NARUTO X BORUTO Ultimate Ninja STORM CONNECTIONS (STORM CONNECTIONS henceforth because that name is stupidly long) is the latest in the long line of Ultimate Ninja STORM entries that has blessed the world. This time, you can experience the story from the very beginning (dubbed Part I of the Naruto anime) all the way to the latest (and most hated) Boruto. But with eight entries into the franchise, is STORM CONNECTIONS just another attempt to get you to spend some money?
Starting off, this entry into the franchise features what seems to be a hefty amount of content, similar to the one that preceded it — NARUTO SHIPPUDEN: Ultimate Ninja STORM 4. With access to modes like Survival in Free Mode, the Special Story taking part in Boruto, and even History mode that takes you through the entirety of the first two parts of the anime, there is a lot to do here. That said, however, one of the main aspects of the title (and one of the most advertised ones) is very lacking.
The description of STORM CONNECTIONS is one of the most crucial pieces of information you'll need. As stated by it, "For the first time ever, the history of Naruto and Sasuke's rivalry has been recut and combined into one game". Though many fans took this as an assurance that many of the fan-favourite fights throughout the Ninja STORM franchise would make a comeback, what you get is instead a lacklustre History mode consisting of eight Chapters and a total of 43 fights.
While that may sound like a very large number, these fights mostly consist of normal, one-on-one duels with few Battle Conditions to meet, akin to what you would get if you were to choose "Free Play" and select two characters. Instead, most of the content throughout History is bloated with a bunch of cutscenes that do little justice to any of the major events throughout the anime.
Naturally, expecting a full-fledged History mode that spans all of the major arcs is a pipe dream at best and wishful thinking at most, as encompassing all of the significant fights seen throughout the entire story is just too much of a tall order for one game to tackle. In that sense, STORM CONNECTIONS did nothing wrong, even if the advertising felt a bit dishonest. To experience the entirety of Naruto, you'd have better luck playing all of the other titles that have been released, which are comprised of better fights and the typical quality I came to expect of the Ninja STORM franchise.
Still, it's a hard miss from the team in general, with some of the most pivotal fights in the franchise being reduced to a quick "storyline" section that has no gameplay involved. In terms of greatest hits, History really misses the mark on finding which were the most impactful and meaningful fights in the anime and even previous titles, reducing them from boss fights to normal, meaningless battles that you could find anywhere else.
That said, however, though I diss the History mode for being less than lacklustre, I feel that focusing solely on that for the review would be unfair, even if it seems like one of the main selling points to STORM CONNECTIONS. Instead, the main storyline that you'll be playing throughout takes place in Boruto, where you'll be playing the new-generation Uzumaki and ... joining a VR videogame alongside the rest of the ninja world? Okay — bear with me.
The story starts with a teaser of a big fight between Sasuke and Naruto, where instead of taking control of the previous protagonist of the franchise, you instead play his rival in a fight that feels out of place, pitting Naruto as the villain of the story. This intriguing start did a good job at hooking me to Special Story, even if the videogame premise seemed a bit off at first, and surprisingly, it works enough.
Though I'm not a fan of amalgamating mediaeval worlds with modern-day technology, even the anime has dabbled into this throughout the Part 1and even the Ninja War. And what CyberConnect2 did with this unique storyline doesn't feel as out of place as it might have, but I wouldn't say it "works" as well as I'd hoped. The fights take place in a virtual space where you can play as any character throughout the franchise, which meant I took my trusty Rock Lee to every fight, which made for some interesting pairings, but I was glad for the freedom of choice, especially considering there are 130 characters to choose from.
Now, I'm far from a fighting game expert, as my only experience has been duelling some odd friends here and there across a handful of titles, most of which involve Naruto. That said, I did jump into the Online Battle and faced off against some opponents in Casual and Ranked battles, and I'd say it feels as good, if not better, than the other titles in terms of PvP.
The enhanced shuriken has been replaced by a second ninjutsu that you can cast, giving you an extra attack to add to your combos and strategies, and a "parry" mechanic allows you to interrupt your foe and dish out some hits on your own. Again, I'm far from great, and I was beaten up more than if Naruto from Part I had tried to fight against Madara, but I did manage to reach genin rank (my dream!) and win some fights of my own.
My biggest quarrel with the Online Battle was that the matchmaking felt unfair at first, being paired with foes that had won at least a few dozen rounds and been in twice as many when I was in my third. The rank did a great job at indicating to me how much I'd have my arse handed to me, as the question of whether it would happen was out of the window. The more I played, the more I learned, and I really enjoyed and clicked with the new systems implemented... except for the "simple" mode.
Now, maybe it's because I have followed most of the games in the franchise throughout their releases, but the Ninja STORM franchise has always been far from complex in terms of controls. Sure, you have a slew of abilities and combinations that might take some getting used to, but nothing that justifies the implementation of a one-button gameplay that the simple mode brought to the table.
The gist of it is quite simple: the game has been simplified so you only need to click one button (sometimes two) in order to perform some top-tier combos. Do you want to dash to the enemy? There's no need for a particular input; just click the attack button, and it'll do it for you. You can play the whole title by clicking one button, and though it doesn't sound that bad (after all, skill should be able to overcome the simple control system), it gives an unfair advantage to anyone who uses it with very few downsides.
From what I experienced, this seemed like a prominent problem in Online Battles. While your usual technique is to use a Substitution jutsu to get behind them and try to have one more than your opponent to be able to focus on your combos, being able to outsmart an opponent became difficult because the mashing of the attack button meant that as soon as I went behind them, they'd dash straight to me. Instantaneously. It took away from the fun and it became a game of trying to predict which foe had simple mode enabled versus who was using normal, and then trying to time my speed of input according to which of the two I thought they were using.
Again — I'm all for accessibility in games, but pairing those who want to play with harder combos against those who wish to mash one button and call it a day felt unfair in the best of cases. I'd often think I was fighting an adept foe, only to realise that their Chakra Dash was too quick once I'd used Substitution to classify it as "reflexes". The simple mode will even combo into combos, allowing you to make a mixture of all of your attacks in a way that ensures you get a higher damage ratio without having to try too hard.
What remains, then, is a title in a long franchise that fails to capture the magic of all of its previous greatest hits. It misses the mark in terms of boss battles in both its story modes, it misses the mark in online fighting, and everything else it does is either unique but not as impactful (such as the customisation) or has been dragged from previous entries that, frankly, did it better. It's hard not to look at NARUTO X BORUTO Ultimate Ninja STORM CONNECTIONS and see a cash grab or an entry that was muscled in with little to no passion.
NARUTO X BORUTO Ultimate Ninja STORM CONNECTIONS (Reviewed on Windows)
Minor enjoyable interactions, but on the whole is underwhelming.
NARUTO X BORUTO Ultimate Ninja STORM CONNECTIONS’s greatest feat is making me want to revisit the smash hits that CyberConnect2 has released in previous entries of the franchise, as it nearly fails in everything else it has on offer.