Sega has had great success with bringing the Bleach series into the video game world. After one GBA game and a Gamecube title it was time to bring Bleach to the DS. This time Sega brought Treasure (Dynamite Headdy, Gunstar Heroes) to take on the challenge of making a 2D fighting game. The last fighting game developed by Treasure was for Yu Yu Hakusho and it was made in the ‘90s. Can Treasure pull off another success even after years of being out of the genre loop? Features like four player support, deck creation and Nintendo wi-fi battles suggests that Treasure is at the very least on the right path.
If Bleach DS: Souten ni Kakeru Unmei was compared to another fighting series it’s closest sibling would be Guilty Gear. However, Bleach DS really is its own entity with an original combat system. Each character has three different kinds of attacks: weak (Y), medium (X) and strong (A). Although you only have a limited number of moves with each button you can still string together attacks to make a combo. After a little practice you can master launching an opponent in the air with a strong attack then jump up for an aerial assault. Bleach DS also features five unique special moves for each character. These are done by doing street fighter style combinations like forward-down-forward to perform a blast of energy from Ichigo’s sword. Or hit back-down-forward and an attack button with Hitsugaya to do a dashing kick combo. Pressing down twice than attack has Orihime summon two spinning blades to act as a shield for a second. Since special attacks can be executed mid-combo, gamers have to be on their toes to avoid long and damaging rushes.
Being able to defend is just important as attacking in Bleach DS. You can do a standard block by holding the R trigger button. But you’ll probably want to position yourself offensively instead of standing in a corner on guard. One option is to jump or double jump in the air by pressing up. Once in the air you can do an air dash to jump behind your opponent. Pressing B lets you do a quick dash, which gives you momentary invincibility. This is perfect for avoid damage and getting close enough to perform a combo of your own. Some attacks, like super moves, easily fill the whole screen with a wide energy blast. Your best defense against them is to jump in the background. Tap L to do this, but this move and the super dash take up energy from your dash meter. Bleach DS’s fighting system gives you plenty of opportunities to avoid damage and set up a fast counter attack. If you end up getting hit you’ll gain energy in your super meter. Once it’s filled up you can unleash a powerful attack like Reiji’s Hihiō Zabimaru bankai transformation. Or if you want to be defensive you can use your super meter as a damage canceling move by pressing B and one of the attack buttons.
All of the fighting takes place on the top screen, which left this area free for a touch screen menu. Instead of calling in partners or switching characters you’re given a chance to use up cards to alter the course of battle. Some cards can boost your skills, like increasing your attack or defense. Or you can use cards to lower the combat efficiency of your enemies by restricting their jump height or stopping their use of the dash. No matter what you use the effects of a card are temporary, but there’s just enough time to land a damaging combo with the attack up card in play. You start out with a few preset decks, but you can create your own. By entering the game’s store you can spend money that you got from playing the game to get new cards. An alternative to having the card menu alone you can hit the change button, which shrinks down the size of the card buttons and places touch screen buttons for special attacks.
Fighting system aside Bleach DS takes full advantage of the Bleach license. All of the major details like character bankai forms and a large character list are in the game. The game has 14 playable characters from the beginning. The opening list includes: Ichigo, Chad, Kyoraku, Tosen, Ichimaru, Hitsugaya, Hinamori, Byakuya, Renji, Orihime, Uryu, Kenpachi, Ganju, and Kurotsuchi. There are a couple more characters like Ukitake that you can unlock by playing the story mode. In the short story mode you’ll only get to play as Ichigo as you wander through the Shingami court divisions. It takes a couple of hours to beat the story mode, but we really wish there were more character storylines to follow. Beyond story mode there are a bunch of other single player modes like arcade, time attack and of course training.
Perhaps Treasure didn’t put much effort in the single player mode because they were focusing on Bleach DS’ multiplayer modes. If you and a friend both have DSes you can battle each other by passing a download copy to your friend’s Nintendo DS. Even if you don’t have anyone nearby to play with you can connect via Nintendo Wifi to battle opponents as long as you have a wireless internet connection. Bleach DS supports adding people to your friends list and jumping into random battles. You can start by selecting the type of match 2 players or 4 players and then hit connect to get a battle started. The wifi battles are a great addition because, but the system could have used a few tweaks. First of all you can’t select a region to play in and since you’re probably going to play with opponents from Japan the game can lag heavily. At times lag can be utterly unbearable where a there’s a second gap between each move. Thankfully, this is uncommon and the problem can be solved by playing with people on your local friends list.
As far as handheld fighting games go, Bleach DS: Souten ni Kakeru Unmei is among the best. The fighting system is well designed with lots of special moves and defensive options. There is enough depth to the system where you can really see the difference between an expert player and someone who just purchased the game. The wireless multiplayer battles are a strong selling point for the game because there is always an opponent to challenge you somewhere in the world. If you’ve been following the manga, anime or just love fighting games put Bleach DS on your must play list.
Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 1
There are limited Japanese menus to navigate through, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying Bleach DS. Potential problems could arise when you’re trying to select cards to user, since these typically require you to read kanji. Also in story mode you’ll need to understand some Japanese or consult a FAQ to understand how to complete a mission. Here’s a tip when you’re battling Renji you need to win the battle with zero, 1-2 or 3 super moves stocked. Depending on how many super moves you have at the end of the fight will put you on a different story path.
Since the Bleach TV series isn’t licensed in the USA and no US publisher has picked up the rights to the game it’s considered a Japan release only.
+ Pros: Excellent fighting system and wi-fi support makes it easy to find an opponent wherever you are.
– Cons: The single player mode could have been better and the wi-fi battles can be buggy.
Overall: Bleach fans should pick up Bleach DS: Souten ni Kakeru Unmei the first chance they get. Even if you’re not a follower of the series the game is worth a look if you like fighting games.