Sony is straying from their Bleach: Heat the Soul series with Bleach: Soul Carnival. Racjin didn’t make another versus fighting game. Bleach: Soul Carnival is a Double Dragon style beat em up with super deformed Rukia and company. Instead of fighting each other you’re going to wallop weak hollows and wild boars. In one mission Ganju’s boars are acting up and at the end of the level you face him as a boss.
I chose Ichigo for that mission since he can leap in the air and throw heaven piercing energy waves to hit the boars before they head butt him, but you don’t have to play the entire game as Ichigo. Bleach: Soul Carnival lets you choose a variety of cutesy looking characters to play as like: Rukia, Uryu, Chad, Renji, Toushiro, and if you want to spend the time to unlock them villains like Grimmjow and Sosuke. You can throw even more characters in the mix by picking three support attacks. Each move is mapped to triangle, up+triangle or down+ triangle. Ichigo can partner with Akon, Kon, and Momo if you desire. The number of characters Racjin crammed into Bleach: Soul Carnival is impressive and Bleach fans will appreciate making mortal enemies support allies in the game by carefully choosing soul pieces.
Each support character is represented by a soul piece, a token that you place on a game board. You can pick three soul pieces as your support characters, but there are way more spaces on the grid than that. The other soul pieces boost your stats, if you link them together properly. Let’s pretend you picked Kenpachi as your player character. You can directly link up to four soul pieces to him by matching the colors on the Kenpachi’s soul piece with the four other soul pieces. Some soul pieces like Kon simply increase your attack. Others like Toushiro up your ice resistance, but in this specific case Toushiro also lowers your fire resistance. Play with the soul piece system a little more and you’ll discover putting specific character combinations together grants a bonus stat boost. While Bleach: Soul Carnival is completely in Japanese linked combinations should be obvious to Bleach fans. Link friends, divisions of the soul society, and Kon with different girls to maximize Kenpachi or whoever your player character is.
Want to get more technical? Kenpachi’s four colors are determined by the four accessories you equip on the smaller accessory grid. While it might be great to put an HP boosting charm in the top right hand corner it might break a yellow to yellow link on your soul piece grid. New accessories can be found in present boxes in levels and purchased with the coins you earn. To get the most out of your character you need to play with both the accessory grid and the soul piece grid.
You can tweak your character to death, but you can ignore the soul piece system all together by over leveling. Each hollow you slay is worth experience points and when you level up you get a HP/Attack point/stat boost. Fortunately, other playable characters get a share of your experience so they hover around the same level even if you use the same character over and over. This way you can suddenly switch characters without having to beef them up from the start. Special attacks also gain levels from repeated use so you can also build an ultimate fighter by replaying stages. Grinding can be sped up by keeping a long combo. The combo meter has a short grace period so you don’t need to gather a bunch of enemies to string a long combo together. With a character like Ichigo I found throwing energy waves and boars from a support attack can hit enemies off screen to prevent a combo from breaking. Also, you can mash circle to dash into enemies. A successful hit keeps the combo meter going and brings you in close enough to deal a flurry of slashes.
Ichigo and all of the characters have one more super powerful move that uses their personal stock of spiritual energy. Ichigo turns half-hollow for a limited time when you pull it off which lets him slice even faster and run at full speed while everyone else on the screen moves in slow motion. Uryu’s super blasts everything on the screen with a blue flash. Characters in Bleach: Soul Carnival handle differently beyond their super move too. Ichigo’s basic combo flow is a dashing forward, mashing square for a few sword hits, then launching enemies upwards for a series of mid-air sword slices and slamming them to the ground by pressing down and square to unleash a 45 degree heaven cutting wave. Uryu has a few close strikes with his bow, but if you keep mashing the button he jumps backwards and starts firing arrows. His usual combo ends here, but iyou create a flying triangle to catch enemies after the combo ends which lets you dash in and repeat the first combo. Uryu also has the power to create a floating platform and fly over enemies to avoid combat all together. One thing Bleach: Soul Carnival got right is the characters aren’t different skins like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles beat ’em ups. Each playable character feels different.
All of this fighting takes place in 2D, but Bleach: Soul Carnival has a 3D map. Flat planes are interconnected like Valkyrie Profile where you can walk into or out of backgrounds to reach other areas. This prevents the stages in Bleach: Soul Carnival from being a straightforward stroll from the left side of the screen to the right. In one of the early levels you need to escape a moving wall closing in from the left side of the screen. You can escape by running to the right, but there are other paths to take if you’re quick enough to squeeze into them. Other levels, like boss fights, remind me of Odin Sphere since you’re caught running on the edge of a 2D circle.
Hit select and you can see a map with the different paths, save points, and dead ends. You’re going to have to explore and revisit stages to find every soul piece too. Most characters readily join up, but some characters only follow you if you have another ally which means backtracking. Bleach: Soul Carnival makes this pretty painless since you can pick stages from a map. As long as you remember where you saw a character before you can go back and recruit them once you have the correct buddy.
Here’s where I imagine some people running into problems. Pre-requisites for allied characters are given off in during conversations, Japanese conversations. Bleach: Soul Carnival has voice acting so you can attempt to listen for the right names or scan the text for names, but the character names are often in kanji. You don’t need to collect them all to beat the game, but the highlight of Bleach: Soul Carnival is really finding every usable character. A guide would be helpful here.
The icing on the fan service cake isn’t all of the characters, it’s the alarm clock. Select this mode from the main menu to pick a time and a sound byte to wake up to. While Bleach: Soul Carnival has a lot of voice acting there are only a limited number clips for each character choose. Most of them are catchphrases so you can be the envy of Bleach fans at anime convention when one of Orihime’s two voice samples wakes you up.
Yes, Bleach: Soul Carnival is for fans. Are there any Bleach fans who like side scrolling beat ’em ups here?
Images courtesy of Sony.