Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Trilogy (Switch) Review
Reviewing a trilogy like Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Trilogy presents a bit of a challenge. Each game is available individually or as part of the whole package, and what each game offers is often vastly different. On top of that, each game is absolutely massive, with tonnes of content spread across the three experiences. So to give a clearer perspective, I teamed up with fellow Vooks writer and Naruto aficionado Skye to break down the review into three sections, one for each game.
But before we get into the individual details, let’s take a brief moment to talk about what they all have in common. All three games feature a similar battle system, and all three feature single-screen multiplayer, giving you the ability to play against a friend (or foe) in docked or tabletop mode. And all three look pretty good. It’s obvious they’re running at a sub-native resolution, but the beautiful cel-shaded art style means that they actually look pretty decent on the Switch. Sure, there’s a lot of jagged edges, but it’s easy to look past in the heat of battle anyway. They also all have absolutely excellent music and lightning-fast load times.
With that aside, let’s get into it.
Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm
As is often the case with first games in a series, Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm is rough. It hasn’t quite perfected its own formula yet, and it’s made a lot of missteps. By trying to do so much, it’s spread itself too thin, resulting in a mediocre game with more content than you’ll want to complete.
The first Ninja Storm follows the first half of the anime; that is, everything that happens while Naruto and friends are children, before the big time skip. It cuts out some stories, like the Prologue arc Land of Waves, but for the most part, the major story beats all there. Naruto is a young ninja who has the evil spirit of a gigantic Nine-Tailed Fox inside him. He teams up with Sasuke and Sakura, and together, they work their way through a series of exams to rise through the ninja ranks, though, of course, things don’t really go as planned.
Here’s the thing: if you’re considering picking up this game, you probably have a pretty good idea of what the story is like. You’re probably already a fan of Naruto. If you’re not, and you’re hoping this game will get you up to speed? Well, it’ll do that I guess, but you’re gonna be missing a lot of nuance, and that’s a shame.. The execution in the game is a bit shaky, with most of the storytelling done through the fights you participate in, but there are still some genuinely beautiful and awesome moments that remain intact (see: every boss fight, or anything in the latter half involving Naruto and Sasuke).
But we’re here to talk about the game. It’s a fighting game with freedom of movement, meaning you’re not just fighting someone side-on like in most fighting games; you and your opponent move around a battlefield freely. If you’ve played games like Dragon Ball Xenoverse or even ARMS, you’ll have a pretty easy time adapting to the battles in Ninja Storm. A history in these types of games might come in handy too, as the tutorial consists of not much more than throwing increasingly stronger enemies at you and hoping you’ll pick it up in a trial by fire. It’s not perfect, and you might have a tough time with later fights if you don’t take the time to explore the battle system, but it gets the job mostly done.
The battles themselves are incredibly good, with just the right balance of traditional fighter-style combos and intuitive hack-and-slash elements. That said, it leaves a lot to be desired in some areas. Blocking and dodging, for example, are both assigned to one button, a feature called Substitutions. Blocking is easy enough, you hold the button down and you’ll take no (or little) damage. Dodging is a little more difficult and requires you to precisely time your blocks at the moment you get hit, at the cost of chakra, or energy. It’s a frustrating affair sometimes, with some dodges failing for no discernable reason, even when the timing seems perfect, leading to your character losing a lot of health in a gigantic combo that could have been avoided if the system had just been a little bit clearer.
The item system is similarly curious, with most battle items (assigned to the d-pad) being largely useless or easily avoidable. Once you get the ability to buy HP and chakra recovery items, there’s little reason to equip any other battle items, as HP and chakra recovery are infinitely more useful and allow you to easily brute force your way through some of the later battles without too much trouble.
The game’s progression system is another frustrating approach to game design. In-between missions, you’re able to run, climb and leap around the town of Konohagakure, a level of freedom not seen elsewhere in the game, and removed in later games. While this is kinda cool, it’s undone by its use as blatant padding of the game’s runtime, which is incredibly disappointing and at times annoying. In order to unlock more story missions, you’ll have to increase your mission power by completing side missions, which can consist of more fighting, or a silly little mini-game, like hide and seek or chasing a dog through a forest.
