Naruto Ultimate Ninja 3
Every couple of months it seems that a Naruto game hits store shelves and for the most part these titles find their home on the PlayStation 2. While the quality of these games generally runs the gamut there are a few series worth looking into for diehard Naruto fans. In particular the Ultimate Ninja franchise has won over fans and gradually throughout the course of its release it has gotten better. Granted in this reviewer's opinion Ultimate Ninja 3 is not quite as good as Ubisoft's effort, Rise of the Ninja, on the 360 but it is what it is.
Make no mistake about it; Ultimate Ninja 3 is a fighting game through and through. Fans of the franchise will undoubtedly come to this installment expecting that but to be quite honest after experiencing Rise of a Ninja this release feels kind of dated. I suppose that could have something to do with the fact that it was produced in Japan before the 360 game was conceived. Even so it's kind of hard to deny that this one feels like its one step forward and two back.
Compared to its peers in the Ultimate Ninja franchise, the third title offers some slight improvements with regards to combat and modes. The fighting system in place is generally the same with button mashing combat, big jutsu moves, and some frantic pacing. If you've cut your teeth on Naruto fighting games before then you'll be pleased to know that this one feels somewhat more fluid in structure. The action is more intense and all around the battles feel slightly more refined. This is a good thing but the improvements are negligible in all honesty.
One of the bigger draws for Ultimate Ninja 3 is the somewhat free-roaming ability the game offers you. Instead of simply fighting your way up a roster you can go out and about in the Hidden Leaf Village and seek out new opponents. This is definitely one of the better components for the game as it allows you several options for exploration which is an improvement over straightforward fighting games. Again, I hate to compare apples and oranges but Rise of a Ninja achieved something similar to this in a better fashion but as it stands the third Ultimate Ninja game improves on the previous ones. Unfortunately the only real place you can explore is the Hidden Leaf Village though I suppose that's to be expected.
As you fight and explore you'll uncover money and experience which can be used to upgrade your character. Whoever you decided to bolster you'll be allowed to improve various statistics like you could in an RPG and update the jutsu and ultimate techniques available. The RPG elements are a welcome addition though I'm not entirely sure that I saw the payoff in the end. Characters hardly play any differently and what improvements are made appear negligible.
All told Ultimate Ninja 3 offers 42 playable characters, a wealth of customization options, and gameplay befitting a Naruto fighting game. It's not the most in depth experience out there but it's definitely one of the better Naruto ones so fans should be pleased. If you're looking for a dramatically improved game then you're going to be disappointed but if you're simply in the market for the next chapter of Naruto's tale then you'll be undoubtedly pleased. Fighting game fanatics won't find much satisfaction here but enthusiasts of the anime will get extra mileage for sure.
One thing that is impressive about Naruto Ultimate Ninja 3 is how the game looks. Cel-shading has come a long way in recent years and the fact that this title represents the anime almost perfectly stands as testament to that. The character models here look fantastic with an appropriate amount of detail that is fitting to the show's design. Animations are good all around as well which is definitely a nice touch. With that being said some of the environments lack the textural detail that they should have. There is also a fair amount of pop-up while you're exploring the Hidden Leaf Village as well.
If you're returning to the Ultimate Ninja franchise one of the biggest improvements you'll immediately notice is the inclusion of original Japanese voiceovers. In my opinion this is a definite plus considering the English dub cast doesn't quite fill the roles as well as the Japanese one does. With that being said the voice work here is decent and should be what fans expect. Sound effects and the music also fit into the Naruto franchise well enough but don't particularly stand out by any means.
If you're looking for a new Naruto game to sharpen your kunai on then Ultimate Ninja 3 is definitely worth a spin. The gameplay may be the same as ever but slight improvements in just about every department help flesh out the experience. Sadly no matter how you slice it this effort is not quite as good as Rise of a Ninja for the 360. Even so it's still a worthy fighter that will keep fans entertained.