Despite being based on a Japanese anime, the first two Bleach games for the DS weren’t RPG’s, they were highly addictive 2D fighters which spearheaded the genre on Nintendo‘s dual screened portable. Looking back, the only thing I didn’t like about those games was the addition of a Card Battle system which you could use to summon special powers mid-round. I assume the card system was only included in the game in an attempt to draw in the RPG crowd, but for someone like me who grew up playing Street Fighter instead of Fire Emblem, I simply stuck to mashing the face buttons. For the third game in the series, Sega chose to fully explore the RPG route and in a bid to gain popularity amongst the DS demographic.
Bleach as gone from fighter to Tactical RPG. A questionable move that is hard to agree with. If reviews were based on initial disappointments, I’d give this game a 0 out of 10 and move on quicker than Sega could say “Wait, here’s your money back”, however it wouldn’t be fair for me to condemn Bleach: The 3rd Phantom solely based on my love for it’s predecessors and my irrational fear of change. It’s only right that I judge each on it’s own merits and hey, if Sega has no problems pretending the first two games didn’t exist then why can’t I?
The game’s story is predominately told through still image cutscenes, dated FMV’s and an array of text which bookmark each battle. I guess anyone picking up a DS RPG should expect to be bombarded with mountains of text but the least Sega could have done is make sure that the story is interesting. Although not terrible, the story is plagued with predictable twists and uninspired dialog which, to make matters worse, is usually delivered by blandly portrayed characters. At the beginning of the game you have the have to chose between two protagonists to take on the main character role, either Fujimaru Kudo or his twin sister Matsuri. Thankfully the twins are much more than just pallet swaps and whichever character you chose will significantly alter the storyline, particularly nearing the end. The game is jam packed with characters from the show so expect a lot of fan service if you’re already will vested in the Bleach universe. Your tolerance for the story will also vary greatly depending on you’re appreciation for the Bleach anime series. On one hand its an original story that was actually written by the series creator but on the other hand it’s drawn-out, unsurprising and ultimately very boring.
As with most RPG’s whether the game lives or dies depends entirely on its Battle System. Anyone familiar with game’s like Final Fantasy Tactics should have no problems jumping in to 3rd Phantom and getting the hang of it’s core concept. As you’ve probably gathered by now your job as a player is to position your characters appropriately around small isometric battlefields pitting them against various enemy types. What sets 3rd Phantom apart from most other Tactical RPG’s is the ability to attack diagonally instead of just four directions which brings some much needed flavor to the game. Once you’ve selected an attack the game transitions to a 2D side-on prospective where you watch your character dish out some deadly moves in a form very reminiscent of the first two games, only this time you’re not directly in control of your character’s movements and your opponent doesn’t instantly fight back.
The rather speedy levelling system and lack of punishment for the deaths of your party members does make Bleach a little on the easy side however there is plenty to do once the game is finished that will truly separate the men from the boys. While the story may not keep you coming back for more the engaging battle system should be enough to entice you to see yourself through to the end. Admittedly I’m not a huge fan of turn based RPG’s but I actually found myself enjoying most of the battles I fought once I got passed all the talking. Graphically 3rd Phantom is easy on the eyes but does very little to push the capabilities of the DS and the music contains a mixture of both pertinent themes which fit the tone of the game and some cheesy J-Pop that only the nerdiest of Japanophiles could enjoy.
With a title like 3rd Phantom is inevitable that many fans of the first 2 games will be disappointed by this entry in the series, especially if they were expecting more of the same. 3rd Phantom is a complete departure for the series and while it’s not the best RPG on the DS by a long shot it’s hard to ignore the amount of effort Sega put forth in an attempt to rejuvenate the franchise. If you’re a fan of tactical RPG’s you could certainly do worse, and with dozen of hours worth of gameplay Bleach: The 3rd Phantom definitely offers a lot of value but whether you’ll feel compelled to stick around until the end is questionable. One thing 3rd Phantom definitely isn’t lacking in is potential, I’d love to see this battle system return in a future Bleach title. With a more compelling story and improved dialog Sega could have a yet another hit under their belt, here’s to hoping that Bleach’s 4th DS title will elevate the series rather than drag it even further downhill.