Bleach: The 3rd Phantom

Bleach is a difficult series to make fighting games for. Large chunks of the cast had unexplained abilities for years, and some abilities were so obtuse that making a proper fighter with those abilities was a near impossible task. The 3D fighting games that spun from the series are nearly unplayable and ugly affairs, and the 2D fighters on the DS were only passable. However, someone at Sega had an idea for their series of handheld Bleach games; for one game, the genre would switch from fighting to turn-based strategy. The end result was Bleach: The 3rd Phantom, which may very well be the definite Bleach game in terms of game quality and service paid to the source material.

Part of what makes this game so strong is the involvement of the series creator, Tite Kubo. He helped with mapping out the main plot and did some advising work on how the characters should be portrayed, along with several of the anime writing staff. The result is a very authentic feel with every line of dialog and plot development, avoiding that fan-ficy style that tends to follow with alternate universe games like this. The game takes the normal Bleach timeline, but introduces five new characters and a time travel plot to change the course of events of the series.

You play as either Fujimaru or Matsuki Kudo, twin soul reapers adopted by squad five captain Seigen Suzunami and his sister Konoka, with both having relatively the same story and arc. The first few chapters have them training as soul reapers in the series past, allowing deceased characters like Kaien to appear in the story, along with younger versions of established characters, such as being able to meet Rukia and Renji during their time in the Rukon district, or meeting a pre-soul reaper Kenpachi Zaraki (and he's as terrifying as you'd expect). After awhile, the twins, Seigen and an arrancar named Arturo are flung into the future through an event with an ancient mirror and the story starts proper, with the characters landing in the beginning if the Arrancar arc and changing the arc's focus to a struggle dealing with the mirror that brought them to the present.

The graphics and music feel equally authentic. While the score isn't among the finest pieces to come from the franchise (this isn't exactly Hell-Verse), it sounds perfect within the series style, with a good use of guitar, percussion and dramatic stings. The character portraits look very nice, full drawings and portraits alike, with exception to the strangely unfinished portraits for Urahara's shop workers (I guess they were too unimportant to perfect). There's also insertion of a lot of running jokes from throughout the series history at that point, like Rangiku getting her fellow second chairs in an afternoon drinking session and Rukia's artistic ...*ahem* "talent." Those little touches really bring the game together and make it feel like this really is Bleach. Thankfully, there's plenty of focus on character interaction as well.

The game uses a free time system between story battles, where you can talk with the various characters from the series and recruit them, along with a few events, such as training battles and cheesecake hot spring scenes. Taking part in these events can lead to gaining new items or stat boosts, as some events offer special rewards for taking part. The length of free time is decided by a little board game on the top screen, where series mascot and comedic relief Kon moves a certain amount of spaces based on which event you take part in, and landing directly on certain spaces can get bonuses as well. You can also gain affinity with characters in these events, increasing the power of team attacks during battles, and maxing affinity nabs a new equipment that gives a party wide stat boost. Certain events can also earn special items that mark your relationship with a character that give the same effect, but require no equipping. These segments fit in well with the main game, while also acting as a solid breather from story battles.

Said story battles are one or two a chapter, with twenty-five chapters in total. They all have the usual objectives (defeat all enemies, defeat a boss, do a certain thing in a set amount of time, ect) and use enemies based on first arc hollows as the numerous mooks. You can also free battle before a proper story battle as many times as you want, setting up a new level each chapter with a set amount of hollows to kill based on the characters you have to use at the time. It's a good way to level up new characters and gain ability points to power up their weapons. This is central, as every character has an ability tree you can work with to unlock new abilities and buffs, like the ability to use a kido spell after moving or increasing the length of bankai. Across the game, there's dozens of characters to find a recruit via free time, and all of them are divided into power, speed, technique and non-combatant. Power characters crush speed characters, speed has advantage over technique, and so forth. Non-combatants are healers who may have damaging spells to unlock and use, but they always defend when attacked.

Characters can support each other with support abilities, mainly an extra attack or defending against enemy attacks, with some having radius effects that give stat buffs or heal. There's also team attacks, which do massive damage as an ultra-powerful double attack. The catch is two-fold; team attacks can only work between two characters who share a bond with each other (your chosen Kudo twin can pair with everyone), and both attackers have to sacrifice a significant amount of spiritual pressure. Spiritual pressure is the cornerstone of the combat system, as it dictates how effective accuracy, power and evasion is for each given character. It can be built up via fighting the enemy, or by absorbing it on the map from red squares. The redder the square, the more spiritual pressure you can gain from it. Some characters also have bankai abilities, a type of super form that may increase size and give a massive buff to one stat, along with area effects, super spells, and even possible new giant units that deal a great amount of damage. They last as long as spiritual points do (the points for using most skills).

Battles can get a bit samey at times, due to the low mook diversity and the string of damage sponge enemies. Several bosses come down to endurance matches, with a few exceptions. There's also many strong enemies with "ALL" types that are strong against all forms of attack, removing the style system from play. The system is straight-forward and at times too simple for its own good, but the simplicity keeps it addictive. It's really easy to learn, but more fun to keep experimenting with as you earn more and more characters. Everyone is wildly different in some way, usually through some sort of character exclusive skill, and it makes forming parties a big part of the fun. There's also the challenge to gain bankai, where your character has to go through several battles via free time before a certain chapter to gain their incredibly powerful bankai. You can also find plenty of extra battles after the game is over through a challenge tower (yeah, good luck with that).

There's a lot of content with The 3rd Phantom, along with a lot of great touches to make it feel more like a truly authentic Bleach experience. Mechanically, it's soundly built and a lot of fun, easily one of the most addictive games I've ever played. If you're a Bleach fan, or even if you were and quit because of the Decide arc or because of how bloody long the Arrancar arc was, you definitely need to own this one. This is THE Bleach game to end all Bleach games, and even though that doesn't sound like much of a distinction, it really is.


Popular Posts