Review by TrialAndError
"Can we weather this Ninja Storm?"
Since it's inception, the Narutimett (or Ultimate Ninja) series has been the tried and true formula for the popular manga/anime based game on Sony's platform. Boasting over 40 characters, excellent visuals, a great story mode and online play, there's little any fan of this genre could complain about. However, this game is not without it's flaws. Despite it's praises, there are areas of gray that can be improved upon, but it still doesn't hinder this game from holding the title "Ultimate Ninja"
From the opening animatic showcasing the beautifully rendered graphics, to the unique menu screen, this game presents itself well. Although they may seem limited, each menu option contains a lot of fun to be had. From the near RPG Ultimate Adventure Mode, to Online Battle, as a player, you'll spend almost an equal amount of time in both. Pre-rendered cutscenes, mid-battle cutscenes and even the selection screen are vividly colored, which makes the game appealing to gamers and is easy on the eyes.
The downside to this area, however, is also the limitation. The simple (yet long) loading screens happen quite frequently throughout the game. The drawings on some of the characters as well look a tad off, and sometimes you'll question why the concept artists shaded in or drew a character a certain way. While it may be a minuscule complaint, you'll be sitting through many of these loading screens (often gazing upon the same characters), and you'll start to notice the details. The online presentation is also very limited, but that's another story.
The story follows the Shippuden series of Naruto. Naruto returns home after a 2.5 year hiatus of training to reunite with his old friends and teachers, take on new missions, as well as take on some new enemies, learn to deal with reality, and train harder.
You'll be hard pressed to find any anime/manga based game that captures the look and feel as well as Ninja Storm 2 does. Within the entire series, this is quite simply the BEST version of a story mode in Naruto. CC2 (the developers) reached for the moon here, and they certainly got very close. The pre-mid-ending cut scenes for every major boss battle are near perfect counterparts to the anime series (often times exceeding the anime's presentation). You'll have a blast from beginning to end and you'll cling to every word, feel every emotion, and laugh and smile along with the characters. As a fan of Naruto, you'll probably already know the story, but for it to be re-told with such conviction is more than any fan could ask for.
Within Ultimate Adventure Mode, you'll find that CC2 did something new, something familiar, and something old. This balance of presentation really work well together. Instead of animating and designing an entire 3D sandbox, CC2 borrowed an old formula from the glory days of Final Fantasy on Playstation. The background are beautifully pre-rendered, with 90% of it resembling a picture perfect painting. The other 10% are 3D objects like people, plants, and other things that I won't spoil. If you've ever played the re-mastered version of Monkey Island, you'll know what I'm referring to. Every area also acts like a corridor, with minimal loading in between scene changes. It works well, and it beats having to do pesky fetch quests way over in the left side of town, when you're in the right.
However, there are some flaws, and although there are quite a few, it doesn't detract from the overall experience (unless you're a die-hard fan). The story mode is a watered down version of it's anime counterpart, therefore certain scenes are left out. While the game boats many boss battles (which are easily the best part of Adventure Mode), there are some battles that are given the cold shoulder, and are relegated to just multiple battles against a singular opponent with nothing more than some dialogue in between.
Since this is a game aiming at preteens first, the blood, violence and romance are watered down too. Not only that, but CC2 must have been pressed for time, or felt that the story would drag on too long, since many of the WOW moments in Naruto are changed or left out completely. Thankfully, these omissions are only for fans of the series to notice, but newcomers won't bat an eye at these.
While the game is pre-rendered flawlessly, the real-time animations can be rough around the edges. There are jaggies all over the characters, and it's noticeable. Does it break the illusion though? No, not at all. As well shaded and animated as the characters are, the cel-shaded look can feel outdated in comparion to well shaded games like DBZ: Budokai and Tenkaichi Series, Tales of Vesperia, and Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions to name a few. The vibrance in color make up for the lack of smoothness however, so don't harp over that too long. Mouthing animations are also a bit jarring, since in 80% of the game, mouths either just flap away, or they don't move at all, but spoken word is heard.
What it may lack in fine detail, Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 sure makes up for it in animation. Characters have unique movements, individual moves, ultimates, awakenings, and even alternate outfits that define the atmosphere Naruto's creator (Masashi Kishimoto) took years creating and evolving. No two characters feel alike, despite having similar abilities (Suigetsu and Kisame play differently, despite both characters being very similar to one another), and it really brings the package together. CC2 outdid themselves this time, since no attack patterns are recycled in any of the characters here.
