I want to kick the shit out of 14-year-old me so bad.
2004, the year of the beast, a 10-year-old Hunter is enjoying life like usual. He’s just living with his mom and playing with his friends when he notices one of the older kids collecting something called “Shonen Jump”. It was this weird-ass black and white comic magazine that read from right to left and had A TON of wild stories. I didn’t get it at first, but I started to become enamored with what I was reading. And it was more violent, too! I was watching YuYu Hakusho on Toonami at the time and it wasn’t NEARLY as bloody and graphic as what I was reading in this magical book. There was one story in that magazine that caught my eye the most, though, a series about a loud-mouthed ninja that wanted to become Hokage.
It was then that Naruto Uzumaki and his friends entered my life for the first time.
I loved it. I loved everything about it. I thought the characters were cool looking, I loved the mix of old and modern era Japan, the ninjutsu skills were mind-blowing, and god the FIGHTING! THE FIGHTING, YOU GUYS! I was hooked. I tried to get the older neighbor kid to let me borrow his stuff whenever I could, but he thought I was annoying after a while so he ended up ignoring me. I was heartbroken. Luckily, god was on my side as the anime premiered on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block a few months later. Now I got to enjoy the story from the very start! And from there, it just went up and up and up.
I gained ready access to the internet around this point and discovered that JApan was YEARS ahead of us, so I got to see stuff I wasn’t able to at the time. I learned that Naruto beat Neiji in their Chūnin Exam fight, I learned that Sasuke leaves the group later down the line, I learned who the Fourth Hokage really was! It was so crazy! I was still keeping up with the series at the time and it was still so fresh in my mind!
Then, the filler happened, and my patience started to wear thin. You see, even though I could watch the Japanese episodes on Youtube at the time, I wasn’t able to find a place that had the manga so when Shippuden, I couldn’t read it. That frustrated me. That frustrated me A LOT. I basically started to turn on the series and by 2009, I swore it out of my life. I made fun of it at every chance I got and when the series finally ended in 2014 (2015 had the last volume) I audibly laughed at what I was hearing. I was a little shit.
Why am I talking about it now? What brought me back to it after all this time? Why would I go back to a series that I made fun of for over a decade?
You aren’t even going to fucking believe me when I tell you.
I. Really like playing Fortnite. I think it’s a very entertaining game and a really interesting experience as a piece of online media. I also think the skins are really funny and I swear to god I nearly shit myself laughing when I saw NARUTO and FORTNITE in the same line of text. I got Sakura with some left-over V-Bucks because I wanted at least one of the skins but then my crazy step-father, who only plays Fortnite, Bought Me The Rest Of The Skins. I appreciated the gesture and playing as Naruto in this stupid-ass online game had me feeling…oddly nostalgic? It was weird like I was happy to see him again. After much inner turmoil, I decided to ask some friends if it was even a good idea to re-experience the series when one of them proposed an interesting idea. The games.
My friend told me that the Ultimate Ninja Storm games, which are a series of arena-based fighting games, were a great way to experience the story of Naruto for both newcomers and old fans, saying that even Kishimoto said they were “The best way to experience the story”. Now, I can’t find a way to verify that statement, but a few other of my Naruto-pilled friends echoed similar sentiments, so I bit the bullet and bought all 4 games. And then I marathoned all of them. In a row. In less than a month. I have. So, so many feelings about this series now.
I legit don’t know how to structure this next part so I guess? I’ll just talk about how I felt about each game as I went through them? THIS IS A WEIRD THING THAT I’M WRITING.
Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm
The first Ultimate Ninja Storm game is…barebones, to say the least. The combat system is very basic, only requiring you to mash the melee button in conjunction with a direction. You get a few ninja tools at your disposal that can help turn the odds of battle such as paper bombs, defense and attack upgrades, and health items, but they aren’t a huge deal in the heat of the moment. The most complicated it really gets is with the substitution system which requires you to hit the guard button in time with an opposing attack allowing you to dodge, but the timing is OVERLY strict and can be tricky to pull off. You also have assists and jutsu you can perform, and ultimate jutsus that deal a devastating amount of damage while playing a very, VERY long cutscene. It plays a cutscene because you can and the other player can mash buttons to get out of it.
