At first, I thought Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 was simply an anime fighting game.  Cyber Connect 2 and Bandai Namco really surprised me with a multilayered storytelling game with fighting, beat-em-up, and shmup-like elements.

Before reviewing this game, I was not familiar with the Naruto Shippuden anime series.  This series alone currently has over 400 episodes and is still going strong.  Naruto is a ninja in a world full of ninjitsu fighting over the land.  This game encompasses the climax and resolution of the Fourth Great Ninja War.  In Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 (NSUNS4), you will play many different characters in a variety of battles and points of view.  You will even have the story branch at times as you follow different protagonists.

I absolutely enjoyed the storytelling aspects in the game.  Each battle was bookended by essentially an anime short.  It brought me up to speed as to where I was in the story, then there was the battle, and it finished with an epilogue to help me continue on with the story.  Sometimes, the anime segments were extensive and occasionally longwinded, but it gave NSUNS4 the ability to not just give me filler, but flesh out a world for me.  Normally, fighting games give you a 30-second blurb to give pretense at a story, but NSUNS4 goes well above and beyond.

The fighting in the Story mode is varied.  It is not simply 1v1 battles to give you action sequences to break the monotony.  Those do exist, but there are also times where you have a beat-em-up with multiple enemies or a boss battle where you are a flying beast firing chakra missiles at the boss while avoiding the onslaught of lasers, bombs, etc. on the screen.  You are also not limited in the 1v1 to fighting as the characters.  Times exist where you are one of the “tailed beasts” of legend, meaning you are a giant beast fighting other giant beasts in a Godzilla-like clash.  It is pretty fantastic.

There is one plot device that is used that will be divisive with those that play the game.  There are quick time events (QTE) called the Secret Factor.  Even my wife noticed these QTEs, and just said “Ewww, quick time events.”  In NSUNS4, I did not mind them and here’s why: They were specific to creating a special on-screen event/segment for the player to enjoy.  Yes, you feel compelled to do them as the commands are hard to ignore, but nowhere are you required to play them.  While many may not like the addition of these events, I feel they are a successful narrative device in this world that I do not believe would work in many other titles.

The Story mode is not the only mode available.  There is the ability to play in a Free mode or battle online with your friends.  Of course, there are collectibles to be had that you can freely purchase using the bits and baubles you collect during battles as well as an in-game currency called Ryo.  After completing the Story mode, you can jump into Adventure mode, which is sort of this free-roam, mission-based RPG.  You roam around Hidden Leaf village, pick up missions to do all sorts of things from deliveries to sparing to tournaments.  It is a nice respite to the rather intense Story mode.

Overall, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is one of the best storytelling fighting games I’ve ever played.  Without those storytelling elements is a fighting game that is not as robust as some of the premier fighting games, but enjoyable none the less.  The Story mode is lengthy and will keep you involved the entire time and the other modes enable you to continue playing long after you’ve finished the Story mode.  This is a definite recommendation for those who are fans of the series or those looking for a breath of fresh air in the fighting game genre.