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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Game Review - Bleach:The Blade of Fate

Behold the brillance.

It has been ages since the DS last seen a respectable fighting game, which if you don’t already know, is Guilty Gear: Dust Strikers. This year, another fighting game makes its entrance onto the venerable handheld. Bleach: The Blade of Fate has already been released in Japan for over a year, but I haven’t played that before since I am not conversant with the language, so of course, I am glad that Sega finally translated Bleach into English and brought the game here. Prior to playing Bleach, I did not have any knowledge of it since I don’t watch Anime programs, but what I do know is that Bleach: The Blade of Fate is one enjoyable game whose game card you will keep in your DS for a while. Yes, it is the DS’s best fighting game, but that’s no surprise either.

One would be quick to sideline a fighting game if one isn’t a hardcore fighting fan or one isn’t fond of complicated button presses traditional of typical fighters, but know you must – Bleach isn’t your stereotypical fighter. What you get in Bleach, instead, is a slight twist of the overused formula, which offers a refreshing experience for both hardcore players and newbies alike. Like others before it, Bleach allows you to beat it out with a maximum of 3 other opponents together, which can either be controller by the A.I. or other humans in multiplayer. But what you don’t get are the annoying multiple platforms that have become a common sight in DS fighting games of late, annoying because they tend to impede the flow the game in that there is essentially no midair combat as the only result derivable from jumping in these games is the elevation of your character to the upper platform. Of course, while battling it out with 3 other opponents on-screen together could be a relish, it could be chaotic at the same time and difficulty in keeping track of the character whom you are playing as may soon ensue. What Bleach does with impressive results is to introduce a background plane in addition to the foreground one. A simple tap of the L button will allow your character to jump from the foreground plane to the background plane and vice versa conveniently. Characters in the background turn slightly opaque, so less confusion would be caused.

Despite being a fighting game fan myself, I must admit that I am strictly a non-believer of complex, sequential or combined button presses and that’s why you will never see me being really good at whatever fighting game I play. But Bleach’s unequivocally about to change all that – thanks to intuitive single-tap touch-screen buttons that let you pull off special moves and combos with unprecedented ease. While I understand that long-time hardcore fighting game fans may deplore this controversial inclusion, there is no denying that Bleach is one game that you can immediately get into, and instantly enjoy the content - coincidentally, that’s also Nintendo’s aim to be easily-accessible with its DS. But do not allow this paragraph to delude you into thinking that Bleach’s as simple as a walk in the park, because skills are still required.

Taking a leaf out of the books of some of the trading card games released for the DS in recent months, Bleach has incorporated its version of the aforementioned, which are known as Spirit Cards, into its main gameplay element, which is the fighting action. These cards offer either an offensive or defensive advantage momentarily, and while newbies and casual players may not really bother about this non-indigenous component since it does not affect the gameplay in a great way, hardcore fighting game fans may find this to be of their liking. In a way, this card playing component also gives more depth to Bleach.

The depth doesn’t end with the card playing though, as you will learn that you can choose your desirable fighter from a parade of over 20 characters. Each character has a plethora of moves at his/her disposal, ranging from simple punches and kicks to the ability to conduct a quick teleport to the ability to make your character semi-invisible, making him/her invincible during that brief period of time. For a select few characters, there will also be specific moves that can be launched while in midair. All said and done, personal strengths and weaknesses will remain with each character, and it’s nice to see the balance there.

No longer than a minute will you take to discern that Bleach doesn’t stop rewarding players who win – via unlockables, of course. And with immense amounts of them to go with. And what better and faster way to unlock bonus items than with the story mode? In story mode, almost every other character will be served with one episode (storyline), with an additional last episode stringing all the plots of all the other episodes to form one satisfying, huge story. Perhaps the only thing I do not like about the story mode is the insane amount of prattling going on among the characters, which can be skipped if you just want to start the fighting as quickly as possible, but I would prefer you go through all the dialogues first before fighting, because that’s what the story mode’s all about. In fact, you would be missing a lot of what the story mode has to offer if you skip those dialogues. Along your lengthy stay in the story mode, you would be able to unlock tons of items, including more Spirit Cards, character costume colors and fighting arena backdrops, to name a few. During which, you will also be able to attain cash rewards and purchase more bonus items like character and event graphic arts, the music samples played in the game and character sounds. Am I missing out something? Oh yes, I am – unlockable characters, lots of them. But some of these characters seem more like an afterthought than a genuine attempt to reward the players because believe me or not, some unlockable characters are close to useless, including one who coughs frequently in a fight, deeming him fully vulnerable to opponents when coughing.

The story mode isn’t the sole endeavor in Bleach, as the game also includes arcade mode, vs. mode, challenge mode, training mode, time attack mode and survival mode, with the latter two being unlockable through the story mode. Single-card multiplayer through download play, multi-card multiplayer, and online multiplayer over Wi-Fi are also supported, so Bleach will last you quite a long time. Fighting records for each character in each mode are available as well. Graphics are top-notch and so are the sounds, including humorous character speech. It is amazing how Bleach has managed to squeeze so much content into a single DS game card, really.

Final Comments
The best DS fighting game this year, and the best overall. And perhaps still the best for the many years after. Bleach: The Blade of Fate is a prime example of how DS fighting games should be made and it deserves to be. Save for some of the unlockable characters, which are poorly-implemented, everything else is done with unerring precision. The fighting mechanism is in its own league, and touch-screen buttons ensure that no one will feel like a fish out of water when playing the game. Spirit Cards add more depth to the fighting action as well. There are many selectable characters and what’s good is that there is balance in their power; no one gets too powerful, nor too useless (at least for the initial batch of fighters before the unlockables arrive when you beat the story mode). The story mode is long, satisfying and rewarding, and so are the many other modes. Xbox 360 achievements-addicts would dig the immense amount of unlockables.


The Good:
- Fighting mechanism is near perfect
- Touch-screen buttons a boon for newbies, but hardcore gamers don’t get left out too
- Spirit Cards add depth
- Lots of playable characters, but there’s balance of power in place
- Huge variety of moves
- Story mode betters the ones provided by most fighters out there
- Modes galore!
- Immense amount of unlockables

The Bad:
- Some of the unlockable characters are close to useless – it makes them feel more like an afterthought


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