I will start right off by saying that I am not a big fan of the Naruto manga books or television show. It is not that I dislike it or have anything against anime - it is just that I have never sat down to take any of it in. My older two in particular are fans of the series and both enjoy anime, so I picked this up largely figuring they might give it a shot.
The premise of the game is pretty simple - relieve some of the Naruto story while battling out some of the staged events with a fast if somewhat shallow combat system. While Naruto is really a fighting game, there are some RPG/exploration elements as well as you have conversations with characters, wander around from the Hidden Leaf Village all to way to someone's hideout to the northeast of the map. Yu earn currency to spend on items and find objects that can be used to help unlock new items for purchase from the story. There is the primary quest and also plenty of side quests.
Graphics - 9:
Sure, sometimes there is a general lack of environmental detail, but honestly this game looks like the cartoon series. My oldest, who seldom plays games but generally appreciates the art in games, plopped down to watch me play for a time because "It's so pretty", as she put it. This is never more evident than during the quicktime events found in some of the boss battles where it looks like the scenes were lifted right off of the anime.
Sound & Music - 7:
Bit weaker here. The good is that the voice actors are apparently the ones (or close enough sounding to the originals) found in the cartoon (according to my kids). Some of it is delivered in pretty stilted, sometimes ridiculous fashion that made me cringe here and there. Maybe it was intentionally that way, there is definitely a certain charming cheesiness to the storyline, but there are some pretty serious moments in the storyline as well that sometimes did not get as well conveyed as they probably could have been. Most of the music is pretty average, though I did like the title screen's song quite a bit.
Gameplay - 8:
You can look at the combat in two different ways. One, it is fairly shallow. You spend probably 80% of your combat pressing the circle button, which is your melee attack. Square is your ranged attack, which is almost useless. Triangle unleashes your chakra for powered up attacks (which you then complete with circle or square) and the X button is how you jump (or dash if you engaged your chakra before hand). You can call out support with the left and right bumper buttons (as long as you have some available) and you use your directional pad to use your limited supply of per-battle ninja tools.
The thing is, I think this system is quite accessible, so those who are fans of the series, or just curious what it is all about, do not necessarily have to be fighting fanatics to enjoy what is here. This is obviously not a Virtua Fighter 5 from a technical standpoint, and I think that is okay here, because hte combat is fast and generally fun (there are a couple of tougher boss encounters later in the game that required some trial and error).
Also of note, there is liberal use of quicktime events in some of the more important (generally boss) battles. I am generally not a fan of quicktime events, because you wind up focusing on making button presses at the right time, and at least for myself personally - I tend to focus in on those and lose sight of the potentially awesome game events also taking place on the screen at the same time. Thankfully however, they are usually not too terribly difficult and you can 'purchase' the boss scenes again to view later through one of the shops, which was a cool feature.
Intangibles - 8:
There is a lot to do here. There are online options for playing against others combatants, but the vast majority of my time was spent in the Adventure Mode. I beat the primary storyline right around thirty hours, and then sunk in another fifteen to twenty completing side quests and experiencing some extra content that was not vital to the game's primary storyline, but interesting to a newcomer such as myself all the same.
There is a lot of purchasable stuff, such as the boss scenes I mentioned before - but also music and Ultima Jutsu attacks that you can stage with your characters of choice. You can also unlock titles, raise 'friendship' levels and partake in a pretty extensive list of side quests, even after having beaten the game.
Overall - 8:
I really enjoyed this game. Enough so that I'm curious about the first Ninja Storm and the storyline it tells, and picking up the more recent generations as well. There were definitely some duller moments as I ran around from one location to another to complete/reach quests (though once you have beaten the main storyline, you can purchase warp scrolls which prove to be a significant time saver), but everything was so beautifully drawn that I did not mind most of the time.
One side note for PlayStation 3 players, this game does come with a fairly large mandatory install of about 4 GBs. There are quite a few loading points in the game however, and I suspect this helps to speed them up, but if you are pinched for hard drive space, that could be an issue.
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