Flail, I mean swing, your blade!
Bleach is one of those series that is undeniably popular. Exceeded only by Naruto in American viewership, Bleach is a powerhouse among anime fans. Known for its action-based storyline, unique art, and intriguing storyline, this series has captured the hearts of fans, not only in the US and Japan but all around the globe.
I have to admit that I had high hopes for this game. I had seen it played at Otakon 07, and it looked to be pretty fun. Cosplayers were flinging around their Wii-motes with reckless abandon, and seemed to be doing some serious damage on-screen. The experience looked awesome, especially from a fan’s point of view. However, actually playing Bleach: Shattered Blade for any reasonable time yields a much different experience.
There are four main ways to play Bleach: Shattered Blade. First up, as you might expect, is the story mode. When you start off, you’ll only have three characters’ individual stories to choose from, but as you progress you’ll garner more. However, they all revolve around the same central plot point: a member of former captain Aizen’s army is invading. And he has a huge Spanish accent. And besides that, there’s not too much else. Sure, there might be one or two character-specific elements in there, but on the whole the various characters’ story modes lack any real depth. Dialogue scenes in between battles function more like placeholders, and the opening and closing scenes of each scenario are still pictures with voiceovers and scrolling text. The whole experience just felt underwhelming and taxingly repetitive. I understand that arcade-style fighters are not necessarily known for their sweeping stories, but I feel that Bleach takes this precedent and tries to aim for a new low. And it’s such a pity because the actual story that takes place in the manga and anime is so good. I guess you can chalk it up to a number of things, be it lazy development, a lack of time (this was a launch title in Japan) or maybe they just thought people who would buy the game weren’t interested in an in-depth story mode. But the bottom line here is that if you’re looking for a satisfying Bleach-centric story experience, look elsewhere.
Another factor of this game that may be a turn-off to some is its lack of mode variation. I suppose it can be credited with staying absolutely true to its genre, but just a little variation would have been nice. In addition to the episode mode, there is a 1-player arcade mode. This mode pits you against various enemies, and rewards you for chopping them down, one string at a time. This would actually be a good mode to play if it didn’t go over almost exactly the same as the story modes. The only real difference is the absence of the single-image beginnings and endings, as well as the placeholder dialogue. I would actually recommend playing arcade mode most because of this facet. At least it’s not pretending to have a story. The third mode is Vs. mode, and as you might guess, it allows you to fight a friend. This mode again is the same story as the first two, but it is a whole lot of fun when you have someone playing with you. Somehow, the monotony doesn’t seem to matter as much when you’ve got someone to beat up on and hurl various insults at from across the room. A guaranteed good time!
The graphics in this game are definitely not the most gorgeous things you’ve ever seen, but they are good enough to at least pass. The real problem that I have with the visuals is the repeated animations. Every single time you change your Zanpaku-to into Bankai (which will probably be every round), you’ll get the same transformation animation. Every time you speak to someone during the in-between scenes of the story mode, it’s the same animation. And seeing the same thing over and over is just not acceptable on a platform where we know so much more is possible.
Sound is pretty okay for the voiceovers, but surprisingly enough gets really shaky during gameplay. The main problem here is that when you perform a move your character makes a standard battle noise. But when you have a game that lets you make 30+ combos (yes, it really does!) and each hit triggers a grunt, things start sounding…interesting. Regardless to say, this little facet may not agitate some as much as it will others, but the fact that it is possible to trigger 30+ identical grunts in the space of a few seconds can’t be a good thing for anyone.
The one area where this game really shines is in the area of control. The game makes very smart use of the Wii-mote to replicate some sword slashing action. However, arcade fighter traditionalists be warned: there will be no elaborate or tremendously involved moves here. Everything is fairly simplistic, and you don’t have too much of a moves list to draw from. But in this game, less is more. Even though you won’t be pulling out any fancy moves on-screen, you sure will feel great moving your Wii-mote and Nunchuk from side to side, up and down, and even thrusting forward. The controls are very easy to pick up and just make the game fun. However, another warning: you will get Wii Elbow. Because of the rapid rate of movement, not to mention the force you have to put into 30 hit combos, you’ll be working out those arm muscles in brand-new ways, even if you already have the dreaded Wii-arm!
The character roster in this game is also pretty good, and features all the major characters from the Soul Society arc. In addition to series mainstays like Ichigo and Orihime, you can also play as Soul Reapers like Zaraki Kenpatchi and the ever-voluptuous Matsumoto. All the characters look really good, and there is even a spot in the game where you can look at the models and zoom in on their various features. You can also use this mode to look at different outfits on the characters, view their bankai, and even listen to audio clips of them from the game.
I suspect that the reason this game was so popular at this year’s Otakon was its controls, and ease of play. You can pick it up and start slashing almost immediately. And even though there are many faults with this game, I can’t say that I don’t see myself picking it up every once and awhile to get my sword slash on with all my favorite characters from Bleach!
racing action is captured in cinematic style and players are rewarded for showing off their skills a