The life of a games writer isn’t always the glitz and glamour that you might think. Every now and again you need to take one for the team and throw yourself on a live hand grenade. Usually when an editor tosses an anime themed release in your direction, you start wondering what exactly you’d done to piss them off. It’s nowhere near as bad as any movie-based property (Bad Boys: The Game *shudder*), but when was the last time you sat back and rubbed your hands together in eager anticipation of the new Dragonball Z/Naruto/Avatar: The Last Airbender release?
That’s not to say that these aren’t decent enough franchises, but they don’t exactly set the world on fire. For the most part, they are variations on a theme from the last incarnation with a few new moves or counters thrown out to the public in a yearly release cycle. Now you might be saying to yourself “Thanks for the history lesson kozeeii, mate, any chance you’re gonna finish with the disclaimers and get on with the review?” Valid point. I just wanted to lay some groundwork before cutting to the chase.
You see, Bleach: Soul Resurreccion, is a bit of an anomaly. Besides not being able to spell its own name correctly and following the above formula – for the most part – it also has a decent amount of depth that sets it apart from its anime-to-game adaptation brethren.
Right off the bat, do yourself a favour and ignore the plot. You won’t get anything out of the play by play before each chapter. It doesn’t offer any insights into the enemies you’ll be facing, nor character development or interesting back-story. It’s more a jumble of names that bear no meaning with a liberal dose of references to the Soul Society which most of the characters you play belong to.
The only thing you’re guaranteed by wading through the pre-battle introductions is a brain aneurism as you try to make head or tail of it. Trust me. I’m a huge fan of the series and I struggled to get the gist of it. All you need to know is that you are a Soul Reaper whose primary goal is to eradicate evil souls and collect the “soul points” they leave behind to help level up your warriors. In broad strokes, just kill everything on sight. Get it? Got it? Good!
Luckily, gameplay doesn’t hinge on plot, with the “story-telling” just a device to bring new characters with different abilities into the mix as you wade through the 14 chapters of the main campaign. This is fan service anime adaptation to its core. There’s a great deal of care taken on the character models, who all look, move and fight much like they do in the namesake series.
Main character Ichigo is a quick moving powerhouse, the archer - “Quincy” Uryu works best with combination ranged attacks, Rukia is all about precise strikes with stunning blows to break up the pace and the juggernaut Kenpachi is a beast who likes to take opponents body surfing as he’s beating the living crap out of them.
Each chapter requires you to wipe out anything that moves, smash every rock, pillar, tower or structure for soul points, make your way to the inevitable boss battle, beat them back to the afterlife and continue onwards. It is very much cut out of the Dynasty Warriors mould and could have been relegated to an instant addition to the bargain barrel bins if not for a few gameplay tweaks that offer a deeper than most hacky-slashy experience.
Sure, button mashing will get you through some of the early sections, but as your skill level increases so does the nature of your enemies, translating into some downright tough battles that will call upon some slick slicing, deft dodging and brutal bankai (super move) usage to get you to the next chapter. Timing is the key as well as character knowledge. Launching an enemy upwards provides the perfect opportunity to lay in some cheap shots, with many bosses utilising variations of the same specialised abilities as your character affords you.
At the end of each chapter you are given a summary with a score plus an allocation of soul points dependant on what items you destroyed, enemies killed and bonuses for flashy combos. You can then use these points to level up each character, for additional attack or defensive capabilities or more health, giving Bleach: Soul Resurreccion a light RPG type of feel.
So far so good, right? There’s solid gameplay– check, an eye for detail in character models and mannerisms –check, so why the mediocre score? There is a certain amount of repetition that’s to be expected in this type of genre, but the same enemy classes keep cropping up and the backgrounds and level design are almost thrown in as an afterthought.
Seriously, there are three different backgrounds used throughout the entire campaign. WTF? It may have been borderline excusable if they were teeming with animation, or bursting forth with colour or something even slightly memorable. As they stand you’ll traverse a series of endless corridors, a desert broken up by the occasional rock/red pillar or make your way through a shrine/temple. It screams of a rush job or worse, lazy level designers. Regardless of the reason, it does take a lot of the shine off what could have been a more memorable title.
Die-hard fans of the anime can feel free to throw an extra point onto the final score, but with repetitive cannon fodder enemy types, a nonsensical plot and some of the blandest and most repeated ad nauseum backgrounds I’ve ever seen in a video game, it’s hard to justify going any higher. A little more care could have really made a difference. Pity.