Well it seems the fine folks at NIS America have sent us another title, this time it’s BLEACH: Soul Resurreccion the recent game version of a small of portion of the anime series BLEACH. Now this is not the first time the series has had a video game adaptation but generally BLEACH games take the form of fighting games as mano-a-mano battles are a big part of the series, this game however goes a different route and uses a Dynasty Warriors hack and slash style of gameplay. It’s an interesting departure for the series so I was curious to see just how it would turn out. Those with any sort of pattern recognition though know that Dynasty Warriors style anything is a bit tip-off and unfortunately history did repeat itself here as well. While some may say my opinion here is biased as I’m not a fan of anime, like all nerds there was a time in high school when I actually did like and enjoy the convoluted stuff and even watched the whole first season of this very show so I can say with confidence even the staunchest of BLEACH fans may have a hard time liking this game. That said there is the occasional bright spot in this dingy mess and if you can put up with a lot and really like BLEACH than you might just want to stick around and see if this game is for you.
First things first we’ll talk about the gameplay as it’s easily one of the worst parts of this game because it’s simply just boring and repetitive. Basically the whole game is just your character proceeding through a linear set of arenas/corridors and fighting or ignoring all of the enemies therein until you reach the end of the level and its token boss fight; it’s like Dynasty Warriors but if you subtracted literally all the-albeit light-strategic elements of that game. Combat is also very similar to ole’ DW with square being your attack button, triangle being your spirit (read: ranged) attack, cross being jump, and circle being your super (read: musou) move; I’ve sadly played a fair amount of DW in my time and this feels exactly like it. There are a couple of differences here but they generally feel minor. The first is the ignition meter which once it’s fully charged can be used to activate a super mode that makes the character overall more powerful for as long as the gauge drains or until they choose to do an ignition super attack that does massive damage and ends ignition mode. The other big difference I found is one I actually enjoy but only because it’s really stupid, you have infinite dash in this game and you can initiate it at any point or height so if you want you can fly around the level at mach 5 like you’re Final Fantasy Peter Pan.
There are a few modes in this game but the basic gameplay remains the same across them all. The three modes are: Story, Mission and Soul Attack; each has a slightly different style but as I said it all boils down to the same stuff. Story mode is the meat of the game and in it you go through 14 stages each with a character chosen by the game and unlock a variety of other characters for use in the other modes. Mission mode is bit more open with 28 separate missions that allow you to use whatever character you want, these are generally shorter than the story levels but sometimes have some more unique rules to liven things up. Last is Soul Attack which is the hardest to unlock and the most basic of these extra levels as all of them are intended for you to beat other people’s scores on which is the closest thing this game has to multi-player. Tracked through all of these modes are your soul points which you can use to upgrade your characters, this system is real mixed bag though as I will explain.
The soul point system is odd in that it both feels ineffective yet overpowered and this is due to some odd design choices. The best way to describe it is like the sphere grid from FFX which in that game was a fantastic way to really tailor your character to your wants and needs. Like that system each character gains soul points independently and can eventually move from their grid to other characters’ grids. What made that fun though in FFX was how immediately useful each sphere seemed and how radically different each characters abilities were. In this game however each sphere’s effect feel individually inconsequential and all of the characters play pretty much the same and even then none of their real abilities are tied to this grid making the effort of moving past any character’s initial grid not worth it. Unfortunately this system only feels useless as you’ll quickly find out the second you try to use a character beyond the main one you’ve been using. As I said each character gains points on their own meaning underused character quickly become outpaced and because the story mode chooses your character for you (generally having that be the protagonist Ichigo) you’ll never end up wanting to switch from the main protagonist as everyone else quickly starts to suck.
The story and writing here is also a major problem regardless of whether you like BLEACH or not due to just some poor pacing and structure. First of all the whole story takes place in the twelfth season of the show which for casual fans and outsiders makes the story absolutely baffling and impenetrable as they take no opportunities to explain anything. While I have a vague recollection of who some of the series’ characters are and the basic ideas of the series at large the game very quickly inundates you with characters, terms, and factions I can’t even begin to understand especially when they are presented completely out of the blue like this. I had no clue what a Bankai, Espada, or who Aizen was when I started the game and even after beating the whole story and Aizen (he was apparently the final boss) I still couldn’t tell you. Of course the series’ odd compunction to mix a variety of languages in its lore doesn’t help this confusion, the game liberally mixes around Japanese, Spanish, and even German words and terms into it’s text making it even more incomprehensible than ever. As far as I can tell the story is that a bad dude captures the perpetual damsel in distress, you save her and then somehow he gets stronger, then you somehow get stronger, you fight him and win, and then the game ends (the game does just totally cut to credits after the boss fight with no epilogue or anything). Even without context though it was very easy to see the game actually ended up glossing over some important moments of this arc of the BLEACH series. Before every level there is a narrated text crawl setting it up and almost every one of them mentions some epic battle I never got to take part in between characters we don’t get to see, it feels as though whole episodes were just washed over with a simple line of text. Even worse some series favorite characters are completely washed over and given only token dialogue and character portraits despite some of them playing very large roles in the story. Sadly it’s the more colourful characters that have been left out. Renji, Chad, Urahara, and my favorite character, Ichigo’s dad, are reduced to a status that is sub NPC with instead the game choosing to make Emo dude with wings #23986 and Guy with sword in black kimono #965484 and other boring anime stereotypes into playable characters. While I may not really care about the series as a whole it just seems silly to leave out long time characters who actually do important stuff in the context of the story you’re trying to retell.
