19 Years of Ninja Battles – The Evolution of the Naruto: Clash of Ninja 4 Competitive Scene

    An investigative deep dive on a classic that is still being played till this very day.

    It’s a great time to be a competitive fighting game player who is into anime/manga. Titles such as Dragon Ball FighterZ, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle R, and the upcoming Hunter x Hunter: Nen x Impact are played at some of the biggest fighting game tournaments, with thousands of people watching. Anime fans who watch these tournaments will always talk about how they dream of seeing their favorite anime/manga series adapted into a fighting game. One of the common anime series you will see them bringing up is Naruto.

    The characters and world of Naruto offer too much potential, and it has enough players requesting it to warrant creation. But I know what you’re thinking; “What about the Ultimate Ninja Storm games?”. So here’s the thing: while the Ultimate Ninja Storm series is undoubtedly a fun arena fighter, it doesn’t quite have the depth you would see in games like Tekken or Street Fighter. They all have great visuals and beautiful gameplay, but they don’t quite grasp the feeling of a competitive fighter. However, there is a Naruto fighting game series that managed to achieve that depth: Naruto: Clash of Ninja.

    For those familiar with the franchise, many people still play the Naruto: Clash of Ninja games competitively to this day. In particular, Naruto: Clash of Ninja 4 has a huge competitive scene! Today, I’d like to talk about the game’s players, history, and why so many players love it. I got to talk with many of the community members in the competitive scene, so I’m excited to share their stories with you! Without further ado, let’s get into it!

    Naruto: Clash of Ninja 4 – A Tree That Gave Birth to New Leaves

    naruto: clash of ninja 4 competitive scene

    Naruto: Gekitō Ninja Taisen! 4 (GNT4) is part of a series of 3D fighting games known in the West as Clash of Ninja. In the United States, we only got the first 2 games and the US-exclusive Clash of Ninja: Revolution titles. Notable fighting game developer Eighting, known for their work on DNF Duel, Marvel vs Capcom 3Bloody Roar Extreme, and Tatsunoko vs Capcom, developed these Naruto games. The rest of the games were only in Japan, but according to prominent GNT community member “GreyAlice”, Americans found a way to access them at the time using This site imports Japanese games so that fans worldwide can enjoy them. “When you would import Japanese games, they’d be like, ‘Hey, buy Freeloader/Swapmagic so you can play this on your US console’, GreyAlice told me in conversation. Freeloader is what foreign players would use to unregion lock their GameCube so that they could play Naruto: Gekitō Ninja Taisen! 3 (GNT3) and GNT4. From there, the Naruto GNT competitive scene completely blew up and started an exciting era.

    According to competitive Naruto GNT player “Icebro”, the competitive scene for the series started during GNT3 on the Willvolution Boards website around 2004. This discussion board is where much of the player base discussed the games, trash-talked, and had fun. However, according to retired community member “Boocock”, developing strategies and tech for the game was slow because there weren’t as many information-sharing resources at the time. “We relied on message boards and IRC. Video evidence was often harder to upload as access to recording technology / fast Internet was not as copious as it is today.”, says Boocock. Despite this, the community did what they could to use Willvolution’s Internet Relay Chat (IRC) chatrooms to message other players across the states instantly.

    The Leaves Begin to Branch Out

    To help with their improvement, nearly all of the Naruto GNT players studied David Sirlin’s “Playing to Win” book. This book teaches a lot about how to improve at competitive video games and has even been called “the competitive gamer’s bible”. “Either they read it and said they were going to adopt it as their M.O., or they opted to just play more casually.”, states Boocock. Throughout its infancy, this scene had no idea it would become one of the world’s biggest and oldest fighting game scenes.

    As the Leaves Fall, They Begin to Clash

    naruto: clash of ninja 4 competitive scene

    The owner of Willvolution Boards, The Will, hosted many monthly tournaments in Florida when Naruto GNT4 came out in 2005. From that year to 2009, Florida, Midwest, Northeast, Texas, and California competed for the role of the best scene by going to those monthly tournaments. “Our monthlies would pull 30-40+ players from 2005 till 2007. In Florida, we had people drive down from Massachusetts and even Georgia.”, stated Icebro. However, there would also be yearly big tournaments for GNT4 called “Willvolution” that would bring in even more players. Willvolution 2006 was the first big tournament for GNT4, as everyone from every region was in attendance. The tournament excitedly ended with a Chicago and Florida Grand Finals, with players Rob and Projekt fighting against each other.

    While the Willvolution tournaments were a big deal for GNT4 players in the past, many regions had their own small tournaments. Boocock had much to say about the Ohio tournaments. “In the Ohio scene, we had weekly tournaments every Friday from 2004 through 2008 for all versions of Naruto GNT that came out…We also had bigger ‘regional’ events once every four months or so in Ohio — typically February, June, and September. “, stated Boocock. The name of the gaming store they used for these events was called Game Junkie. Funny enough, this store has its own theme song that you can check out here!

    Certain Leaves Clinged to Others as They Fell

    Going back to the Ohio regional tournaments, the huge rivalries that existed in the GNT4 scene competed at these regionals. Midwest competed against Florida, and Ohio battled against the Illinois and Iowa scene (jokingly called Illiniowa). Boocock also noted that anime conventions were a huge deal for traveling. “They were put on a pedestal as there might be unknown players around and often came with medals.”, Boocock stated. 100+ people entered Naruto GNT4 at Anime Central 2006. You can imagine that this would be a great way to recruit players into scenes to add more power.

