Bleach is an anime series that started out about five years ago in Japan as a Magna where it has enjoyed huge popularity. As seems to be the case with several popular anime series, it was brought over to the US and has enjoyed a high level of success. Several games based on the anime are available in Japan, so translating the games for the US market is a natural progression.
Bleach features the story of Ichigo Kurosaki, a teenager who is able to see the dead and is transformed into a Soul Reaper by Rukia Kuchiki. Soul Reapers send the dead back to the spirit realm. Sometimes the dead don’t want to go back and become hallows. The soul reapers use their weapons to send the souls back where they can’t harm anyone. When Rukia is sentenced to death by the Soul Society for giving Ichigo this power, Ichigo enters the Spirit World to free Rukia. The Blade of Fate follows this storyline.
Bleach features several cutscenes with characters from the anime. The cutscenes show the characters with several different expressions. These all use the same artwork as from the anime series. The backgrounds behind the characters are taken directly from the show. Unfortunately there isn’t any kind of movement between the facial expressions of the characters. While this is a DS game and it isn’t all that unexpected, it would have been nice to see a little more animation in the characters.
In the fighting, the action is fast and furious with swords battle constantly against each other. The background scales in and out to the action, zooming in during close combat and zooming out as the characters move away from each other. The slashes of the zanpakuto’s have a graphic behind it showing the direction of the blade swipe. Dust unsettles from the ground when enemies hit the ground hard. Circles surrounding attacks indicate a block. Flashes of light indicate when a special power is being used. These touches add to the intense action of Bleach.
A few issues exist with the graphics. When the action gets zoomed in, the graphics can look a bit pixilated. This is especially true of the dust and other effects. All of the characters have a wide variety of moves, so each of the characters has a wide variety of positions that they need to take. Because of this, the animations can look choppy sometimes. This is a small complaint though, as the moves do resemble the attacks that the characters perform in the anime series.
It almost seems like a requirement for fighting games to have a hard guitar riff laden soundtrack pumping in the background. This is true for Bleach as well. If you have heard a soundtrack for a fighting game, then you probably already have a good idea what the music is like for this title.
Bleach does use the voices for the characters in the anime during the actual fights. Each special move has a different voice clip done by the actor. This is a nice addition, but it would have been nice if the game featured voice acting during the cutscenes. While the space on a DS cartridge isn’t that big, some voice acting during cutscenes doesn’t seem to be too much to ask.
The sound effects bring across the action in the game. When a character hits the ground, they hit hard. The swords clash often and you can hear the blows. Unblocked swipes of the blade flow through the air cleanly, and the special effects sound powerful, especially when lightning or fire is involved.
The controls in Bleach are typical of other fighting games, but it does offer a few twists. Movement is controlled by the D-pad. Heavy, medium, and light attacks are performed with the A, X, and Y buttons respectively. The flash step, which lets you pass through your opponent is done with the B button. The L button does a line change, while hitting R guards against attacks. Special attacks are performed with the quarter-circle, back and forth, and up and down moves in conjunction with an attack button, typical of other fighting games. The controls handle surprisingly well for a fighter on the DS.
You also have the ability to change the view of the bottom screen so that it shows shortcuts to your special moves. This allows you perform a special move without performing the correct button combination to do it. It admittedly feels a little like cheating to someone who has played fighting games since the original Street Fighter II, but for those who are more inexperienced will appreciate this feature.
While Bleach has a large amount of character development, the combat is the area where the game takes place. The fighting is weapon based and could have used a fighting system similar to a 2D Soul Calibur. However, since the swords used in battle have different abilities and can even take on different forms, Bleach needed some kind of mechanic to help balance gameplay.
Bleach uses Spiritual Pressure for performing special attacks and movement. Spiritual Pressure accumulates as you give and take damage. Three stocks of Spiritual Pressure can be stored up. Some of the special moves only require one stock, like Line Shifts and Flash Steps. Other attacks, like the super attacks, require all three stocks of Spiritual Power.
While most of the fighting in Bleach is done one-on-one, there is the possibility that you can be taking on two or even three other opponents at the same time. The action gets pretty hairy in these situations, but you do have the opportunity to limit your exposure to opponents. Fighting takes place on two planes in the game, and you can switch between them using the Line Shift. Since the Line Shift requires the use of Spiritual Power, you can’t be constantly switching between the lines.
There is a bit of a twist with the bottom screen. You have Spirit Cards that you can use while in battle to assist the fight. These can target you or your opponent, depending on their effect. They vary from giving you a speed boost to lowering your opponents’ spiritual power. You have 10 available per match, and only two show up on screen at a time. As you progress through the game you gain more cards that you can add to your deck. A deck editor is available for you to switch cards and create your own deck. There is a surprisingly large variety of these cards available with different abilities, so choosing the ones you want in your deck can be challenging.
Twenty-eight characters are available to play in Bleach. The characters in the anime series have a wide variety of abilities, and The Blade of Fate reflects these abilities well. Some characters have a more offensive move set, while others are more defensive. A few of the characters don’t even use a sword but have other abilities at their disposal to compensate. The balance between the characters is especially well done, giving each character a distinct personality and style without having overpowered characters.
The Blade of Fate features several different modes. The Story mode follows Ichigo through the Soul Society on his quest to rescue Rukia the first time you play it. You can select the other characters once you finish Ichigo’s story line. In the Arcade mode you select a character and fight against a computer opponent until you lose a match, similar to the story mode except without the story. The Versus mode lets you face up against up to three human or computer-controlled opponents. The Blade of Fate does allow up to four players to play with a single cart, but this process is much slower and more limited than playing with multiple cartridges. The standard Training mode lets you practice your moves on an opponent that won’t fight back. The Challenge mode has you execute commands to pull off combos. These will help you get more used to the controls and moves of the characters.
If that wasn’t enough, as you play through the game you get Kan, a currency used in the Urahara Shop. Here you can purchase Spirit Cards, graphics, sounds, and color variations for the characters. There are a large number of items to purchase here, so it will take a while to get them all if you are a completist.There aren’t that many options for fighting games on the Nintendo DS. What is surprising is that a licensed property has become a very good fighting game for the platform. If you are a fan of Bleach, then The Blade of Fate should be an instant purchase. Fans of the series are rewarded with plenty of extras and let you live through several character storylines. If you are a fan of fighting games, then you’ll definitely want to consider picking it up, as it’s one of the best fighting games on the DS.