When it comes to anime, I’m kind of a mixed bag. Outside of Pokemon and Yu-gi-oh, I was never big into it outside of a couple of series that didn’t seem to hit it big in the U.S. While a lot of people are into the bigger anime shows such as Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon, my favorites are the ones that don’t get a lot of discussion among the people I talk to such as Case Closed/Detective Conan and Sword Art Online. That being said, I don’t have a lot of experience with Naruto which has seen quite a bit of success in the States. I have played a couple of games here and there, mostly demos, and have seen a bit of the anime, but never really got into it. That’s not a bad thing here though as I’ll be going into this review with no sort of expectations when it comes to Naruto in general, so I’ll be able to focus on the game itself, if that makes any sense. With that out of the way, let’s dive into Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker for the PlayStation 4.
The start of the game has you create your own character with a decent variety of customization options to start with and more opening up as you progress through the game. After creating your character and choosing which Ninja Village you wish to be from (which is only for cosmetic purposes), you begin the game proper in Konoha Village which acts as the game’s main hub. From here you have a few options after going through the game’s tutorial of sorts. The bulk of my time with the game was with the VR Missions where you’ll replay various past battles and scenarios from the Naruto series. These missions can be done either in single player or co-op online. In fact, a good bulk of the game requires you to be online and connected to PlayStation Plus. However, if you just want to do the VR Missions by yourself and you aren’t worried about doing any online battles, PlayStation Plus isn’t required for that.
When you go into missions you can choose from one of four playstyles: Attack, Defend, Ranged, or Heal. Each playstyle has their own weapons and jutsus you can use in battle. I began with the Attack playstyle and prefer it to the others, probably because that’s how I spent most of my time. However, I did begin to get used to Ranged a bit, probably because I had the tendency to get my rear handed to me constantly in battle when getting up close to the enemy…though I’ll get more into that in a moment. As you complete battles (either online or through the VR Missions) you’ll gain experience and rank up. After a while you’ll be able to choose a master to learn from and they’ll join you in battle. As you complete missions with your chosen master, you’ll gain experience with them too and you can learn new techniques from them for certain playstyles. You can also earn scrolls of various rarities that you can have transcribed into various rewards, typically money or new outfits, though occasionally you’ll get something really nice such as a new jutsu. You can also play as the masters you unlock.
So while there is a lot of customization with your character, how you actually do it is kind of weird. First, to have any scrolls transcribed you have to head over to Tenten who also runs the shop. That I’m honestly fine with. After that though, if you want to change anything about your customization you have to go over to Sakura next door. It’s not a huge inconvenience if you’re already at Tenten’s buying or selling something or getting scrolls transcribed, but if you’re anywhere else in the village and want to change something, even if it’s just one of your jutsus, you have to make your way over to Sakura. It’s not a huge deal really, but you’d think you could just hit a button to open up a menu and change those options.
Going back to the VR missions, you only have some select ones available from the start under Training and D Rank categories, and even then you only have a few D Rank missions available after training. You can get more missions from the various characters around the village. The missions can range anywhere from collecting items, keeping certain people safe, beating a boss, or keeping the village gates safe from an onslaught of enemies. The combat is kind of a mixed bag for me. During combat you can use two types of normal attacks, you have two jutsus you can use that have cooldown timers so you can’t just spam them, ninja tools like shurikens that deal minor damage and have to recharge, but are pretty quick, and a secret technique you can use once a special gauge is filled up. You can also block and dodge incoming attacks, run up walls, and utilize a few other special techniques from the series. However, the combat can become frustrating if you’re not that skilled.
For one, unless I’m missing something you can’t block unless you’re at a complete stop. Combine this with enemies being able to attack very swiftly in higher ranked missions and it can be very easy to take a lot of damage as you have very few moments to prepare for what your enemies can unleash. A couple of times during boss fights I’d be trying to reach the boss and thanks to the camera I couldn’t see a massive oncoming attack in the distance so I’d be flung backwards with no clue as to what hit me. Other times an enemy would knock me down or up against a tree and by the time I got back up, he’d be right back on me before I got a chance to block and regain my bearings. That said though, I did enjoy the VR Missions, or what I’ve done of them so far. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for online battles, though that’s not entirely the game’s fault.
Everything I’ve said about the difficulty with the combat is magnified in online battles because now you have skilled players instead of AI opponents. To begin with, you have to have PlayStation Plus to do anything online, be it the 4v4 online battles or co-op VR Missions. Thankfully the game offers a two day trial of PlayStation Plus for those wanting to check it out. You can do either a quick match or participate in the Ninja World League. Quick Match will put you in one of four match types at random with seven other players in 4v4 battles, while the Ninja World League lets you compete in current online competitions where you can earn rewards at the end of the current event depending on your final rank. While I’m not sure if the match type changes with each event (right now the only available match type for the current event is Flag Battle), a Quick Match will put you in either a Flag, Base, Combat, or Barrier battle, though it’s pretty much random.
Something else that’s seemingly random is the matchmaking. In a lot of games I’ve played online in the past with matchmaking, the game tries to put you into a group or match where players are either evenly matched up, or you can choose a region or skill level to go up against. Here it seems to be completely random, though it looks like they try to average out the levels. Case and point, in one match my team had players at experience levels 14 (myself at the time), 30, 93, and 79, an average of 54. The other team was comprised of players at levels 43, 61, 93, and 4, an average of 49.5. Still having an opposing team comprised of three players at least in the mid-40s meant I barely got any offense in before just getting my rear handed to me pretty soundly. Now needless to say a lot of this is on me; I’m not the most skilled Naruto player by any stretch of the imagination, but take into account the issues I mentioned with combat and let’s just say that I mostly stuck to the VR Missions. Outside of having to grind some levels and scrolls now and then to help clear a very difficult mission, I had a lot more fun with those than I did with the online battles. You can equip various accessories to help out in combat, but some of the better ones come from scrolls, which means playing the VR Missions over and over again to grind for what you want or need.
From someone who’s not a Naruto fan, Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker has its moments of fun, but also of frustration. Visually the game looks great and I do enjoy the VR Missions as I do feel that, for the most part, they get progressively more difficult over time. The combat though, while fast paced, may be a bit too fast paced at times and it can be difficult to recover from an enemy’s attack, namely if the camera decides not to cooperate with you or if that enemy just happens to be a much more skilled opponent in an online battle. If you can get past the difficult combat, Shinobi Striker is fun, but I can safely say I had a lot of moments in online battles where I wanted to yell at my TV after getting repeatedly knocked down by an opponent eighty levels above me without having much of a chance to defend myself.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.