It's not one of this week's headline attractions, but for some people the fourth ultimate ninja storm of the Naruto Shippuden games will be welcome news. It's a genuinely good looking game, something I've written about before.
But Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 has one major problem, and it's not because of the dipping frame rate — although that's not good either. The problem is an awful lot of the story isn't animated, and that's bad for a mode that involves more time watching cutscenes than actual gameplay.
The story mode opens with a battle between the two strongest ninja of their time, Uchiha Madara and Hashirama Senju. It's a big, flashy battle thanks to a massive increase in visual effects and the fiery presence of the Nine Tails in the background.
Just before and immediately after that sequence, you're treated to several minutes of dialogue and cutscenes. And the biggest problem is that you never quite know when those cutscenes are going to be animated and when they'll be sequences of still frames.
At first it seems like the still frames will be reserved for dreams, flashbacks, memories, but there's no semblance of consistency. Sometimes it'll be sequences from early on in the Naruto Shippuden series. Sometimes it'll be the reintroduction of major characters or the precursor to a fight that's given the still frame treatment.
And then, out of nowhere, you get a fully animated, fully rendered sequence. And it's gorgeous. And it's bloody maddening.
The dissonance in fidelity is even more frustrating when you contrast it with the in-game fights, and the quicktime events. They're the ones beset with frame rate drops, which are occasionally so stark that it looks like the game has dropped below 15fps. I don't have the equipment at home to measure this precisely, unfortunately, so let's just say the drops sometimes are really bad.
As an aside, apologies for the annoying credits in every shot. It's automatically added in when you capture screenshots directly from the PS4, and I'm still in the midst of getting a new capture box. Forgive me.
The game expressly recommends you don't play through the Adventure mode until completing the story, and that's because the open-ish world of Konoha is set in a time immediately after the events of the story.
That probably won't matter to fans of the series, since they'll already know how everything pans out. But whether you're a fan or not, the variance in quality between scenes is immensely frustrating.
It's not a question of insufficient storage space. The game's footprint on my hard drive is only 36.49 GB, well below the 50+ GB for other recent releases such as Until Dawn and the approximately 60 GB needed for Halo 5: Guardians.
I wonder if it could be a question of cannibalising a licensed property, whereby CyberConnect2 weren't allowed to reuse or recreate too much of the original animation. But the story alone — which has always been the major drawcard for me, even with the Adventure and online offerings — and the player would have been vastly better served.
It's a shame. UNS4 is the last Naruto Shippuden game CyberConnect2 will create; any future titles are likely to revolve around Boruto/Bolt, Naruto's son, and now that the Naruto arc has reached its inevitable conclusion, I'm no longer invested in what the plot does going forward to care about a second round of shenanigans involving an obnoxious, light-haired teenager.