I have always been a decent Naruto fan, not quite going to the lengths of making costumes and cosplaying, but when I ran out of English dubbed episodes of the popular anime, I quickly and eagerly moved onto the Japanese subtitled ones. I made it through most of Shippuden before I finally lost interest, not to return again. While I’m sure this will sound like blasphemy to some readers, I still thoroughly enjoy Naruto, and still go back to some of my favorite fights regularly. Naruto is a great property and CyberConnect2 has proven that it can meld it into a fantastic game. But how does this third attempt at anime-inspired nirvana stack up to the other two?
Through the past three games, CyberConnect2 has been going through a trend of less free-roaming exploration, and that remains true in this third go. Gone completely is the Hidden Leaf Village, and replaced in favor of a straight fighting game with small, storyboard-style cutscenes to keep the story moving along. There were complaints from critics, and fans alike, about the open village, but to me, jumping from roof to roof was always a high point of the series, it brought something that feels lacking in this sequel: a change of pace. What seems to have taken the place of the village is multiple character story arcs. Not only will you be playing as young Naturo, but you’ll be able to grace characters like Zabuza, Killer Bee, and Minato. There are ten characters in total, each with their own fleshed-out story.
For those who have watched the anime series, you’ll feel instantly at home. Characters are expertly rendered in the most faithful way possible. Voice actors, for the most part, all return to reprise their respective roles. Many fans will also be happy to hear that that Japanese voice cast also returns to give an excellent performance. Along with the impressive voice work, Generations also has quite the grasp of sound design in general. Many a times during in a fight, I found myself witness to the blunt, dull thud of hard-hitting punches immediately followed by strong guttural sounds of pain that sometimes made me grimace.
The bleedingly fine art direction and attention to detail in Generations is awe inspiring. It’s not inspired by the anime, it is the anime incarnate. Everything from characters to the fighting backdrops are nothing but a joy to look at, and the crazy fluid animation doesn’t hurt either. Right from the get-go, Naturo will be performing lightning quick dashes, face melting punches, and incredibly powerful jutsus. Sure, the inputs for all these stylized attacks might be simple and easy to pull off, but it’s not the inputs that make it fun, watching what happens as a result of your combos is always the main draw, and this can be likened to CyberConnect2’s other recent release, Asura’s Wrath.
Combat remains fun, albeit a bit shallow in the beginning, there are a ton of over-the-top, flashy special moves that you never realize you have until you’re in the heat of battle. The special moves can be so overtly over the top, that, when you remember you have them, you find yourself constantly trying to execute them on your opponent, landing massive damage, but more importantly, giving your eyes some much deserved candy. Generations wasn’t made to be the next big thing in the fighting game scene, it’s made to tell a compelling story, while keeping the combat loose and exhilarating, which it succeeds at without even blinking.
The online offerings of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations are quite slim. You’ll be limited to two types of matches, ranked, and player battles. Both are inherently the same, ranked battles, as the name implies, keep your rank, and player battles are just for fun. Throughout the online matches I played, I’m glad to say I encountered very negligible amounts of lag, which is fantastic to see for a change.
While Generations is fun to play and stunning to look at, it feels like a leap back from Ninja Storm 2 in many ways. The in-engine cutscenes I loved so much from the previous games are entirely stripped out, replaced with dubbed over still images, and a small animated bit at the end of each character’s story. Don’t get me wrong, the story of Naruto in and of itself is compelling, but the way it is handled in Generations is far from it. The lack of almost any in-game cutscenes screams low production value, at least compared to the other titles.