There are stories, and then there are shonen stories. For the most part, they’re longer, follow a sharper upward spiral when it comes to the evolution of power and when the end finally rolls around the fanbase is pretty well divided on, well, pretty much everything. But therein lies their confusing charm. After years upon decades upon childhoods, these tale weave their way into the minds of youth until they are a defining factor. Convoluted in their straightforwardness, they present the quearies of life in an easy to identify, easy to punch form that delves into the meaning of meaning and the reason for reasons. Of course, you could simply ignore that and enjoy the ever present combat, but let’s not. Let us explore one of these well trodden tales a little bit more, let us once again witness the story of Naruto Uzumaki, the ninja who never quit…and also for some reason decided that bright orange would be the perfect jumpsuit colour for a life long career in the ninja arts.
Okay, so I’m not going to venture way back when in this particular story, instead I intend to focus on what is told to us via SUN Storm 4 (the game in question, albeit abbreviated for convenince). Picking up right towards the climactic conclusion of the tale, we find Naruto on divergent paths, each heading towards their own destiny. Of course, their paths inescapably cross multiple times, but nobody can see the future right? Well, except for the players who notice that the Yin and Yang paths in Story Mode eventually meet and become one…and those who have actually seen Naruto. Regardless, it’s a nice little detail to add to the presentation of the story, rather than simply having you alternate between Naruto and Sasuke themed missions on your way to the big bads final beatdown. I also appreciated that the game did not opt for two entirely separate playthroughs, from the viewpoints of our two frenemies as I feel the repetition would’ve been a major undoing of this game. As for the story itself, the game does a great job of creating tension, scale and drama. Though heavily reliant on quicktime events, which will be a major turn off for some players, the locked-in action sequences create a tense, exciting vibe that really draws you in. Personally I’ve never dislike QTEs as much as the vast majority of the video game fanbase (or at least the loud segment) does, so make that the grain of salt you take this with. As this is a CyberConnect2 production, the simplest way to describe it is comparable to Asura’s Wrath in both intensity and insanity, though it think Naruto wins when it comes to the number of final forms and last minute villains. Speaking of which, this is most certainly a game for Naruto fans, which I know sounds blatantly obvious, but I still feel it needs to be said. With the shortened nature of plot sequences and the fact that this game begins at the end of a long running shonen story, it is remarkably confusing for the uninitiated. So keep that in mind if you feel like getting into Naruto and are more a gamer than anime goer. Sasuke draws the shortest stick however, with Naruto’s campaign containing a fair amount more missions and cutscenes, though at least that makes it easier to progress through Story Mode after you inevitably finish all the Naruto missions and then have to go back for the broody guys side of the story.
When it comes to actually playing the game, SUN Storm 4 is pretty gosh darn similar to SUN Storms 1 through 3. Playing as either one character or three with the ability to alternate, you jump and run around a circular battlefield and press circle until the other guy falls down. It may sound like I’m being a touch flippant here, but that’s pretty much it. Apart from throwing slightly irritating shuriken, your main method of attack is simply pressing circle and hoping the combo continues until the last, powerful strike. Combined with the substitution mechanic, most fights revolve around slamming circle, pressing L2 when the enemy manages to do the same, and hoping that you’re the one punching when the substitutions run dry. As one might guess, this is where frustration is found within the SUN Storm series. Should you find yourself on the wrong end of a combo with no substitution gauge left, there is literally nothing you can do. You just have to sit and watch your character get pummeled by whichever villain you’re fighting, letting the rage within you build. I think you’re supposed to be able to call on allies in team battles to help break the cycle, but all that did for me was get my whole team beaten into the dirt. That was…less than ideal. The most egregious example of this comes from the final battles of Story Mode. Now, I won’t spoil who you fight, but I will say that they are a royal pain in the ninja way. With their propensity for zipping around the map non-goddamn-stop, it’s hard enough to hit them, let alone avoid their map-wide range. As the final foe, their combo is also naturally devastating and they spend their time not evading you buy throwing pesky shuriken-things that only serve to prevent you from charging your chakra…so yeah. Luckily (for my sanity at least) the game includes a retry function that basically exists to quell the fury of players. Should you fall in battle, you are given the option to retry with either buffed offence or defence, completely renewed, whilst your opponent’s health remains the same. See, it’s awesome because it’s one sided in the players favour and, given the fact that there are some battle where the AI shows impossible dodging ability, let’s you continue to enjoy the game.
