Bleach: The 3rd Phantom was just released in Japan, and fans of the series may be a bit jarred by the fact that the latest DS entry isn't a fighting game from Treasure like the last two. Instead, Bleach: The 3rd Phantom is a well executed strategic RPG with a brand new storyline from Tite Kubo, Bleach's creator.
So if you're importing the game, you'll likely run into a few problems if you don't speak or read Japanese. After all, fighting games are hardly text heavy and strategic RPGs tend to have a deep storyline and plenty of menu options.
Strategic RPG fans will likely have no problem playing Bleach: The 3rd Phantom, even if they don't understand Japanese. It is pretty standard, when compared to other games in the genre. In fact, the game is similar to Fire Emblem and Advance Wars, and easy to play. Each character and enemy has an alignment (speed, technique or power), much like in Fire Emblem. Powerful characters are great against fast ones. Speedy characters always triumph over technical characters. Technical characters overwhelm powerful ones.
For standard attacks, just walk up to an enemy and attack. You can also unleash stronger attacks by charging characters up, but the game explains that for you, once you're able to start charging up your character's Reiatsu for special and bankai attacks.
Two aspects I particularly like are the attack ranges and character relationships. Characters can hit not only enemies in front of, next to or behind them, they can also hit enemies diagonally in front or behind them. Characters also can join up for attacks if they have been linked, resulting in stronger attacks on foes.
You are also able to level up your characters, their weapons and (for the twins) choose their Shikai. This part is especially cool, as there isn't a set Shikai for each twin. Instead, the game offers you three different zanpakuto forms (speed, power or technique) to choose from for each twin.
If you're bad with kanji, katakana and hirigana, but can understand spoken Japanese, then you'll have no problem following the story. There's tons of voice acting in The 3rd Phantom, with voice actors from the Bleach anime reprising their roles. Its a nice addition and makes the game a bit more enjoyable – especially since many story scenes involve static images of characters in front of stock backgrounds.
Don't worry about using a stylus or screen protector. There is no touch screen support with The 3rd Phantom – every action is executed with the face buttons. In a way this is frustrating, since you expect touch screen support with a DS game, but at the same time its no big deal. I tend to play strategic RPGs with the face buttons anyway, so it doesn't affect gameplay.
Images courtesy of Sega.