Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 4: Road to Boruto (PS4)

The Naruto anime, and manga franchise has expanded quite a lot since it's initial debut. Most everybody knows of, or has watched the anime. To some it has inspired a sort of character specific cult following, and offered an alternate identity in the worlds of online gaming. To others it has inspired bravery, or perhaps even loyalty. Characters like the outsider turned leader Naruto, and the rebellious man against the machine Sasuke Uchiha are relatable to many youngsters who have similar personalities. While this can be considered a good thing, and a bad thing at the same time there's no doubting the significance of Naruto's relevance in modern day social culture.

I personally watched the entire season one anime on my own time and own dime back in the day, but kind of lost interest down the road when the animation style, and storytelling direction changed. I was very fond of that first season, and it's feels. Like many other fans I could relate to some of the characters in it, and found inspiration from it. As far as the ever expanding video game series goes the last Naruto game I played was admittedly on the Nintendo Wii. I actually enjoyed the combat in it, but never pursued the ongoing series beyond that point. You can imagine my surprise, and excitement when I was selected to review this latest game though. It's been a true trip down memory lane, and hasn't been half bad. Though I did end up favoring the offline portion of the game, the online part ended up hurting my overall opinion of it solely because of the players abusing it. Not because of the game, itself. In the following paragraphs I'll break down the game feature by feature, and tell you why it is I feel the online portion of the game is it's Achille's heel. Let us begin ...

The "Road to Boruto" all inclusive edition of "Ultimate Ninja Storm 4" features a healthy dose of content both in the offline, and online sense. In it you'll find all previous DLC, the 'Road to Boruto' movie tie-in DLC, and the 'Ultimate Ninja Storm 4' game in all it's entirety. There are several panels of already unlocked, and unlockable characters to play as, as well as tons to unlock in the way of player identification items. Through the "Story, "Adventure", and "Road to Boruto" plot based gameplay modes the premise behind the battles therein are ultimately fleshed out in full. It's a saga ending that concludes the game series itself with the 'Road to Boruto' movie tie-in closing the adventure in it's final theatrical chapter. There are epic battles to endure, and formidable foes to take on as Hokage Naruto, his former friend Sasuke, and their children face off against a new threat in the 'Naruto Shippuden' universe.

In the story mode of 'Ultimate Ninja Storm 4' you are taken through the timeline of events leading up to, and ending in the latest chapter of the Naruto Shippuden series. The mode features what the game calls 'IA', or "Interactive Actions". This includes a sort of dial-a-button system where you have to press the appropriate button/s when prompted to do so. Not only does this 'IA' forward the story, but it earns you bonus stars that in turn open up hidden scenes within the tale being told. At times you'll even enter an actual battle where it mixes said input requirements into the fight. The scenarios that occur differ by type, and include various types of battles (free battle, boss battle, ...) which must be completed in order to finish the story mode. The mode itself is divided by chapters that vary in length, and character engagement. These chapters can be revisited, and redone to get a better rating, and to score those bonus scenes that are locked behind your ability to respond properly to the 'IA'.

Beyond "Story" you'll find listed a mode known as "Adventure". It is in this mode you will play as designated characters in their own respective events. Events which include tasks that can be taken on in the form of 'Main Events', 'Side Quests', 'People Quests', and 'Sudden Quests'. Quests that vary in both importance, and reward. Basically as the assigned character/s you must travel within a village, and surrounding villages meeting up with persons of interest who are marked with icons that represent one of the four different quest types. Once met you must complete said tasks to reap the rewards on a return visit to the individual. For navigation you are given access to three different maps (Mini-Map, Area-map & Main-Map) which are each variations according to provided details. For the most part each map beyond the mini-map is a zoomed in version of the mini-map that makes finding where you need to go easier. The only real difference among them is with the main-map's ability for quick instant travel from one place to the next. The maps are each accessible by pressing "TRIANGLE" from the mini-map starting point, and the map thereafter. The mini-map, as it were is located at the top right-hand corner of the screen for easy viewing. To also make objective travel easy you can press "R1" after starting a quest/event, and have that tracked on the map via a color coded kunai arrow by assigning the ones you wish to pursue via a pressing of the "SQUARE" button on their respective images. Some quests/events will involve battles while others will require that you run errands for an individual. On your journey you can also break boxes, and things to earn currency, and ninja artifacts. Both of which can be spent on 'Ninja Info Card' related items via the 'General Store Bandai" shops, or menus.

