The Third Time is the… RPG?
The Bleach franchise on the DS has thus far yielded two excellent fighting games that featured big character rosters, deep story-driven gameplay, and robust online options. Naturally, when I started up Bleach: The 3rd Phantom, I was excited for more intense fighting action. However, I was in for a surprise, as The 3rd Phantom is not a fighting game, but a tactical RPG. Although the change in genre is certainly a shock, The 3rd Phantom is a proficient RPG, and there are plenty of things that Bleach fans will love
One of the biggest features of The 3rd Phantom is its unique story. While the first two Bleach games featured storylines based on the anime and manga series, The 3rd Phantom features an all-new storyline that helps bridge the gap between some of the holes in the most recent Hueco Mundo arc. The game tells the story of two original characters (both twins) who become Soul Reapers back when Urahara was still active in Soul Society. The game goes back pretty far in the series’ mythology for the beginning of the story, and you’ll be able to see characters like Hitsugaiya, Renji, and Rukia as little kids.
However, due to some unfortunate events, the two original characters become frozen in time, and are thrust into the fight between Ichigo and the Hueco Mundo, which is lead by their former comrade, Aizen. The story ties into the over-arching storyline rather well, and it helps give the player a little more insight into the inner-workings of Soul Society. We also learn more about the mysterious Urahara, which is a plus for any fan.
The game’s story is truly its selling point, as all other aspects of the game fall into the so-so category. The game’s battle system is a very basic tactical RPG, reminiscent of Suikoden Tierkreis. The game allows you to select from a roster of available characters, and you can level them up as you use them in more battles. As you increase the levels of certain characters, you will unlock their Bankai, which is a super-powerful sword attack.
The battle system in The 3rd Phantom is fairly standard fare, using a grid that has been enhanced with special Reiki zones. These zones form a pattern around the battlefield, and if an ally increases spiritual pressure on any player standing in a Reiki zone, then your character will have boosted attack stats. Once you move around the grid, it is time to attack. Each character has a small range, and you can choose from standard, skill, or bankai attacks.
One interesting facet of the battle system is the defensive aspect. When a character is attacked (whether it is an ally or foe), it will be able to choose to guard against an incoming attack or to counterattack. Depending on the selection, the challenging character’s attack animation and strength will be different. Although it’s not the deepest of tactical elements, it certainly adds an interesting aspect to the gameplay.
However, even with the defensive options, The 3rd Phantom’s battle system suffers from being a little too repetitive. There’s no real overarching technique, and party selection is a little too easy due to some serious character strength issues. Despite the game’s attempt at a decent tactics battle system, without targeted leveling, a class system, or any advanced techniques (beyond the Bankai super-attack), the battle system suffers from being way too generic.
As far as production values go, The 3rd Phantom stands up fairly well. The visuals use very high-quality sprites during battle sequences, which feature tons of detail and resemble those used in the previous Bleach games on the DS. The sprites look especially good during battle scenes, where sprites spring to action for attack-specific animations. The only disappointing facet of the visuals is that the plot scenes only feature still images of character faces against generic-looking backgrounds. Although the character designs look a lot like those in the show, watching still images for long periods of dialogue can get boring.
The sound quality in the game is also good in parts, but like the visuals, it just doesn’t get it right all of the time. The background music samples some of the tunes from the anime and varies nicely from moody plot scenes to high-energy battle music. However, the game features some infrequent voice-over work that only plays during battle. The decision not to voice the plot scenes definitely takes away from the experience.
Although Bleach: The 3rd Phantom is a competent RPG, it isn’t on the same level as its fighting predecessors. Both Blade of Fate and Dark Souls on the DS had stellar fighting controls and superb online modes that put them head and shoulders above any other fighting franchise on the DS. Though I applaud the developer for going in a different direction with the third entry in the Bleach series on the DS, the transition to RPG has not produced the same type of excellence that the fighting series has.
Though this game will certainly please longtime fans of the franchise with it’s original story, the lackluster RPG format relegates this title to the “fans only” designation. If you only care about the story, than Bleach: The 3rd Phantom is an adequate title. If you are expecting gameplay akin to the first two entries, however, you will surely be disappointed.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.7 Graphics
Sprites have a lot of detail and character art is true to the show. Although plot scenes are not animated, they don’t look bland. 3.2 Control
Tactical RPG controls are fairly typical but function well. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Background music is nicely varied but voice-over is infrequent. 3.1
The game isn’t particularly long or challenging, but the double storyline could be enough for fans to come back to.
3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.