Visually this game is okay but it takes a better screenshot than a trailer as it starts to look kind of crappy in motion. In design the levels remind me somewhat of the upcoming game Journey as it features a lot of very quiet desert areas that have a really nice cell shaded HD look but once you actually get into those levels that look of quality falls apart because unlike in Journey-where the levels feel alive thanks to the nice sand tech they have and subtle movement the game employs-everything here feels like it glued together with plastic cement. Despite all the rubble placed about the levels that falls apart into uniform disappearing chunks with a couple hits the whole game feels barren and sterile and for as decent and generally well animated as the characters look the battles just feel like watching action figures get smacked against each other thanks to the overuse of various slash and particle effects. There’s not even the aspect of the one versus many ridiculousness that makes a DW game enjoyable here because the enemy numbers are actually kind of sparse, you’ll never really see more than 20 enemies on-screen and throughout a level you’ll take out maybe 200 to 250 guys tops which is incredibly small in comparison to thousand or so you’ll take out in any DW game’s version of the Yellow Turban Rebellion.
The sound design is benign at best and kind of annoying at worst. The music is all the standard light rock with too much electric guitar we’ve become used in these sorts of games and I honestly can’t remember a single piece of it because it’s so formulaic. The VO on the other hand is less than good and not just because I played with the English voice track on (before any of you anime nerds freak out there is a Japanese VO track available in the game). See for as much as I hate anime voices I can deal with it and I’ll listen to the English VO track so I can understand what’s going on but what is unbearable is horrible repetition with anime voices. Like almost any anime series the characters here like to announce their attacks when they do them (because seriously who needs the element of surprise) and while obviously this a quirk that would be weird to leave out entirely a lot of characters do it with every third press of the square button which means about once every two seconds. This incessant repetition of words I can’t even begin to understand is mind-numbingly annoying and I honestly doubt having it in Japanese would make it any better. I very quickly turned all the sound down and just listened to my own music to make the experience bearable.
Despite the last 1600 words though we have yet to come to the games greatest flaw and that is its incredible brevity and lack of content. So for the sake of equality we’re going to compare this title to your standard Dynasty Warriors game which not only shares a similar gameplay style but has a new entry in the series come out every six months so they can’t be that hard to develop. First off there’s content; this game has 21 playable characters all which share the same story mode whereas Dynasty Warriors 6 for example had 41 characters, 17 of which had their own full length story mode, any show in its twelfth season should be able to bring in at least that many characters and craft that many story lines. Then there’s length in which BLEACH loses miserably. I cleared the whole story mode, a third of the missions in mission mode, and watched the three included BLEACH episodes in about 5 or 6 hours; I was done with the game in one sitting. Dynasty Warriors for as bland and boring as it may be at least lasts for a quite a while and it’s totally possible to play a DW game for days if you want. You may say it’s unfair to compare these two because one is a TV tie-in and the other is a *cough* fully developed game but the fact of the matter is BLEACH costs $60 just like DW6 did when it released and on the sheer scales of quantity and quality this game doesn’t even stand up to a series that gaming publications like us do reviews of as jokes.
BLEACH: Soul Resurreccion is just a boring underdeveloped mess of a game that not only doesn’t deliver on the promise of seeing this whole story arc come to life-thanks to the fact that it skips half the battles and omits half the characters-but it reduces the epic feel of struggles between iconic characters to just clacking action figures together. If you want a BLEACH game there are plenty of fighting games in the series that I’m sure just by virtue of the series’ structure provide a better experience. If you just want to give NIS money (a company I usually greatly respect if not like the output of) than go buy the last Ar tonelico game as that was actually a really good and suitable use of $60. So for a soul crushingly boring night of poorly imitating Tecmo-Koei’s shame series, BLEACH: Soul Resurreccion gets a 1 out 5 stars and that one star is only because dashing around like an idiot far above everyone’s head for like ten minutes straight made me chuckle.