In addition to the previously mentioned substitution, circle pressing combat style, SUN Storm 4 also presents a number of unique jutsu for each and every unique character in what has become a sizeable playable roster. More often than not, considering that basic combos aren’t the most exciting thing in the world time and time again, you’ll find yourself simply trying to land special moves over and over and over again. These understandable do a fair chunk of damage and have the added benefit of providing a nifty cutscene for you to enjoy. The challenge of these moves however lies in their activation. Though the button prompts are remarkably simple, figuring out the differences in each characters initial animation can be difficult. Whilst some activate their power by throwing a shuriken, another may dash and throw and uppercut, with another still weaving a dome of energy. As such, the range and viability of these moves differ greatly and their activation can often be more hindrance than help. Don’t panic though if you enjoy being included, for you will undoubtedly discover this factor of the game throughout story mode, which pits certain characters against each other who are…less than perfect matches.
Speaking of Story Mode, I’d like to briefly mention the variation of battles. Way back two paragraphs ago, I spoke about the layout of the plot and the divergence of main characters, however I neglected to mention the missions themselves. As it is labelled Story Mode, one would naturally expect some story, and boy howdy would they be right. there is a lot of narrative in this game, a lot. Like, you literally put your controller down for minutes at a time and just watch stuff, that amount. Now, whilst I understand there is a lot of ground to cover in this particular tale and am personally fond of plot driven experiences, even I can see that this is a little on the bloated side. Despite the game’s proven ability to blend story elements within the combat sequences, which are truly exciting moments, the single player mode still pelts you with story until you forget that you aren’t just watching the anime, or at least a not fully animated, still frame retelling of it. Sure it sets a mood and gives reason to the fights, but this is still a Naruto video game, if I didn’t want to participate physically, I would watch the anime. Look, playing devil’s advocate for a moment, the spacing out of the actual combat may prevent it from becoming a grind, I’ll give it that courtesy, but if that was what they were going for then why not utilise fully animated cutscenes? Why the still frame, visual novel approach? Sure it’s fully voice acted, but still, it seems rather odd to me.
Wrapping things up, let’s talk about the visuals of this game. Continuing the vision of its predecessors, SUN Storm 4 utilises a cel-shaded technique that does its gosh darndest to make 3D graphics that feel like animation. As a whole, this style suits Naruto well, with the bright visuals contrasting the dark insanity of this conclusive plot whilst also capturing the style of the source material. The strongest portions of the visual experience however come from cutscenes and quicktime events. During these moments, the graphic truly shine as they recreate moments from both manga and anime with a presentation that is both unique and similar. My strongest compliment would be that the inclusion of cross hatched battle scars and sketchy outlines during climactic attack lunges give the visuals a flow and energy one might not necessarily expect from a game. for that, I commend this game.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is a fun game. A statement as simplistic as it is true. For the Naruto fans out there, this is another installment in a franchise that lets them relive their favourite shinobi moments with all the vim and vigor they’d expect. For others, this series is a way to enjoy that ninja anime they heard everyone yapping about. For me, it was simply fun. Sure there are aggravating factors in this game and I wanted to gracefully throw the disc like a shuriken after being caught in my fortieth inescapable combo loop, but I didn’t. The revival feature exists solely to calm a person. The segmented nature of the story also allows players to take a break whenever they feel it appropriate or continue til the bitter end. For that reason, I also though it rather neat for the game to include an approximate length for each episode, letting you know what you’re getting into. The variation of missions themselves also kept things interesting, especially when playing against ceaseless hordes of villainy, or engaging in a fight of titanic proportions. It’s kind of as cool as it sounds. Ultimately however, I think SUN Storm 4 is good, yet not great. Despite all of its positive elements, there’s just a little something missing. I know that might not sound like the most professional reasoning out there, but it is true from the perspective of a player. Though the combat refrains from requiring an ever present guide to utilise, after witnessing each jutsu for the first time, you simply want to move on to the next character, after which you realise that slamming circle is a fair majority of your play time, with an intermittent triangle thrown in for good measure. So, though this final note may seem a touch more dour than the rest of my review, I wish it known that my thoughts on this game lean firmly towards the positive. However, as with most shonen creations, your ultimate enjoyment comes from the attitude you bring to the table. If you wish to visit this game with a critque’s eye and a glum disposition, it probably won’t be the game for you, but if you want to enjoy it with all your childlike wonder, you will, you can believe that.
Observe. Learn. Strategise. Win. That’s the ninja way…or just scream a lot and punch ’til you win, that’s also the ninja way