything right visually, anything that is shadow is rendered in a really funky way that results in some very strange looking shapes. That however can be overlooked, what can’t, are the cutscenes throughout the story mode, those are impossible to forgive. Once you start the story mode, you will get an introduction video that uses a mix of newly created in engine animation and animation from the anime and that mix runs throughout the length of the game, sadly this mix is not acceptable.
From the first time I saw the anime footage, I realised it was not footage, but still shots that were taken from a scene, with the dialogue being spoken over it. That would not be such an issue, if that was all it was, but they have gone through and animated dust, leaves and other such elements to move around, giving them a real sense of movement, but not the characters. So to hear Naruto speak, only to see his face in a position that would not normally allow for any words to be spoken is strange, but even more so when they will then cut to a new shot, made in engine and show the characters moving about, with full lip synced animations and actions. What perhaps makes it even stranger is that towards the end of the story mode, the story actually gets past the point of the anime, meaning that they are unable to use any stills from the show and thus they created all new animations and it works so much better for it.
The one area that does work is the audio, the music is pulled straight from the anime, with new tunes scattered throughout, again with more at the end, but being able to hear Sasuke’s theme when he appears on screen is a nice thing. The game is voiced in full Japanese for those that like the show subbed and full English, meaning you can choose, which is a nice option, sadly though the story mode is the only area that is fully voiced, as once you hit the Adventure mode, only select cutscenes are voiced and then when the characters talk in game, its only via text boxes with the occasional grunt, groan or other such noise. There was a strange issue that kept popping up with the voices on PlayStation 4 during the story mode, the characters would speak, all was good, but then in another scene, the voices would come out of the controller but then go back to the tv in the next. There were times when if paused for long enough, the voices would swap between them in the one fight, a strange issue to be sure, but nothing that really stopped me from enjoying the game.
Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is a game for fans, anyone who has been following along with the anime will end up finishing up the story of Naruto in a very compressed fashion. If you were not convinced by the last game in the series, there are not enough new features or changes to unlikely sway you back to the series. Add in a frustrating story presentation method as well as a shallow and almost pointless adventure mode, the game asks a lot of players, but does not deliver anything of great value in return.