Bleach: The 3rd Phantom on DS leaves the realms of 2D fighting and gets all strategic.
Sega have brought the Bleach universe to life in this title, with a damn good helping of turn-based strategy. Firstly though, a bit of Bleach background from a fan.
Rukia is a Soul Reaper (although I know them as Shinigami or DeathGods), an order of beings charged with the task of escorting the souls of the dead to the afterlife. During a particularly vicious battle with a Hollow (an evil spirit), Rukia is wounded and attempts to transfer part of her power to Ichigo, a teenager who has the ability to see Shinigami. However, Ichigo accidentally absorbs nearly all of Rukias power, temporarily trapping her in the human world.
From here on Ichigo has to take over her DeathGod duties, and so begins his training. After a time, Rukia is summoned back to Soul Society, the headquarters and training grounds for the DeathGods, to answer to the charges of giving her powers to a human. Rukia is sentenced to death, and it falls to Ichigo and his friends to rescue her.
Thats the basics of at least the first few “seasons” of the anime. There is a huge cast of amazing characters and exciting stories and, to date, there are actually 258 episodes!
Anyway, back to the game. Bleach: The 3rd Phantom features a completely new storyline based before the beginning of the anime/manga. The main characters are the fraternal twins Matsuri and Fujimaru Kudo, whom the player can choose between for two slightly different stories. The stories follow their adventures as Soul Reapers and their interactions with other well known Bleach characters.
The game revolves around long narratives and the turn based strategy element. The actual strategy part of the game will be instantly recognised by any fans of the genre and is fairly easy to pick up. Move the members of your team around the grid and select to attack, defend or raise pressure. The characters have special attacks that can be used once they enter combat. There are more than 50 characters to choose from, so finding your favorites should be easy. When characters attack, the view changes to a much larger 2D side scrolling affair, but very little interaction from the player is needed at this point.
Here lies the problem. Bleach: The 3rd Phantom is not a turn based strategy title with a deep and engrossing storyline. It is, in fact, a story with some turn based strategy added. It is just too much for the average player. The story is long and complex, featuring characters that would not be known to any but fans of the anime/manga. Rather than trying to introduce new players to the genre, this game is likely to leave them running from their DS in horror. The actual gameplay is not too bad, it just doesn’t feature enough to keep fans of the genre interested.
The game looks nice, although it is not the best example of what the DS can do. The sprites seem slightly squashed and the pictures are not as sharp as they could be. The games soundtrack is headed up by a great title song, and then left to wallow in obscurity, with non-descript tunes and bland sound effects.
All in all, fans of Bleach will certainly enjoy this games insight into Soul Society and all of its characters. Fans of turn based strategy will find themselves swamped in the Bleach story, but will come across halfway decent gameplay, eventually. Newcomers to either the Bleach universe or turn based strategy will find the story too confusing and may well turn off before giving the gameplay a chance.