IGN Review of Bleach: The Blade of Fate
There's no denying that the Nintendo DS has become a simply legendary system over its last three years of existence. First-party Nintendo titles paved the way for high-quality third party efforts, as the sheer amount of top-tier titles already rivals that of the GBA in some respects. DS is a success, and Nintendo hasn't been doing it alone. Up until now, however, there's been one aspect of the pocket world that really hasn't come into fruition, and that's the fighting genre. PSP has a few key titles, but looking purely at DS the best the system offers is something like Guilty Gear: Dust Strikers, a passable effort at best. Well, that's all about to change.
In Japan the DS fighting scene has been ramping up over the last couple years. If you're part of the import "in crowd" you hear about Jump Superstars and Jump Ultimate Stars; a series based on the Shonen Jump manga/anime licenses which has been - and continues to - dominate Japan's pocket fighting scene. Due to license issues we'll never see those games here in America, but thanks to the success of the anime/manga series Bleach in the USA - and the help of SEGA - we're getting what many consider to be the biggest competitor (or even dominant product) to the "Jump Stars" series; Treasure's own Bleach DS.
Bleach: Blade of Fate has been out well over a year in Japan already, and even has a sequel out now for the Japanese gamer audience and importers alike. Since Bleach is still in its beginning form here in America, however, this is a perfect time to bring the fighting series to our shores as well, so SEGA has localized both the DS and Wii games, and has them hitting shelves in their original, unaltered - aside from text - form. You're getting the same content, the same options, and the same playable cast despite the anime being a bit behind Japan. What you're also getting though is a must-have pocket fighter, as Bleach: Blade of Fate raises the bar on the DS fighting scene; especially here in America.
Bleach works off the same 2D fighting principles of countless others before it, but with a twist. Players face off in a two-dimensional fighting arena, attack with a multitude of light, medium, and heavy combos, and can eventually build up enough power to score super attacks to obliterate their opponents. Bleach is no different, as it takes on the feeling of Guilty Gear (done right) or King of Fighters, allowing for tons of visually pleasing combos that rack up into ungodly heights while delivering a look and style reminiscent of the battle anime. Since Bleach can allow up to four players in a single fight, a two-plane fighting system has been included, allowing players to drop from foreground to background with the hit of the L button, essentially diving the field into two separate 2D arenas. Items between these planes will obstruct view, provide cover, or shatter when attacked, keeping the game rooted in its classical feel, but also adding a boost to the overall strategy.
On the visual side, Treasure lives up to its reputation in delivering system-pushing presentation, having a 2D based arena and fighter sprites scale in and out depending on the action. The world itself is viewed with a 3D camera despite all art assets being 2D, so the camera will automatically flux depending on the action a la Smash Bros. This also comes in handy when pulling off visually stunning special attacks, as giant on-screen effects or summoned creators will burst out into the air, towering over the characters and providing a huge sense of size to the world in the process. The speed of battles is also extremely high, adding to the true-to-arcade feel of the fighter while making sure not to go too far down the "button mashing" path. It can happen at times, especially when you've got four fighters crunched together on the same 2D plane, but for the most part Bleach is about hitting the right moves at the right time, and playing strategically.
You still have a ton of weapons at your disposal though, as Bleach is a pretty in-depth battler overall. Air combos and quick teleport dashes keep the combat from staying too ground-intensive, and special attacks activated either in classic button/direction combos or via touch-screen icons ensure that fighters play smart, conserving their energy for larger, game-changing moments. Also included during fights is a card system that allows for the customization and activation of over 50 character cards that are used as mid-game support, which players can activate by tapping touch buttons as well. These moves improve a certain aspect of play, heal your character, or put conditions on your foes, and it's a great way of adding depth to the battles without going too far down the actual card battler design. Some gamers may not get into customizing their player's support cards, but for those that spend the time to setup their strategy Bleach has a ton of depth in creating the perfect offensive/defensive mix depending on your character.
As for the game modes, Bleach again pushes the DS capabilities, allowing not only a story mode, arcade mode, challenge mode, or vs. computer mode, but also a variety of on/offline multiplayer aspects as well. The game supports DS download play, allowing you to beam game info to up to four players and participate in a full multiplayer mode. Download times can take up to a minute straight to send all the data, however, and there's no "replay" button, so you'll need to sit through that for every match played. If you've got friends with the game you can easily link up via multi-card play, each bringing you customized fighter to the ring for a much more in-depth, load-free fight. For those that want online play, Bleach offers either random matchmaking or friend play, which stays pretty lag-free and easy to use overall. We've experienced a few dropped matches or slowdown when playing on our import version and the USA Bleach is no different, but overall it's an entertaining and dependable mode of play.
In fact, after playing the import version for well over a year now, and again tearing through story mode and beyond with the American version we're still finding it hard to say anything negative about the game. There are still a few annoying oddities, including some pretty evil AI fighting and juggling combos that can wipe even an experience player out in just a few key attacks, but even then it's still pretty balanced overall. There's a tendency for new players (or cheap battlers) to mash the touch screen instead of learning combos, as the moves can be performed either way, but even still a player who has fully-mastered his fighter will find combo fighting to be far easier without hunting and pecking on the touch screen, instead using the d-pad and buttons to pull off attacks in a quicker manor. Still, the downsides of the design are far outweighed by the positive aspects, as Bleach is easily the best fighter on DS thus far.
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