Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bleach: Soul Resurrección

Unlike the art, this game actually does have backgrounds.
Bleach, for those who are unaware or don't want anything to do with any anime/manga series for any reason, is a manga series created by Tite Kubo and serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump in Japan as well as two American publications, both the recently defunct monthly Shonen Jump print magazine and its replacement, the digitaly released Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha. To briefly describe it, it's about a High School student named Ichigo Kurosaki who can see ghosts. A Soul Reaper named Rukia Kuchiki drops by his home one night looking for a rogue Hollow (an evil spirit) that subsequently attacks. Rukia fights the Hollow while trying to keep Ichigo out of the conflict, but due to his determination to protect his family, which is strong enough to break magical bonds, she gives him some of her powers to defeat the Hollow, which he successfully does. However, it turns out that he had absorbed all of her power by accident, so he is forced to cleanse Hollows as a Deputy Soul Reaper while she recovers.

I'm sorry for the long explanation, but I feel that even for a popular franchise such as this, a lot of people might not really know what it's about. It's also a lead-in to mention that I am a fan of Bleach, which is to say that I keep up with the manga as best I can, including through Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha, and have been watching the anime on Cartoon Network following the revival of the late night Toonami anime block. While I still haven't read all that has been officially published in English for the series, I do know enough to understand a general idea of what has happened thus far. Because of my status, I will be approaching a review of this game as a fan of Bleach, but, rest assured, it will not affect the neutrality of the review (at least not in any way that I will be aware). Besides, I'm not exactly a mega fan of Tite Kubo that believes he hasn't done anything wrong (and boy has he made mistakes). Now, with this lengthy opening done, let's take a look at Bleach: Soul Resurrección and see whether or not it's worth playing.

First off, the story of the game itself. The framework for the story is the overarching Arrancar Arc, which includes the story arcs that involve the main antagonist, Sōsuke Aizen, more specifically the Hueco Mundo, Fake Karakura Town and Deicide Arcs. Basically, Aizen has kidnapped Orihime Inoue so that he can take advantage of her regenerative powers for his scheme. In response, Ichigo, followed by Chad and Uryū Ishida and later Rukia and Renji Abarai, travel to Hueco Mundo to get her back and defeat Aizen and his Espada (powerful Arrancars (Hollows with powers of a Soul Reaper) that he created). The Story Mode, which uses this framework, is a loose representation of it, using text recaps before each Episode to explain where in the story the Episode takes place. Personally, I felt that the recaps were sufficiently efficient, allowing players to just jump right into the action while being given a refresher for context. There are also some advantages to this style of retelling the arc: You don't have to wait an ungodly amount of time between important battles (as is the case with Tite Kubo's pacing problems in the source manga), it explains certain events in a way that makes the source story sound a bit better and it condenses the plot to only contain the most important elements.

Then there's the gameplay, which integrates the plot to a certain degree. Each Episode in the Story mode has you playing from the perspective of a single character based on who the final boss fight is against. Each character plays a bit differently, taking advantage of each of their unique abilities. Special attacks are performed using the Circle and Triangle buttons, while normal attacks are done with Square. The special moves use up Spiritual Pressure, a blue segmented bar below the character's health. Depending on which button you press, the Spiritual Pressure bar will deplete quicker, limiting you to normal attacks while you recover your lost energy. You can also guard to block attacks, which can be extended into a dodge move known as the Flash Step by moving the left analog stick at the same time, as well as lock on to enemies and dash to get through a level quicker. An Ignition gauge also exists on the side, filling up as you perform an extended combo. Fill it up enough and your attacks become more powerful, plus you gain access to a one-shot attack specific to the character. This simple control scheme sets the groundwork for the experience, allowing one to play for a good period of time while still letting the characters use their established powers.

As for the characters themselves, it becomes clear right away that they all suit a different play style; this is a good thing as it gives the game a great amount of variety and each one has their own distinct array of moves and personality. Though a lot of their attacks share certain ranges, they all have a different area of effect and operate differently, an example being Ichigo's Getsuga Tensho being released in a wave versus Rukia Kuchiki's Byakurai operating similarly to a bullet. Two of the more unique characters are Gin Ichimaru, with the ability to change his attack depending on what two-button combination you press, and Uryū Ishida, who has a separate system in place for his Circle moves. Finding out how each character operates, including how their Ignition attacks work, can be fun and inject more variety throughout your play, but you'll definitely find one you're comfortable with and focus on strengthening them over the rest (I personally focused primarily on Ichigo).