New to this all inclusive "Ultimate Ninja Storm 4" package deal is the "Road to Boruto" movie tie-in. It blends the 'IA' mechanics of 'Story' mode, and the village interactions of 'Adventure' mode. In it you take on the role of Boruto, and unravel the story of what transpired within the movie of the same name. All 'IA', and 'Adventure' mode mechanics and features remain the same. The only thing that changes is the story, and the characters involved.

In the way of battle modes 'Ultimate Ninja Storm 4' features two options that are sub-divided by category. There's the 'Online Battle' which allows for online 'Ranked', 'Player', 'League', 'Tournament', and 'Endless' play with people across the globe. The ranked, and player modes are fairly self explanatory. Ranked will reward the winner points that are associated with the game's global leaderboard rankings while a player match leaves this competitive aspect out. You'll find in each of these two modes a 'Quick Match' option, a 'Search Session' option, and a 'Create Session' option. The 'Quick Match' option will get you into a match while negating the region and rank setting. The 'Search Session' option on the other hand will allow you to select the region of the opponent as well as his, or her ranking for more appropriate matchmaking. Lastly the 'Create Session' option will allow you to host a matchmaking session. Creating a session includes options for room name, battle type (Single Match / Team Match), round/s, privacy, ever-changing rules (random handicaps), and elemental effects. These are 'Player' specific options while the 'Ranked' create a session menu offers the player only a region selection while giving them the option to check player stats, and host boot if desired.

The 'League' online option, which is a 4v4 setup also allows for the previously mentioned matchmaking options. To be able to play in the league though you must have one other player join you. The 'Tournament' option is also inclusive of the base matchmaking options, but offers a more sizable battle that can involve either 4 or 8 players. While these are the suggested player numbers a tournament can be started with only 3 players online. Another interesting matchmaking mode is, 'Endless'. In it players will compete to see how many consecutive battles they win in comparison to the other player. Players in this mode fight in order with the player who is winning staying in battle until he/she loses. After that the losing player has to wait until their turn comes back around. The mode also has a feature where the host can boot out a loser from the lobby. If you find yourself wanting to hook up for some battles with an online friend who has the same game you can do that as well. By using 'Friend Search' you can look them up, and see if they are hosting a session. It's a good way to connect with those friends you really want to play with.

The 'Free Battle' menu, which is the second main multiplayer mode in the main menu listing, differs quite a bit from 'Online Battle'. In it you do have 'VS Battle' with similar setups that are like those found in the 'Player Match' create a session menu. It's for local play though. There's that, and 'Survival which gifts the player a single health bar to fight multiple battles in the 'Ability Cap', or 'Ultimate Battle' settings. Each of which pits you against a themed set of opponents with a handicap. This handicap can do things by choice, or randomly according setting such as take away blocking, make guard breaks easier, and plenty of other match crippling changes that add to the challenge at hand. At the end of each successfully won match you'll regain a certain amount of health based on performance rating as well as some rewards in the form of currency and ninja artifacts.Your performance as with any other battle type in-game is rated alphabetically with "D" being among the poorer grades, and "S" being a perfect score. It should also be noted that in 'Survival' you will find different difficulty tiers starting with 'Beginner'. Other modes in 'Free Battle' include 'League', and 'Practice'. League has already been explained, and stays the same here. Practice, however is where you can fine tune your battle skills, and better learn how to deal with certain characters. The practice mode is divided into 'Free', and 'Battle' types allowing for different types of learning experiences. The 'Free' type will be good for fine tuning movement, ninja technique, and chakra uses. The 'Battle' option on the other hand will allow for a mock versus opponent experience that will give the player a more authentic battle setup where they are being attacked, and defended against.

Along with that comes an offline version of 'Tournament' for those that prefer actual co-op in the tournament sense. Needless to say with the local 'Tournament' you will need actual in-person people to play along with you for the full effect. For those of you worried about character setup, and preset settings those are also menu options here. With the 'Character Customization' menu you can assign each character a 'Substitution', and a 'Finish Cut-in'. The 'substitution' is an item that can be bought using in-game currency or be traded for using the acquired bronze, silver, gold, and platinum ninja artifacts you get from rewards. It allows for a special substitution animation making the battle slightly more personal. As far as the 'Finish Cut-in' goes it is basically a cutscene image with a caption, and spoken dialogue that is shown during certain types of battle finishers. Again, this makes for a more personal character setup within the heat of battle. Presets, as they were are savable character teams (up to two assists) that can be chosen from in 'Free Battle', and 'Online' matchmaking. It makes choosing your favorite team easier. In total you can save 8 presets.

