Although many European and American gamers may believe otherwise, Bleach is no stranger to the world of video games. Since 2005, a vast array of titles have graced systems like the Game Boy Advance, Playstation Portable, Playstation 2 and even the Nintendo GameCube. So where are all these games? Why, they're stuck in Japan, of course! Thankfully all of that has changed with the release of two fighting games; Blade of Fate on the DS and Shattered Blade on the Wii. We reviewed the latter earlier this week, but how does the former hold up?
Bleach, a popular manga that has now spawned a television series, tells the story of Ichigo Kurosaki, a high school student who runs into Rukia Kuchiki, a shinigami ('Death God' or 'Soul Reaper') who inadvertently provides him with special powers that allow him to, among other things, see the dead and kick a lot of ass. After a series of events which we won't go into here, Rukia returns to her home in the 'Soul Society' and is subsequently sentenced to death as punishment for the aforementioned power-transferral, but not before Ichigo and his chums set off to save her. It is here that The Blade of Fate kicks off (the story mode, anyway) and where we will begin to discuss the finer points of the game and whether or not it's worth your hard-earned clams. So, let's get started!
Upon first viewing, the in-game screen(s) can look rather intimidating. There are status bars all over the place and the touch-screen is full of panels with phrases like 'Sp.A' and 'Lower S-Power' written on them. Thankfully the controls are nice and simple simple in comparison, so we'll start with those. Each playable character (of which there are nearly 30!) can perform a light, medium and heavy attack as well as a flash step, guard, throw and line change (see below). The first three can be used on their own or in conjunction to perform (RF) special and super attacks. This is where those trusty status bars come into play. There are three in all: Soul (health), Spiritual Pressure (fills after successful hits), and Spiritual Power (fills gradually). Special attacks can be performed with no Spiritual Power (but are less powerful), whereas super attacks are completely dependant on having sufficient Spiritual Pressure.
Only attacks that are equal to or stronger than their predecessors can be chained together to create seamless combos. For example; it's possible perform a light, medium, heavy, special, RF special, and super attack in quick succession provided you have enough Spiritual Power/Pressure. The game even offers examples of more complex combos and tests your ability to perform them in the Challenge Mode. It's this hierarchical combat system that is key to the game's depth and long-lasting appeal for experienced fighting fans. Whilst it's certainly possible for newcomers to enjoy the game (those mysterious panels we mentioned earlier are actually shortcuts to performing combos without the need for well-timed button presses ? perfect for beginners, but mostly useless for advanced gamers attempting to string together attacks seamlessly), those looking for a deeper fighting experience can rest assured that Blade of Fate has you covered as well.
The game still has a few tricks up its sleeves, though. First up are Spirit Cards, which are unlocked throughout the various single player modes. Activated by tapping the appropriate panel on the touch screen, each card either improves your character's abilities, or adversely affects your opponent's. Although most of these effects are rather brief, a cunningly designed deck combined with strategically timed deployment can quickly turn the tide of a battle. Despite this, the game still manages to remain balanced, fluid and most of all, fun. Things get even crazier, though, with the introduction of four-player battles. Despite being able to jump between two 'planes' (background and foreground), we found these to be a little too manic for our tastes. When three or more characters are fighting on a single plane it can become rather difficult to do anything but frantically button mash. Perhaps those with super-human reflexes will have more luck, though.
So, we've ascertained that Blade of Fate is built on a solid foundation, but how does it build on that foundation? Well, first of all there is an extensive story mode which intersperses battles with dialogue and plot events that should be extremely familiar to fans of the television series. Thankfully, for those who are primarily interested in unlocking additional characters/Spirit Cards, all cut-scenes and tutorial segments can be skipped. Ichigo's story is the primary focus of this mode, but a good deal of other characters also get their own small selection of missions. All in all you're looking at a good few hours of gameplay, even if some of that time is artificially enhanced by an aggravating string of repeat battles, some of which force you to guess at an unspecified condition (e.g. win with a full Spiritual Pressure gauge) before it will let you progress. Beyond the story mode there's also a host of other single player endeavours, from arcade through to survival and beyond. But the real meat of the game comes in the form of the all-important versus mode!
Everything you could want from a multiplayer fighting game is here. That means CPU-controlled characters to train against, local wireless matches and download play for all possible player combinations, and, of course, internet matches via the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection. With support for random match-ups, friend battles (yes, those pesky friend codes return, but were you honestly expecting anything else?) and ranked matches which pair you with players of similar abilities, there's plenty to keep you entertained. Plus, with the exception of overly-frantic four player matches (which, as mentioned, we tend to avoid anyway), we experienced next to no lag ? something that could have easily ruined the entire experience. Oh, and as for those Spirit Cards we mentioned earlier, they're completely optional when playing online! Of course, fighting games are notorious for attracting ridiculously talented gamers that will have no qualms with endlessly combo'ing you into oblivion, and while that's hardly the game's fault, you might want to bare it in mind.
A solid and deep combat system that rewards strategic thinking as well as quick reflexes, even if four player battles often inspire button mashing. Touch screen controls are a great way to ease the learning curve for those not immediately ready for complex button combos.
Gorgeous 2D sprite-work, animations and effects. Detailed backgrounds that don't distract from the action, but nevertheless look great. Honestly, this is probably the best looking 2D fighter on the DS.
The usual smashes and crashes that come with a fighting game are nothing to write home about, but voice samples and music tracks ripped straight from the English version of the TV series surely are.
A boatload of content is tucked away in this little cartridge. A wealth of single and multiplayer modes are backed by hundreds of unlockable Spirit Cards, outfit colors, graphics, and music/voice samples. Oh yeah, and there's a great online infrastructure that will keep you entertained for hours and hours. Or something like that.
Bleach: The Blade of Fate is a game that could be stripped of its anime roots and still be a great fighter. Whether you're a fan of the series or of the genre (or both!) you're in for a treat. The solid combat system is decorated with tons of playable characters, modes and unlockables as well as gorgeous visuals and authentic audio, with very little in the way of noticeable flaws. If 2D fighters have never really been your cup of tea, then there's very little to change your mind here, but for everyone else ? we heartily recommend this product!
Spot on review Spydarless. Great work. I imported this game when I first came to Japan and loved it! A great fighting game on the DS, regardless of like or dislike for the anime series.
Awesome. I'll definately buy it when I have some money...
Or can you import the 2nd game with MORE characters and modes.
Thanks for the comments guys. "Spot on," eh? Not bad.
That is a shame, Adam. I don't follow the charts all that much, but I would have expected it to do better than that!
I don't usually pursue fighters on a regular basis (I love the Soul Calibur series, but that's about it), so for this game to win me over is quite an achievement for Treasure.
ďOr can you import the 2nd game with MORE characters and modes.Ē
Or wait a little while longer for the U.S release in August - trust Europe to be left behind once again, though!