You can largely ignore these side missions up to a certain point, but once you get far enough into the story, the mission power required to progress further is ridiculously high. Side missions are spread throughout the town, and you’ll have to find your way to them multiple times to get the best score and unlock more missions. It’s a needlessly laborious task, and it seriously impacts the fluency of the story in a very negative way. Things are getting interesting in the story, and what are you doing? Well, you’re chasing a dog through a forest for the 40th time because you’re one second short of the time required to get the perfect score.
The first Ninja Storm game is serviceable, and it sets the groundwork for later games in the series. But if you’re only buying one game in the trilogy, and already familiar with the Naruto story, skipping to a later entry might be a better use of your time and money.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2
Moving past the time skip into Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 brings a lot of changes. Most of these changes are good, some of them are not so great, but it definitely brings a marked improvement over the first game in almost every area.
In terms of story, Ninja Storm 2 is a much more interesting affair. Set several years after the conclusion of the last game, with the young ninjas split up and looking not so young anymore, and the world in a bit of an uneasy state. With Sasuke’s murderous brother Itachi and his band of not-so-merry men set on wreaking havoc and Sasuke himself off training with the antagonist of the first game and seen as a traitor to the village, things get really heavy. It’s a harsh story, offset only slightly by Naruto’s cheery attitude, but it’s told exceptionally well, especially in comparison to the first Ninja Storm game.
Taking a more cinematic approach, with a plethora of cutscenes and, thankfully, a pace that isn’t interrupted by grinding out side missions. That’s right, if you want, you can choose to play through story missions from start to finish, without any unnecessary padding. Side missions still exist, but they’re not particularly common, and there’s no expectation to complete them; they’re purely just for players who want to get the most out of their experience. It’s a very welcome change, and with such an intense and fascinating story, almost a necessary overhaul.
The gameplay itself sees an overhaul too. Gone is the free-roaming parkour from the first game, replaced with a more sensible fixed-camera semi-open world, like the kind you’d see in some JRPGS. It’s a decent enough choice for this kind of game, but it does have its drawbacks, the major one being that you’ll spend a lot of time just walking from place to place. It gets the job done though, and in a far more effective way than the previous game. Battle items have been overhauled too, with healing items mostly relegated to out-of-battle use and in-battle items actually working effectively
The combat itself sees a few minor changes too, with the addition of side inputs, which allow you to change your attacks and combos by holding a direction on the joystick. It adds a lot of depth to the combat system, but it also massively complicates things and can be really frustrating at times. I often found myself breaking out a combo I’d never seen before and being unable to replicate it, or trying to use a certain attack and totally messing it up by slightly nudging the joystick. That said, if you can manage to wrap your head around it and take the time to explore each character, you can really bring out the uniqueness of each character, which is good for a fighting game. Another helpful addition is the rebalancing of the chakra dash ability, which now allows you to easily dash towards your opponent — helpful for opponents that like to run away a lot, and long-range attackers.
Ninja Storm 2 also brings online multiplayer to the mix for the first time in the series, and it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Playing online against random opponents is mostly fine, but playing against friends is a bit frustrating. The lobby system doesn’t easily allow you to add and join friends, and there’s seemingly no way to lock a lobby to friends only, which led to a few awkward situations where a stranger would find and join the lobby before a friend could. That said, once you get into a match, it runs quite well. There is some minor lag, but it’s nothing that makes the game unplayable, which is more than can be said for Ninja Storm 3 (but more on that later). My only major gripe with the online multiplayer is that the game treats it like local multiplayer, meaning one player gets stuck with a slightly awkward camera perspective in order to try and accommodate for having both characters on screen.
If you don’t mind missing out too much on the story of the first game, Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is an excellent point to jump in. It flows a lot better than the first in terms of story and progression, and the addition of online multiplayer fleshes out the experience. While there are some minor issues here and there, it’s still a great game, and definitely one worth picking up.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst HD
And now we’ve finally arrived at Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 — the final entry in this collection of games. Storm 3’s plot takes us to the penultimate arc in the franchise’s story, the Fourth Great Ninja War. At the time of the game’s development, both the anime and the manga were still smack bang in the middle of the said arc, so, unfortunately, Storm 3 is unable to see the plot through to the end, unlike the prior two instalments. Instead of halting the game with a cliffhanger, Storm 3 opts for filling in the blanks with an original, and disappointingly unsatisfying resolution. The direction it takes feels extremely out of place, and it’s immediately obvious that bare minimum effort was taken to give the player an excuse to see some kind of ending.
