Though its shameless fanbase and downright inexplicable longevity are nothing to shake a stick at, Naruto is perhaps the shōnen series that's mercilessly trashed by all corners of the anime subculture more than any other. Developer CyberConnect2 has amassed a track record that's generally hit or miss, but their Naruto forays have consistently been immediately playable, colorful experiences that do well to highlight the series's few lingering strengths and extirpate some of the stubborn stigma that grips the property so tightly. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is in many ways more of the same, but makes enough observable refinements to the formula that its overall familiarity and abbreviated sequence of minor misfires can be mostly forgiven.
Ultimate Ninja Storm 3's single-player scenario may be its biggest selling point, as it covers the most interesting section of the anime. Ultimate Adventure mode begins as Hidden Leaf Village is ravaged by the nefarious Nine-Tailed Fox and carries on through the Fourth Great Ninja War, boisterous spectacles that offer exciting visual extravaganzas that do well to motivate players to not skip past the occasionally protracted cutscenes. CyberConnect2's glossy cel-shaded animations capture the lively energy of the series in a manner that doesn't present many opportunities for lag; the hyperactive QTE sequences, especially, run much smoother than the riotous depictions of over-the-top calamity on display in the company's Asura's Wrath. The misstep Ultimate Adventure takes is with its intermittent free-roaming portions, wearisome passages that have a tendency to be underdeveloped slogs that serve little purpose, only containing a handful of sleepy NPCs, save spots, breakable objects, and item shops. The currency amassed in these primarily linear locales pales in comparison to the amount of Ryo collected after winning battles, which is where Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 predominantly excels.
The combat controls are just as easy to learn as before, with a continued emphasis on mastering the Substitution Jutsu technique. Sporadically disappearing and reappearing behind enemies never gets old, and with the assistance of two AI-operated friendlies (now each with their own health bars so that they're able to be officially KO'd) summoned via Support Drive, a variety of more complex combinations and special power moves can be performed at various intervals. When all is said and done, Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 boasts an elephantine roster of over 80 playable characters, so finding the winning aggregation of whimsical combatants to aid in pulling off the stunning chakra-depleting Ultimate Jutsu finishers takes on the form of an unsanctioned mini-game in itself.
Ultimate Ninja Storm 3's crowning achievement is its drastically improved boss encounters, immense exhibitions of pummeling pageantry which should stand as an example of what quick-time events should be. Total attentiveness is required, as an emblematic counter continually grades your responsiveness during the extended cinematics and momentarily diverting your gaze could result in disaster. Complete, ninja-like focus is mandatory, making the climactic conclusion of each assault more momentous then it has any right to be. Also significant is a delineating feature native to Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, which allows players to select between Hero and Legend pathways at certain junctures. The Legend distinction provides an increased difficulty and bonus riches upon completion of objectives, as well as varying options with regards to procured tools and equipment brought onto the battlefield. The new concept could have been more thoroughly processed, as choosing one avenue over another doesn't greatly affect the tale's outcome, but it's still an appreciated add-on given CyberConnect2's propensity to avoid diversifying a story's timeline.
Online or off, the game's multiplayer tournaments are broadly enjoyable, with the capacity for up to eight participants to maim each other in concert. The slowdown here is limited, but noticeably worse than during the solo campaign.
With Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, CyberConnect2 has quite possibly made the soundest Naruto game to date, one that actually makes me question my prickly dislike of the source material. To paraphrase a popular meme, haters are always going to hate, yet hiding beneath the dissuading guise of the Naruto franchise is a solid procession of fighting games that have the facility to appeal to even the most anti-anime of beat-'em-up tacticians when allocated a chance.