Time to prove your super fandom.
Here's my issue with the Doctor Who fanbase: I have many Whovians as friends, and they all want me to watch the BBC sci-fi program, but should I ask a beginner question or posit a theory they find invalid, they admonish me for not having watched all 208 seasons prior. On the flipside, I'm always told that since the Doctor regenerates, I don't need to have watched everything in order to jump in. So I get confused easily. Then again, I get confused by shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, but for entirely different reasons.
So what does any of this have to do with Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 – Full Burst? ("Shonen Jump" was removed since the title is already too long.) Like Doctor Who, Naruto has a very passionate fanbase, and this game is a gift to them. Those not in the fandom, however, may feel lost, confused, or unimpressed.
Full Burst, the enhanced version of Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, carries on in the same vein as the other Ninja Storm entries, so if players know that system, they're ready for the action sequences and quick-time events that Full Burst will present. Those who haven't played any of the UNS entries, however, may find gameplay more difficult than others.
Other sequels have made the mistake of presuming that players have experienced the earlier entries—and why wouldn't they? Otherwise, there would be no need for a sequel. But they should still offer some sort of instructions or tutorials to those who haven't. Full Burst considers this an afterthought, pitching all players straight into an epic battle against the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox (which, I’m told, is a BFD) with no direction except to “Follow the arrows!” Then after “Following the arrows!”, players are flashed an instruction screen which supposedly serves as the tutorial, but the pace is so heightened during the fight that most of the time I found myself pressing a button when the screen flashed up, causing it to flash away just as quickly. The times I did catch the instruction screens, it halted a fast-paced epic battle right to a standstill, and upon returning to battle, gave no leeway and left me wide open for the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox to give me a good smack.
This theme of uneven pacing stays throughout the game. Action would ramp up to a frenzy only to be slammed to a snail’s pace by cutscenes or quick-time events. Now I appreciate a good story as much as the next GameRevolution reviewer, but NS: UNS3FB is overloaded with them to the point where I would have been much happier just watching the darn anime on Crunchyroll. It’s the video game version of whiplash.
And this brings me back to my main point concerning Full Burst: the story. Not that there is a lack thereof, but in fact, the opposite. Naruto and Naruto Shippuden, as anime and manga, have been around for quite some time. The Naruto manga was first published in 1999—that’s fourteen years of story lore that has built up. Full Burst, like many other longstanding fandoms, comes across with an attitude that reeks of “If you don’t know the story up to this point, we’re not going to turn around for you.” To the Naruto diehard, though, the fan service ostands up to even the most fanboy-iest fanboy’s desires.
The story mode sticks very closely to the anime’s plotline; for some gamers, a little too closely. Players who may be used to more open exploration or free-roaming areas might find themselves quite disappointed. At points, the game will offer a “Legend Route” or a “Hero Route,” upon which legend points or hero points can be earned that improve your weaponry. However, at many of these crossroads, choosing one or the other doesn’t matter, as sometimes players have to complete the second one as well in order to return to the story canon. Why make me decide then, if you already have a plot set? Decisions should matter to the storyline, but UNS3FB opens Door Number 1, plays you through it, and then sends you back to Door Number 2.
The rest of the game was equally as weak. The title offers a free fight mode which acts less like a fighting game and more like “What would happen if we turned a fighting game into a quick-time frenzy?” For avid fans of fighting games like yours truly, UNS3’s fighting style was a knife in my brain. I’m used to memorizing combos and performing them with accuracy, but the precision all-or-nothing requirement from this game’s fighters bred more irritation than rolling around in a bed of poison ivy in a Floridian summer. Mission mode, while having a little more to offer, wasn’t satisfying enough to override a rigid story mode or a weak and imbalanced free-fight mode.
The game, admittedly, left me disappointed, but the aesthetics did not. It should be a given, considering that the game was published by Namco BANDAI, as BANDAI is the distributor of the Naruto anime. The art style of the game is beautiful to watch, and the soundtrack invokes the feel of a throwback feudal Japan. In fact, while comparing playing the game to watching the anime on Crunchyroll may be a slap to the gameplay, it’s high praise to the art and music of Ultimate Ninja Storm 3. And considering how many cutscenes players will have to sit through, it’s a good thing that at least on the surface this is a bearable task.
As Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst bills itself as the enhanced version of the original game, I suppose most of my ire is with the first Ultimate Ninja Storm 3. However, the enhancements offered by Full Burst are not all that spectacular. Full Burst adds the contents of the “Final Episode of the Uchiha Brothers” DLC pack, including a bonus chapter, new missions, and a new character to the free-fight mode. It’s not much, and since it already exists as DLC for the original game, doesn’t make for a compelling selling point as a stand-alone product.
While the odds are unlikely of someone buying this game without playing the first two games beforehand, there’s always the good-natured but misguided parent or friend who doesn’t know much about video games, but knows their gift recipient likes anime, and well, heck, Naruto’s an anime, right? Unless that person is solidly in the Naruto fandom, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 – Full Burst is not the game for them. For those inside the confines of the fandom, however, they will probably be able to overlook the things the rest of us see as faults and soak up the fanservice Namco BANDAI delivers.