    The Dead Leaves Rest, But a Fire Sparks

    Despite the amazing growth of the past scene, there was a bit of a fall-off. The Willvolution tournaments happened well into 2010, but the number of players decreased. “2008 is when the Florida scene died off and was just myself and Underscore playing. The midwest starting hosting events from 2008-2009”, Icebro states. From 2009 to 2015, offline tournaments were very sporadic for the community. However, it wasn’t too bad for the scene, as the Dolphin emulator got huge after the 2010s. This emulator allowed players to use netplay to fight online in Naruto GNT4, thus keeping the competitive community alive. In fact, the community grew a bit and stayed alive to the point where they were able to get a tournament at Combo Breaker 2019.

    Despite not having many entrants at the tournament, the YouTube video got up to 180,000 views. This was huge for the tournament scene, as it brought a lot of attention to the game and made people realize that people still play it to this day. This video brought in a wave of new players that no one saw coming. As a result, many community members were motivated to contribute to the community in any way they could. Many people joined the Discord server for the game, so the momentum had to be carried.

    In the meantime, what people didn’t know was that some community members were working on a fan-modified version of Naruto: Gekitō Ninja Taisen! 4 . It included various balance adjustments, new gameplay mechanics, and custom animations for new moves. Additionally, the new mod included English text translations, new stages, and quality-of-life improvements from the original game. The project went through many names, but it was eventually released in December 2020 and was named Super Naruto: Clash of Ninja 4 (SCON4).

    “The Fire’s Shadow Will Illuminate the Village, and Once Again, Tree Leaves Shall Bud Anew” – The Competitive Scene of Super Naruto: Clash of Ninja 4

    naruto: clash of ninja 4 competitive scene

    Super Naruto: Clash of Ninja 4 started strong in the community, with the first big tournament being announced as a huge success by Boocock. This gave the developers working on the fan-mod the motivation they needed to keep working on it. But of course, like with building any community, it takes a lot of hard work. Lots of folks in the community were doing everything they could to bring back the GNT4 scene to what it once was. Without a doubt, this was the beginning of the next generation of the Naruto: Clash of Ninja 4 competitive scene.

    “LeeShmow”, one of the competitors and commentators for the community, is a huge part of its growth. While once a sole competitor for the game, he has recently had huge shoes to fill. Around June 2021, Boocock took his leave from the community, which was a big challenge for some. “Boocock was the only person streaming tournaments and hosting tournaments. So if he was going, that was it.”, says LeeShmow. One of the players in the community, HebrewHammer, took Boocock’s position to run tournaments for a while. Unfortunately, his regular day job prevented him from fully committing to hosting and streaming tournaments; this is where LeeShmow comes in.

    LeeShmow already had prior experience working in a tournament scene before. He was heavily involved with the Naruto Storm 4 community in making tournaments. “For me in my head I was like, If I saw things for that for Storm 4, I definitely feel like this could happen for this game”, said Shmow. So, he ended up stepping in Boocock’s shoes and did bi-weekly tournaments for the community with the help of “CyberFL”. Both he and Shmow became the head tournament organizers for the SCON4 community.

    The Fire’s Shadow Grows

    Things didn’t stop there, though, as many doors opened for opportunities to have SCON4 at major tournaments. Shmow connected with the Florida GNT4 scene to help get SCON4 at Combo Breaker 2022 and CEOTaku 2022. The game also ended up coming to Combo Breaker 2023, adding more viewership for the game. Additionally, Shmow even reached out to New York’s local fighting game tournament, LunarPhase, and was able to have SCON4 as a consistent side tournament there every month. The Super Naruto: Clash of Ninja 4 competitive scene has a growing presence at FGC events, and it looks like it will only get better from here. According to “Skeet”, one of the known players in the community, the SCON4 developers plan on adding new characters to the game. However, they ask for your patience, so stay tuned for whenever an announcement happens.

    The New Leaves Are Growing, Slowly But Surely

    With such powerful leadership amongst the community, it’s inevitable that they will reflect on the state of things. Skeet mentioned that the community is on a plateau right now regarding players for tournament events. “We’re getting pretty consistent numbers, but we’re not like losing or gaining many consistent players.” However, this is fine for Skeet and Shmow because their focus is on growing more spectators for the game. If the Combo Breaker 2019 tournament proved anything, it’s that people all over the world would love to see this game being played at major tournaments. This is a great way to improve the spectator experience and potentially bring in new people to the scene. “I would say from the time I started doing this, I would definitely say we improved a lot”, says Shmow.

    Most of all, the love for the game is what ties the community together. In general, the Naruto GNT series are very simple games with lots of depth. They’re very easy to pick up, so new players won’t feel overwhelmed with what they must learn. To make things easier, the SCON4 developers seek to make sure that the character balance is varied and balanced. By enhancing the abilities of weaker characters and making minor nerfs to dominant strategies in the original game, the game has more freedom. GreyAlice placed 5th at TampaNeverSleeps for SCON4 with Choji, a character largely considered one of the worst in the game. This is more than enough proof that balance creates exciting results.

    “Never give up” is a core life lesson in the Naruto series, and this community adopts it. Everyone does everything possible to strengthen the scene through intense competition, fun commentary, great tournament organizations, and much more. Whatever happens with this community, their hearts will forever be in the right place.

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