"The window for importing Bleach: Souten ni Kakeru Unmei has officially closed. It will always be one of the standout fighting games on the DS, given its strong technical execution and popular anime appeal. The fact that it come the 2-D masters at Treasure will also make many nod with knowing optimism. But players in glorious Nippon have moved on to the sequel, thinning the ranks for Wi-Fi multiplayer. Most important, though, the English localization is now upon us, providing outsiders..."
The window for importing Bleach: Souten ni Kakeru Unmei has officially closed. It will always be one of the standout fighting games on the DS, given its strong technical execution and popular anime appeal. The fact that it come the 2-D masters at Treasure will also make many nod with knowing optimism. But players in glorious Nippon have moved on to the sequel, thinning the ranks for Wi-Fi multiplayer. Most important, though, the English localization is now upon us, providing outsiders a way around a bothersome, almost prohibitive language barrier.
As expected, Bleach's shonen ingredients form a perfect setup for a fighting title. The central figure in this universe is Ichigo Kurosaki, a not-so-average teen. He's used to taking flack for his bright orange hair; it's made him adept with his fists, but his more remarkable trait is that he can see and talk to spirits. When he meets Soul Reaper Rukia, a diminutive girl who ferries the dead from the world of the living, things get really crazy. Ichigo borrows some of her power and becomes a disproportionately powerful Soul Reaper himself, complete with his very own big-ass sword. But Souten ni Kakeru Unmei skips the introductions and jumps right into the middle Bleach's first major story arc, on that follows Ichigo's initial foray into an afterlife known as the Soul Society. That's about twenty episodes into the show, for those watching at home.
The leap is significant, though, because the Society is full of powerful, cool Soul Reapers; it makes the lineup of twenty-eight total playable characters possible. Each Reaper has a zanpakuto, a fancy name for their sword, that is imbued with unique powers. Renji is hothead like Ichigo, but he can precisely control his serrated blade like a whip, extending it, or even splitting it to reach all over the screen. Youthful looking Hinamori and Hitsugaya wield weapons that project fire and ice, respectively. Then there's the powerful captain Byakuya, stoically menacing, whose sword will dissolve into a thousand sakura petals, then consume its target from all sides. Ichigo is actually a little boring; his weapon just gives off massive energy. Not everyone uses a zanpakuto, however. Yoruichi, Ichigo's sultry mentor, uses her cat-like quickness to unleash a barrage of punches and kicks. Another ally named Uryu, with his cheesy white cape, fires arrows from his bow, and thus works well from a distance. There's a wide variety here in styles, range, and speed.
The problem is unlocking all those characters, and the barrier is language, not difficulty. The method begins with the four or five rounds of Ichigo's story mode, all of its divergent paths must be cleared by meeting certain battle conditions. Navigating the game's menus is easy because the star announces each option in English. That's the end of the help, though, because all of the dialog is in Japanese. It's impossible to guess the very specific requirements: win with a sliver of life remaining, not using any special attacks, or defeating one character first when there are multiple opponents. Fortunately, later fighters possess shorter, completely straightforward stories, but it's still foolish to approach Bleach without some walkthrough assistance.
Those who make the effort will experience engaging 2-D brawling, no matter their level of proficiency. All the action takes place on the top screen. It can hold up to four characters simultaneously with smooth animations and no slowdown, be the fighters computer controlled, single-card download players, or Wi-Fi challengers. But it's not crowded. The models are large and wear instantly recognizable uniforms. Most of the battlegrounds have two independent planes, providing a spacious environment in which to rumble.
The controls are inherently simple and provide all kinds of help for beginners. An automatic guard is available, which means only opponent's counterattacks are guaranteed to connect. There's minimal chip damage on any blocked strike, making it easier to play cautiously. There's automatic chain combos that will effortlessly string together powerful moves. On their own they aren't that hard to execute; the most complicated special attack is a half-turn on the d-pad and a single button press. But if even that is too involved, you can activate moves using hotkeys on the touch screen. A confidence-boosting 90-hit gush of flames can spring forth from just a tap. The only other touch feature is playing kanji-stamped stat-enhancing cards, so you at least need a good memory to keep their functions straight.
Fans of only furious fists, feet, and sword-swinging are accommodated, too. Flash steps are the fastest way to move across the ground and through the air; these allow fighters to zap around the screen. They make it possible to intricately string together attacks that don't naturally flow. The quickest warriors can be made to do it indefinitely, with the right timing. Souten ni Kakeru Unmei has a versatile pace that will work with any player's speed.
That versatility is why this game was a great import. Followers of the franchise could slide into battle with familiar characters and tread through a familiar scenario. Plenty of shortcuts were provided so anyone could manage the single-player campaign, as long as a way could be found to understand the objectives. On the other hand, you could forget the mythology, focus on the game's deeper nuances, and take the fight to anyone in the world. Now though, you should just buy the English version, Bleach: The Blade of Fate, or better yet, move onto the sequel with everyone else.
Community review by woodhouse (April 29, 2008)
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