I don’t consider myself to be a real fan of Naruto, but the anime was entertaining enough for my wife and myself some years back that we watched it for a while. We stopped after finishing the Pain Invasion of Konoha arc because there’s only so much anime that we can take and really having Naruto being acknowledged as a hero by the village seems like a fitting end. Of course Naruto is still such a high-profile property that it isn’t hard to more or less know what subsequently happened through cultural osmosis and that it recently ended.
Still, when I saw this game with its ridiculously long and overwrought title become available for PC on Steam I was tempted to buy it especially since the story mode of this one starts exactly where I left off watching the anime and because I’ve never really played an anime-themed fighting game before.
- This game is all about the fanservice, in all the senses of the word. The story mode is all about hitting the highlights of what happened in the manga and the anime, so much so it would probably be incomprehensible to non-fans who don’t already know what happened. It features tons of characters, including ones that aren’t that prominent. It also includes swimsuits as optional outfits for female characters like Sakura, Ino and Tsunade but naturally not to the male characters.
- The fighting mechanics seem very primitive with many fewer features than other such games. The ones that do exist seem horrifically unbalanced. For substituting out of an attack easily gets you out of a combo and positions you behind the enemy to boot, balanced only by the fact that you’re limited by how many times you can do it and that the enemy can do it too. I guess having two enemies repeatedly pull this off against each other is true to the spirit of the anime but doesn’t strike me as good game design. Another example is that Ultimate Jutsu moves do a whole lot of damage and you can easily charge your chakra using a button.
- Most characters also play very similarly. Everyone has a ranged attack with a single button and a combo that involves just mashing the strike button. There are a number of exceptions of course, Deidara for example excels in ranged combat much more than anyone else and Kankuro has no offensive ability at all except through his puppets. But for the most part, everyone is so similar that you don’t really need to learn a character to play him or her.
- Still, I really love the visuals and the animations. It’s really tempting to play every single character at least once to see his or her animations and Ultimate Jutsu sequences. There are even multiple versions of the same character for different stages of their development.
- Story mode really is story mode. You’ll probably spend more time watching video sequences than being engaged in actual gameplay. I didn’t mind it. I needed to catch up with the story after all, but it’s easy to be offended by how little gameplay there is. Even worse, the boss battles use QTEs so you’re forced to watch out for these while you’re enjoying some pretty awesome action scenes. Note also that the story ends in an awkward spot with a non-canon ending because the manga was still ongoing when this game was made. I can’t imagine that there’s enough story left for them to make another game after this one.
- There are interstitial scenes between the fighting and the videos to show characters moving from one place to another, but I frankly don’t see the point of them. I do realize that the world opens up once you complete story mode to do the optional quests and the collectibles but I found these very boring. I also don’t see the point of having peddlers and post boxes as save points scattered throughout the world. In fact I barely bothered with items at all, only buying food when I realized you needed to eat to restore health between battles. I am especially disappointed that you can’t fly from rooftop to rooftop in Konoha like in the anime.
- One feature I did like is the Ninja Timeline which allows you to play the most iconic fights from earlier in the story. Too bad the whole timeline isn’t instantly available. You need to unlock each previous event and it isn’t always obvious what you need to do to do so.
- Difficulty is mixed. All fights which work according to the normal rules are pathetically easy. Boss battles can be extremely difficult because you’re forced to use what amounts to a limited amount of health to get through multiple fights, plus bosses have novel mechanics and there are QTEs thrown in. The final battle is especially obnoxious in this regard and doesn’t even allow a save point. Going through all of the fights in the last part of the game probably takes over an hour and you need to play through all of it in a single session.
This is obviously a game just for the fans of the series and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. I did enjoy it because it was cool to use all these familiar characters in a fight but I really can’t recommend it. It compares especially badly to Injustice for example which manages to be a very good fighting game in its own right. I would very much prefer it if it abandoned any pretense at being an RPG and just focused on being a fighting game but I concede that expectations in the Japanese videogame market may be very different.