Among the realms of anime, Bleach is generally considered a big deal, and whilst I am not going to claim I am an expert in the mythos, I at least know my Bankai from my Rukongai. I also dress up in a robe, wear sandals, and run through the streets telling people I’m fighting invisible spirit beings. But what can I say? A man needs a hobby.
I’m not sure I can say the transition from anime to games has generally been met with staggering success in the past, so have Sega struck gold with their tactical RPG on the DS?
I guess I should elaborate at least a little on that sentiment. The fact that the game carves out a new story, instead of just rehashing pieces of the original series is certainly a point in its favour, and a point that more developers should take into consideration when transitioning a game from a long-running series such as Bleach. Not only that, but this story is written by Tite Kubo, a name fans will recognise as the creator of Bleach, in which you play one of a set of twins created especially for this game.
However, it’s unfortunate that that remains the most positive thing I can say about the game. While dropping the fighting format of the previous titles shows a willingness to broaden the series, it also pits the game against some heavy hitters of the genre, such as Fire Emblem or Disgaea – and when compared to those titles, it doesn’t fare too well.
The format is essentially the same, placing you on an isometric grid with control over your various pawns like an adrenaline-fuelled game of chess. It’s the little things that combine to letting it down, from a lack of movement of the camera that hinders the view and makes the top screen’s map an essential addition rather than a pleasant addition, to the over indulgence of text conversations.
I like a good story, and I appreciate when a game wants me to become involved, immersed and genuinely care about the characters, but when I spend a hefty amount of the game tapping A to funnel my way through yet another conversation, I’m going to lose interest eventually. Perhaps this decision was made to veer off the preconceived notion of “another fighting game” that the series may have felt it was plagued with, but it was a step too far. I lost track of the amount of times I went to another character’s house for dinner.
It’s a shame these scenes left a sour taste, as the involvement with the existing Bleach universe is tremendous. You find Urahara longing to open his own shop and free himself from the shackles of the Soul Society, Gin Ichimaru at a time before he reeks of pure evil, and Rangiku Matsumoto at a time when any mention of cleavage is about twelve steps past inappropriate.
Outside of the main plot, you engage in “free time”, which is the game’s way of letting you flesh out the story by allowing you to interact with the characters you want to. The choice in the order you watch these can also affect your game, as each day is placed on a path and each scene takes up a certain amount of action points; use too many and you might overshoot a bonus, too few and you might end your free time early.
If you are a die-hard Bleach fan, this game has an entertainment factor that will draw you in as you immerse yourself in the world of the anime (or the manga, however you enjoy your poison). If you aren’t one of those people, then there isn’t a lot of potential here and your Strategy RPG fix would be better served in Disgaea, Final Fantasy: Tactics or Fire Emblem.
Some great art makes it feel straight out of the anime, and an extensive cast of well-knowns bolsters this feeling, but it is let down by overuse of dialogue.
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A long series of minor points drastically hampers the enjoyment of this game.
The soundtrack is above average, features some original music, and certainly captures the anime's atmosphere at times.
Bleach: The 3rd Phantom is a game of decent length, but it can just be a chore getting through it at times.
The game is pure fan service, and as a fan that is phenomenal to see. But as a game it just can't compete in a genre packed with such classic titles.