However, the same absolutely cannot be said for everything else the game achieves throughout its campaign. Storm 3 makes an extremely good impression right from the moment you hit start. Upon seeing the main menu, it wouldn’t be surprising if you found yourself thinking “wow, this is pretty damn gorgeous”. And that’s just the menu — just imagine what the rest of the game is like! (Spoilers: also “pretty damn gorgeous”)
The main campaign is more dynamic than ever, clearly aiming more for a streamlined cinematic experience than its earlier entries. Gone are most of the RPG adventure elements, with the free-roaming sections being an extremely minuscule percentage of the overall experience. Whether it be the more exciting and animated cutscenes, or the plethora of text boxes to read through, you’ll find yourself sitting for hours at a time just experiencing the story unravel before jumping into any further action. As stunning as the presentation of the story is, it can absolutely get a little tiring, especially if you have little knowledge of the Naruto story prior to playing these games.
Although Storm 3 removes many of the gameplay features present in the Storm 1 and 2, to compensate it also adds a couple of things to spice up your time with the game. One of these mechanics is the Legacy/Hero decision system. As you make your way through the story, every now and then you’ll have the option to choose between two paths. Legacy or Hero. The defining difference between the two choices is that the Legacy path is often the more difficult one, usually involving the player nudging the playable character towards a more challenging, lone wolf-esque option, while the Hero path encourages acquiring support from allies, or generally just choosing a more careful strategy. Experience points are gained for each respective path selected, and the game encourages replaying the specific chapters with Legacy/Hero choices in order to level grind each path. Both paths almost serve as something like job paths you’d typically find in western RPGs, but on a much smaller scale. Each respective path allows you to carry different inventories in battle, with Legacy focusing on character buffs and enemy traps, and Hero moreso enemy debuffs and more traditional healing items.
The second big new gameplay feature is the introduction of hack-and-slash stages, not unlike the types you would find in games such as Hyrule Warriors or Fire Emblem Warriors. It can feel thrilling having the opportunity to breakaway from the series’ usual fighting game system to one where you can just go ahead let loose, mowing down hordes of enemies. These hack-and-slack sections aren’t without their imperfections, however. At its core, the mechanics and controls are still fundamentally the same as regular battles. What this means that locking onto specific enemies can be extremely finicky, and it can often be frustratingly difficult to even hit foes that are only a point blank distance away. Regardless, the good outshines the bad, and these segments still find a way to be a ridiculous kind of fun that is absolutely welcome.
Storm 3 also makes further adjustments to its iconic battle system. The substitution system has been made much more lenient, allowing players much more time to hit the substitution button rather than having to hit it with perfect precision like before. Given the absurdly huge roster Storm 3 introduces, this is a welcome change, as it would’ve been more difficult than ever before to learn when to time your presses with the attack animations of every single character. For the record, that’s like, 88 characters. Yeah. 88. (They even had to remove side input attacks entirely to cut down their enormous workload. Can’t blame them!)
It’s sad to say that this gargantuan roster of characters also has a negative effect on online play. During the rounds that we here at Vooks played, we experienced massive slowdown and lag, rendering the overall experience one that we couldn’t look back on fondly. It’s such a shame too because compared to Storm 1 and Storm 2, Storm 3 is absolutely the best gameplay wise. While playing locally on a single Switch works just fine, it’s genuinely upsetting that playing online is so off-putting.
As a collection, the Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Trilogy is a bit of a mixed bag. The games get progressively better with every game, but each still has their ups and downs. That said, if you’re a fan of Naruto, there’s no glaring reason not to pick these up. They’re a fine set of fighting games, even if some are clearly better than others.
Skye Son is an independent artist and occasional writer for Vooks. She helped put together this review, and wrote almost the entirety of the Ninja Storm 3 section. You can find her on twitter here.
+ Solid battle system
+ Good story
+ Excellent music
- Inconsistent quality
- Strange progression gating
- Online is not great