Bleach: The Blade of Fate
Bleach hits the DS in good form, but should you import now, or wait for the inevitable US release?
Bleach is one of Japan's most popular anime and manga series, and has been a marketing miracle with previous game releases on PSP, Playstation 2, Gamecube, and Game Boy Advance. Bleach: Souten ni Kakeru Unmei was the series debut on the Nintendo DS. The game was released earlier this year only in Japan, and following release it has quickly become one of the most imported DS titles to date. The 2D fighting game is published by Sega, and developed by Treasure; the house of Gunstar Heroes fame.
Treasure has made a name for themselves by tweaking 2D gaming to its finest, and they prove with Bleach: Souten ni Kakeru Unmei that they aren't ready to hand over the 2D crown yet. The game offers all of the gameplay modes that fighter fans have become accustomed to over the years - arcade, VS, training, gallery, and survival. More creative modes, yet not necessarily more enjoyable, are the game's story, challenge, and shop features.
The story mode follows the series and provides players the chance to play along as main character Ichigo travels to Soul Society to rescue his companion Rukia. Challenge mode is a tedious diversion at best, in which a player has to perform a specific series of attacks against a traning dummy, and the shop allows players to spend points earned throughout the game on alternate outfits, gallery pictures, sound clips, and spirit cards.
Spirit cards are one of Bleach: Souten ni Kakeru Unmei's two answers to touch screen support. They act as power-ups that can be activated during gameplay to either help yourself, or hinder your opponent. The cards can be purchased and organized in a tailor-made deck, but in truth they offer no significant change to gameplay. Spirit cards only remove players from the most impressive feature of the game, the fighting.
The fighting engine is fast-paced and robust. The game allows for four player combat, in a foreground/background setup. 14 characters are available from the start of the game, with an additional 14 unlockable in the game's story mode. Basic fighting works on a three button attack system for light, strong, and spirit (stronger) attacks. The fourth button serves as a dash button allowing players to perform a "flash step," which is essentially a dash in any direction. The 'L' button jumps the character between the two lines of combat, while the 'R' button is a standard guard.
The character's fighting styles differ substantially and give the game a real flair that other fighters often lack. The fighting has tournament level depth, and advanced players could spend hours working on juggling air combos, jump and guard cancels, and super attacks.
Each character has an assortment of special and super moves; and a select few fighters have an attack known as a "Bankai" that freezes gameplay for an anime cutscene. Bankai attacks are ridiculously powerful, and make the gameplay slightly unbalanced for characters without them. Any of the game's special attacks are simple enough for players who have been frequenting fighting games for years, but Treasure also thought to include touch-screen support for those who aren't so versed in the genre. Players can use the touch screen as a hotkey menu for performing any characters special and super moves.
Bleach: Souten ni Kakeru Unmei makes use of the DS' download and Wi-Fi connections. While four players can play locally from a single game cart, online support significantly increases the multiplayer possibilities.
Overall, Bleach: Souten ni Kakeru Unmei succeeds where most other handheld fighting titles fail. It offers an inspiring, deep combat system, a replay value extended greatly by the games connection features, and a wonderful experience for anyone already enamored by the anime or manga.
Anyone interested in playing Bleach: Souten ni Kakeru Unmei should take notice that this is a title only available in Japan. The game doesn't offer English language support, but navigating the games main menu and understanding core gameplay instructions is fairly easy. Thanks in particular to the lovely "Engrish" audio players will notice when selecting gameplay modes, "Tuh-rain-ing Mod-ah!" Other game modes require some knowledge of Japanese, or a translation guide, available online. Most specifically, unlocking many of the games hidden characters requires some tasks within story mode that are practically impossible to just stumble upon.
If the language barrier is just too daunting, there is a realistic chance that Bleach: Souten ni Kakeru Unmei will see an eventual release in America. The Bleach anime has been licensed to debut in Adult Swim's fall 2007 lineup, and game marketing will surely follow soon after.
What's Hot: Deep and Fast-Paced fighting engine. The Bleach license.
What's Not: No English language support. Spirit cards are useless.