Outside of Free Battle, though, you can play the adventure mode which features a fully explorable Hidden Leaf Village complete with side-missions, collectibles, and shops to spend your money in. It’s honestly REALLY cool and I had a ton of fun walking around finding new ways to explore the village to my heart’s content, but it’s not without its faults. For starters, the mode feature VERY few cutscenes or even lines of dialogue in the main missions. You’re essentially experiencing a cliff notes version of pre-time skip Naruto and in that regard, it’s disappointing. You’re missing out on a TON of cool moments from the series this way. IT FUCKING SKIPS THE HIDDEN MIST VILLAGE ARC! WHAT THE FUCK! The worst part is that when it does feature cutscenes, they’re fantastic. They’re beautifully animated and exciting.
Other than that though? That’s it. All you get is adventure mode and free battle. You don’t even get a training mode in this game. If this game wasn’t in the EXCELLENT triple pack on modern systems, I would tell you to just skip it entirely. It’s fun but it’s missing way too much for me to recommend it. I will say that it’s my favorite game to explore in terms of its village, but that’s it.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2
Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is more or less the same as UNS1, just slightly more refined. The combat feels somewhat faster and the larger roster allows for more variety in both the matchups and playstyles. The combat here isn’t what’s important though. What IS important is the adventure mode this time around. While it isn’t a fully 3D village like it was in the last game, instead opting to use pre-rendered backgrounds, the ninja world has opened WAY the hell up and now allows you to explore outside of the Hidden Leaf Village. Not only that, but it now features a fully voiced campaign complete with a crap ton of cutscenes and exciting set pieces.
UNS2 takes very few liberties with the story this time around, at least from what I can see. This campaign is REALLY long and tells a hell of a plot from start to finish, starting at the beginning of Shippuden and ending with the fight with Pain. While I lament the loss of the village from the first game, I think this is more than worth its removal. My only real complaint is that you run WAAAAAY too slow in the overworld and it can make exploration feel like a slog, but I’ll take what I can get. I was very much surprised when I went through this campaign and it left me wanting more, which is good because we still have two more games to get through.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst
Full disclosure: This is my favorite game in the series.
I. Fell. In. LOVE With Ultimate Ninja Storm 3. I was having the time of my life from start to finish and a lot of that had to do with changes made to the fighting system. You can now cancel your melee attacks mid-string by tapping the chakra load button (Triangle on my controller) and pressing the jump button and it feels soooo good to pull off. It can also let you catch your opponent off guard if they use a misjudged substitution use, which has also seen major changes. Instead of having to time a button press to the exact moment of an attack, you now have a hard limit of 4 substitutions you can perform before it needs to recharge. While this can make some fights feel like a crazy dodge-fest I think it makes the game feel so much better and a lot faster. That’s with the combat though. What about the adventure mode? Is it still good?
Adventure mode is still long as shit and uses the pre-rendered backdrops from the previous game but it goes INSANE in the presentation department. The huge boss battles from UNS2 come back in full force and provide an excellent challenge and a nice change of pace from the usual battle. The story is still fine, it’s still Naruto, but the ending is pretty bad since it sort of cuts off at the very end but that’s because they caught up to the manga too fast and there wasn’t anything left to adapt. Full Burst does add an extra campaign which is really nice though.
They even put in more modes! Modes! ….I didn’t really play them because I still had another game after this, but yeah! Modes! But seriously, I LOVE Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 and I can’t recommend this game hard enough. Seriously, play this. It’s a good one.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 – Road To Boruto
Ultimate Ninja Storm 4.