Once you beat the story to unlock most of the characters, which will only take a little over four hours, there's a Mission mode where you can play to unlock more missions, characters and stuff for your collection, as well as a Soul Attack mode that serves as a quasi-multiplayer mode with a leaderboard. Depending on your performance during the different game modes, you gain Soul Points, which are used to level up your characters by buying them new abilities and stat boosts. When your character is stronger, completing certain modes becomes easier, so fortunately there are multiple difficulty levels to keep things from getting stale.

I must say at this point then that this game is designed with the sole purpose to suck as much time out of you as it possibly can...and it works. To unlock more missions, you must complete a certain set of missions, and eventually get a good enough performance grade on previous ones, requiring your character to be strong enough to get all the right bonuses while still meeting the requirements. If you want to get some practice in the Soul Attack mode, you have to complete a certain amount or combination of missions, which won't kick in until about halfway through your progress in that mode.

But wait, remember when I said that powering up your character requires you to buy stuff? Well, you do your leveling up on a grid-like structure, each new character adding a new section to the structure until you have all of them. They all have their own grid and can't advance past a certain point, limiting your potential to level up, as each new upgrade you buy contributes another level. However, if you level up your character to a specific point, you unlock access to more parts of the grid, increasing your potential; you must do this with every single character if you want to get the one you use the most up to full strength. Then you run into the problem where some abilities are a bit too expensive for this to work, which means you'll find yourself playing through more missions to get more soul points to get more upgrades and so forth, repeat ad nauseum. This is definitely the meat of the game, and it can definitely get a little tiring after an extended play session, so I would recommend playing in bursts to avoid this feeling.

That said, the actual level design is very structured, with at least one to two areas of Hollow fights before you actually get to the boss encounter, an obvious way to get your Ignition gauge maxed out for the end. It's fortunate then that there is a diverse enough range of enemies that will actually put up a fight. The Mission and Soul Attack modes have the most variety, but even then you're still reaching the same goals most of the time. The variety is enough to keep you going, but again, you'll still run out of steam from the gradual monotony (so take breaks). The good thing about it though is that it distills Bleach to its base element, fighting, while still staying true to the events. I'd like to mention here that the Story mode actually operates close to continuity, which includes a certain restriction in the final Episode; makes sense to me.

Technically speaking, the graphics on the environment and character models are incredibly faithful and serve as perhaps the best 3D representation of the franchise. The voice acting matches this devotion to the product, using the same voice actors to reprise their roles from the source anime to make it more consistent. I also liked the soundtrack, which uses a heavy metal style to accentuate the action and help the immersion with the music style of the anime, though I'm sure some will disagree with me on this. Sound Effects are also used and mixed properly so that they aren't particularly annoying.

I do have a couple of complaints about my experience, one of which is a lot more major than the other. The most major regards the lock-on feature, specifically the fact that it's a little broken. To be quite honest, I have almost no idea how it picks what enemy you want to focus on, but it might not actually be the one you really want to strike. It's helpful that it picks enemies that are behind you when no one is in front, but even if you adjust the camera so that you get to the one group you want to kill, it will reorient itself back again to target someone else, a move that can cost precious time and your combo. As a result, I used it much less when I had my target in my sights or I tried to fool it to point where I wanted. The more minor complaint moreso comes from me as a fan, specifically the unlockable character Kōkuto; it's not that he's bad, it's just that I have absolutely no idea who he is. He and Skullclad Ichigo are from the fourth Bleach movie, but the movie isn't available in English yet and the game provides absolutely no context or explanation, which will surely confuse existing fans that haven't seen the movie in Japanese.

Overall, Bleach: Soul Resurrección is an interesting anime licensed game, with solid gameplay and a great dedication to detail. However, some may be turned off by the amount of time you'd need to devote to access everything (I've done over 18 hours and still haven't seen it all) or, for some inexplicable reason, the fact that it's an anime licensed game. It's definitely made with fans of Bleach in mind, so I would tell outsiders that if you want to start somewhere with Bleach, do not make it this game. The loose representation of the story won't completely fill you in on the events, so I'd say to read the original manga first. For everyone else, consider a discount purchase.

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