Battle in 'Ultimate Ninja Storm 4' is a virtual ballet of beasts, tactics, and techniques. It involves knowing when to make a move, and when to defend. Each character comes complete with the basic combat abilities. This includes chakra dashes, team assists, secret techniques, ninja arts, and a spammable combo that simply requires the repeated pressing of 'CIRCLE' when the first strike connects. There's these things, and the ability to both move about quickly as well as block. The finishers also are afforded to each character, and in a variety of different ways. The ultimate finisher being a cinematic sequence that requires 'TRIANGLE x3 + CIRCLE" to be pressed in order when prompted to do so. Of course a 100% meter is required to execute said command. Aside from that you'll find that most characters contain a transformation or alternate more powerful versions of themselves with alternate attacks. These "Transformations" require a holding of the "TRIANGLE" button when prompted until the effect is fulfilled. The assists which I mentioned earlier are assigned to the "R1 & L1" shoulder buttons, and can be activated like a summon when the associated character image (below the main character portrait) is completely colored in. Other useful features include the character specific projectiles which are tethered to the "SQUARE" button. The "Chakra Dash" as it were uses the combined pressing of "TRIANGLE + X" while the "Chakras (special attacks)" themselves use a combination of "TRIANGLE + CIRCLE". Learning when to do what is the key to victory. It should also probably be mentioned that health bars in this game are two-fold in nature. Meaning that you have a certain amount of armor (green bar), and a certain amount of health (yellow). Once the green, and yellow bar is fully depleted past the final red/orange warning state that player will lose. Matches do sometimes include multiple rounds though, so in those instances you can make a comeback or at the very least a 'DRAW'.

Lastly we come to the 'General Store Bandai' where you can spend in-game currency or trade in ninja artifacts for items associated with characters, and your "Ninja Info Card". The "Ninja Info Card" has a multi-layered face that houses two titles, a card skin, a voice, and picture. Each of which can be found at the 'General Store Bandai'. The titles are as one might expect, and include village alliances along with names/titles relevant to the Naruto mythology. These titles allow you to stand out as whatever it is you wish to be known as within the game's context. The 'Card Skin' is basically a colored border that adds a bit of a fashion statement to your ID. Finally the 'Card Picture' takes a still image, and allows you to use it as your identifying photograph. Like every other item in the store photos are ranked by rarity with 'N' being normal, and 'SC' being the rarest of them all. You can earn, and purchase all items by playing through each of the games modes. You can even earn some online through matchmaking by simply having played against an opponent. There's definitely a lot to unlock, and work towards in this game. That coupled with the noteworthy replay value makes this 'Ultimate Ninja Storm 4' definitive collection a decent buy.

While all of the previously mentioned content is rich in it's own right, and offers significant replay value on it's own 'CyberConnect2 (The Dev)' does give an added incentive to play the game daily online. By simply accessing the online multiplayer menu you will be gifted a daily reward in the form if ninja artifacts, Ninja Info Card items, or currency. There's this, and the "Bingo Board' which is basically a listed selection of six/eight characters that when defeated online will reward the player with significant bonus rewards. These wanted characters each have an alphabetical ranking with "D" being among the easiest to beat, and "S" the hardest. Rewards throughout the game can be viewed via the main menu "Collection Menu".

Now for the verdict ...

Why do I say "Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 4: Road to Boruto" is a "decent buy"? Well, the game has a noticeable Achilles heel. If it weren't for player abuse, and misuse online this game would be highly recommended by the Inferno. Unfortunately like most competitive online games though people intentionally ruin the experience for others. While it's not always the developer's fault (and definitely not Bandai Namco's this time around) it is a problem that can turn away even those like me who loved the game offline. For when a game is half offline, and half online in build each half matters that much more. I will say that if you have the local people to play, and enjoy this game with it is worth a buy. If your heart is set solely on the online multiplayer experience though then you might want to pass.

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