While the music may not be licensed, the composers at CC2 once again do a fantastic job of closely mimicking the anime. While you will find a lot of recycled tunes in the Story Mode, you'll find that they act as subtle background music, most of the time. There are a few occasions in boss battles where the music doesn't fit (Jiraiya vs. Pain for instance) but for the most part it does it's job.
CC2 also got the licensed vocal artists from the anime, and you can hear the Japanese, English (and European for those who have it) in all it's glory (or folly...) I can tell you that the voices in Japanese never waver, as each line is delivered with conviction, emotion, subtlety, humor, and grandeur as within the anime. In English, the lines are sometimes not delivered well, or you can tell certain characters "phoned it in", but for the most part, they do a good job too.
Now if you're a fan of the Ultimate Ninja Series, you'll know what you're getting into. Although through first appearance gameplay may seem shallow, there's a lot of depth to be had if you dive deep enough to find it. Within most fighting games, many characters are on a 2D plane, and while they may each use different button inputs to battle, the plane stays the same. Not the case here in Storm 2. The battles are fought on a 3D plane, so if you every feel smothered, you have the option to back away and reassess your strategy. Added to that, every character here can be classified as either close, mid, or long range combatants. However, many characters share two of those traits. Some characters have close and long range attacks, some may have mid and close range attacks, etc. Not to mention that the combo system is very deep (although simple enough to pick up and play).
There are air combos, ground combos, combos that can be canceled, knock-back combos, air rising combos and more. The added depth of the support system only magnify this, as you can cater your gameplay specifically to your game-plan. You can mix and match everyone, and there are even added bonuses to having scripted teams together.
Not to be left out, the tools selection (utilized by the d-pad) can also alter the outcome of a match. Options of bombs, exploding kunai, stat boosts, poison, and much more are at your disposal, and can seriously turn the tides of a battle (if you know what you're doing).
Awakenings are back, but instead of being a change in character, they are a force to be reckoned with. If you're low on health, you can call out an awakening and devastate your opponent while turning the tides in a matter of seconds. While some may just seem like intense stat boosts, others are fully animated monsters, beings, etc, and change the move-sets for every character (some slightly, others entirely)
The gameplay in the story mode ranges from easy to normal difficulty, most likely making it easy to play through for casual gamers. For the hardcore, there are battle requirements that can be met, items that can to be found, missions to go on, points to be had, the list goes on. The fetch quests, while minimal, can be an exercise in tedium, not to mention the amounts of backtracking you'll have to do in the main story (fast travel won't be available until you're done with most of the main story). For an RPG fan like myself, these options are nowhere near game-breaking or boring, but I can see where the mundane can start to turn gamers off. Still, most of these sidequests are optional, so the most you'll have to worry about is backtracking. CC2 did a clever thing though, where when traveling, the characters talk to each other through text box pop-ups. Most of time, they provide a break from looking at the same scenery over and over.
While battling online will be a blast to some, the Ranked Battles will be an exercise in frustration to others. Yes, the competition is fierce, so you better come prepared. The simplicity of the options online is what kills the mode for me. While I have a ton of fun in ranked battles, there are no penalties for disconnecting, other than the disconnection rate shown under your opponents name at he pre-selection and ninja card info screens. Not to mention (for PS3), trying to connect to gamer's session will often times show up as a failure and you're better off creating your own session (which you will still be waiting 20 - 30 seconds for someone to join). As with most games, you rank up with the more battles you win, starting out as less than a "Genin" and working your way up to "Hero" status. There are a plethora of titles to be gained, but the titles warranted give nothing more than just that. A title.
Player Matches can also be selected for those who are looking for more fun than competition, but the amount of players that you'll find are scarce, and you'll often have wait times of up to a minute or more (despite players from North America, Europe, and Japan are all fair game). You're best bet is to find a friend(s) to battle against if your taste is for Player Matches.
As far as online options go... that's it! After years of fan service, where are the options to Create and Host your own Tournament? What about Free Watch, where I can view any tournament match going on? DLC (since CC2 has no plans for it)? I'll even take a Survival Mode, where one player battles a set of players and sees how long he can last? The lack of online or DLC options really hurt this area, which is a shame, since so much more could be done with it.
Final Score: 8/10
While it's not without it's faults, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is a great entry in the long running series. Boasting the best story mode to date, online battles, and vast amount of characters, no Naruto fan should be without this title in their library.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 11/02/10
Game Release: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 (US, 10/19/10)
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