It’s more of the same from Ultimate Ninja Storm 3. Same mechanics, same commands, same everything. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. REALLY wish they kept that mindset for the story and adventure mode. Yes, this time around they decided to separate the explorative parts and the combat/cinematic focused sequences from the previous two games into their own separate modes. I don’t like this at all. It makes both modes feel less special and oddly condensed and short. Like what is the point of me exploring the world map if it’s not leading me towards the story? And having what is essentially a checklist of story missions makes it feel less exciting which SUCKS considering The Coolest Shit Ever Happens In This Game.
This game culminates every good cinematic idea that the previous games had and just goes fucking all out with its presentation. The bosses are This game culminates every good cinematic idea that the previous games had and just goes fucking all out with its presentation. The bosses are bigger and better, they offer more unique fight scenarios, it tells the best story it can through gameplay it really is super cool. The story in this game kicks ass it’s just..I don’t know! Something felt missing. In terms of it being a mode, it doesn’t come close to how UNS2 and 3 handled it. I don’t even want to talk about Adventure mode. It’s just the map areas without the story.
What else is there?
OH! The Boruto stuff.
THEY FUCKING DID THE MAP AND STORY STUFF FOR THIS MODE? COME ON!
The extra Boruto campaign in this game did EXACTLY what I wanted the main game to do! It uses the world map and a vehicle to tell its story and it’s a pretty good one too! Don’t…really like how Naruto became an absent dad..doesn’t really seem like the kind of thing the dude I just spent 4 games with would do, but whatever! It’s good! What the fuck!
Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is a good game and a pretty great send-off to the series IF you get the Road To Boruto version. Don’t buy the vanilla version since it will only include the Story and Adventure modes. I still had a good time and loved watching the end of Naruto’s story unfold in front of me, it just didn’t wow me as the third game did.
What Was The Point Of All This?
Man, I don’t know.
I guess I just wanted to go back to the series that gripped me during my youth. Despite all my searing statements and jokes, part of me really did miss Naruto and his world. That’s not to say that it’s the best piece of fiction I’ve ever experienced or anything because this series has a loooooooooooot of issues. Kishimoto, for all of his talents with creating compelling characters and interesting worlds, cannot write a female character to save his fucking life. Outside of maybe Tsunade and Temari, every character mainly serves as a vehicle for a male character’s motivation and growth or is sidelined entirely. Some characters are very interesting and CAN provide a great source of compelling storytelling, but it’s very few and far between. Sakura gets it the absolute worst.
The ending of Naruto is almost pretty. Bad. Without going too much into spoilers, the main villain that the series has been building up to for, at least in my experience, two games is in fact NOT the main villain. It was someone else all along! And they suck. Bad. It completely deflated the drama that I experienced beforehand. Doesn’t help that character’s shitty family Keeps Fucking Showing Up In Stuff After The Series Ended, including a movie that I actually very much liked!
The Last: Naruto the Movie I think showcases one of Kishimoto’s biggest strengths, his ability to write characters you can sympathize with and grow close to. It explores Naruto experiencing romance for the first time in his life and whenever it shows him and Hinata together (Spoiler? SPOILER?! LOOK AT THE POSTER!) it’s genuinely compelling. They have such good chemistry. AND THEN THE SHITTY VILLAIN COMES IN AND DISTRACTS FROM IT! The dude really likes breaking up character moments with huge bombastic action and while that’s not ALWAYS a bad thing, it really brought this movie down for me.
Even after all this. All these games, this movie, all this time..what did I think? I..think I love this series., and I think I always have. There’s something about Naruto that just draws you in be it with its characters, its action, its setting or even its comedy. There’s something here for most everyone. Sure, it’s not perfect, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me tear up a few times. I’m glad I went back to Naruto and I wish I never gave it up because there is so much here that excited and entertains. If you’ve never experienced Naruto before, I highly recommend the Ultimate Ninja Storm series. It’s a great way to experience the bulk of the story in a condensed format and they go on sale CONSTANTLY so you’ll never have a hard time finding a copy.
Did I enjoy going back to Naruto? Yes. Yes, I did.