Supposedly the final game in the series, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 feels like a true labour of love from Japanese developer CyberConnect2 – a studio well known for its passion when creating titles based on existing properties. It's the end of an era for this 3D fighting franchise, then, but does this last hurrah bring about a suitable conclusion to the ninja war?
Fans will likely already know that Storm 4's story mode details the closing events of the Naruto Shippuden storyline, in which several narratives culminate in one huge final battle that seems to go on forever. Starting off with a flashback duel between two of the world's most legendary shinobi, the developer's talent for crafting incredibly cinematic and intense action is immediately clear – and this continues throughout the whole mode.
The story takes around 10 to 15 hours to complete, but you'll be spending longer here if you attempt to attain an S rank on each scenario. Split into five chapters, some of which are relatively small, story mode retells the events of the manga and anime especially well without getting bogged down in minute detail. Parts of the plot are told through the use of still images taken from the animation, and although it can look a tiny bit cheap at times, it's an efficient way to dish out context before you go diving into the next fight.
Alongside pre-rendered cutscenes that generally look great, story mode's defining feature is what has become a trademark of not just the series, but of CyberConnect2 itself: cinematic, epic battles that combine superbly animated scenes with quick time events. Indeed, if there's ever been a studio that's figured out how to utilise QTEs correctly, it's this one. Brawls shift seamlessly between the title's main combat system, cutscenes, and QTEs, resulting in a blitz of brilliance that you can't help but become engaged with. The only negative that story mode has to contend with is that newcomers will no doubt be lost, but we suppose that there's no real way around this since it depicts the conclusion of Masashi Kishimoto's work.
In any case, it helps that the release certainly looks the part. Presentation is almost flawless across the board, and battles look fantastic in motion. For years now, the series has captured the aesthetics of Naruto effortlessly, but the move to next-gen consoles really brings out the detail in the character models, and the extra particle effects that come with each attack ensure that this is one heck of a pretty package. We dare say that if you're out to impress your friends, this is a PS4 game that may well be worth showing off.
Story mode is great while it lasts, with the final few battles in particular proving to be absolutely enthralling, but it won't be too long until you're dipping into the game's various other modes of play. Fortunately, Storm 4 has an impressive amount of content to sink your teeth into, from standard versus matches with customisable rules to a full adventure mode that takes place after Shippuden's plot.
But first, let's talk about the title's actual combat system, which has had a bit of an overhaul since the last entry in the series, Naruto Shippuiden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution. In a way, it feels like the limiters have been removed this time around, as character modes have been stripped away. In other words, no matter how you decide to play, you've always got access to ultimate jutsu techniques, awakenings, and support actions. You've got a lot more options to consider in battle as a result, which understandably gives way to more in-depth gameplay.
The biggest change, however, comes in the form the leader system, which allows you to switch out to a second or even third character with the flick of the right analog stick. Not only does this mean that you can build upon attack chains by swapping shinobi mid-combo, it also puts a bigger emphasis on creating a varied team of ninja – you're no longer just choosing support characters purely because they have the most spammable assist actions. Given that teamwork has always been a crucial theme in the source material, the leader system makes a lot of sense – and it also brings some welcome variety to longer skirmishes.
Special moves are still the most effective way of dealing damage since standard combos can be escaped with ease through the use of substitutions, which essentially allow you to teleport away from incoming attacks. Mix the substitution system in with elements like guard breaking, counters, and chakra loading, and it soon becomes clear that combat is more about movement and reading your opponent than it is memorising combos. As such, it's safe to say that Storm 4, like its predecessors, sports rather accessible core mechanics that work well with relatively simple controls – but there's still tension and excitement to be found in trying to pick out the ideal moment to unleash an offensive. There's simply nothing better than nailing your opponent with a super move that's timed to perfection.
Boasting the largest playable character roster in the franchise, it's probably a good thing that there are, as mentioned, so many game modes to choose from. Free battle mode is broken down into several different components that range from eight player tournaments to survival challenges and even league battles, which see you compete to gather the most points from successful bouts. The amount of content on offer naturally means that you'll have plenty of opportunities to figure out which characters that you like best, and therefore, the process of discovering your ideal team is a rewarding one – especially once you stumble across a winning combination.
If fatigue begins to set in as you pummel your way through brawl after brawl, adventure mode may be worth a shot, even if it does feel like the least polished aspect of the release. Here, you play as Naruto himself in an original story that occurs after the end of Shippuden. Structured like a kind of light-hearted role-playing game in which you travel from village to village, completing fetch quests and competing in various battles, it's a decent enough distraction. Fans will appreciate the ability to walk and run around this accurate recreation of the source material's world – just don't expect a grand adventure that oozes the same amount of love and attention to detail that's present in the title's lavish story mode.
To top it all off, Storm 4's got a strong online multiplayer offering. You can take part in tournaments, search for casual matches, enjoy ranked battles, or even host your own league. As you can imagine, taking the fight to human opponents ups the intensity of combat as you have to try even harder to force openings and then pray that you've done just enough to connect with your most powerful technique. In short, more serious competitions can prove to be stunning spectacles, whether you're a spectator or a combatant.
It's worth mentioning that we did come across some noticeable lag issues when putting the online modes through their paces, but thankfully, a small, recently released patch seems to have put these network problems to rest. With that in mind, it's clear that a lot of effort has been put into making the online component something that you'll want to keep coming back to, as you can use money that's won in fights across all modes to purchase visual upgrades for your online ninja info card – which is basically a profile that other players can see. It may sound superfluous, but there's a real addictive quality to customising your profile with your favourite characters, backgrounds, and earned titles.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is easily one of the best entries in the series, and is arguably one of the greatest anime fighters to be released in some time. CyberConnect2's flair for creating stunning action scenarios is at its brightest in the game's superb story mode, but even when it's over, a hefty amount of content, both online and offline, and a thoroughly enjoyable, reworked combat system will see fans through well into the future. The storm may be about to pass with this final instalment, but there's no denying that it's provided one heck of a light show.