Publisher: NIS America
Genre: Action-RPG / Beat 'em Up
Reviewer: Marcus Way
Overall: 5 = Average
Bleach has become one of the more well-known and popular franchises in both manga and anime since its introduction some nine years ago. It’s one of those licenses that many people just know, even if they aren’t familiar with the particulars. As Ichigo Kurosaki, a teen who has received the powers of a Soul Reaper, you must battle Hollows and other nefarious creatures in order to aid the Soul Society in its war against the deadly Arrancar and their Espada elites in Sony and NIS America’s action-RPG Bleach: Soul Resurrección.
If you have no idea what a Soul Reaver and why they are fighting against the Arrancar-what’s-their-names over a Soul Society, then Soul Resurrección isn’t the game for you. And unless you’re a massive Bleach fan, then the game most likely isn’t for you either. Welcoming newcomers with all of the warmth of a cold shoulder, only those familiar with the characters and events will have any idea of what’s going on. And with a formula that’s heavy on the action and light on the role-playing, those thinking they found a melee equivalent to the equally colorful Bayonetta will be sorely disappointed. With over twenty characters, a simple combat system that’s as over-the-top as it is unbalanced, and a storyline seemingly set smack-dab in the middle of a story arch, only those in the know will feel at home.
From the outset, it seems as though Soul Resurrección has the goods. Multiple modes, hordes of interesting-looking enemies, and dozens of playable characters? Sounds great! Only, not quite. Story Mode, what one would think would be the heart of the game, is actually little more than a four-hour grind. A confusing, ridiculously breezy grind, but a grind nonetheless. As the 14 episodes unfold, it becomes apparent that only the biggest of Bleach fans will get anything out of the barebones intro narrations and ensuing conflicts. Each level, set in only a handful of location types (desert, corridor, and deserted city), are comprised of linear paths that are broken up by enemy spawning areas that are cordoned off by forcefields. After the enemies are defeated, the fields disappear, and you are free to either to proceed and either fight or bypass those enemies loitering between the contact areas. After a handful of these sections, a single- to two-round boss battle occurs that quickly concludes after a few of the basic combos are followed up with a charged attack. A few levels have a fork or two, though the only difference between the paths is the enemy types faced in the spawn areas. A few of those sequences and you’re done.
Each character has a close-range attack and a ranged attack, along with a handful of special moves (Super Moves and Ignition Attacks) and the ability to warp short distances, dash long distances, and block. There are a set number of attacks and combos, varying between two- to five-button presses and maxing out at around five. Each attack is counted and its figure is displayed above a steadily decreasing Slash Combo meter, with each successful hit made before the meter depletes adding to the ongoing total. For those areas with barrels, rocks, or other random objects about, lengthy chains can be created by using the dash move to bounce around between enemies and objects. An extended count results in additional Soul Points, orbs gained from destroying objects and defeating enemies that go towards leveling up the characters. The most enjoyment I had was finding ways to maximize chains when entering a new area, zipping between vases, columns, and enemies, getting hits in before the combo meter ran out.
The enemies do little to add much excitement, save for their appearance. As with most things in Bleach, the visuals are the standout feature. Everything from the character design to the special moves looks wonderful, with bright colors, smooth animation, and a sensibility that combines the fantastic with the ridiculous. The problem is that, for all of their visual spark, the enemies are as dumb as rocks—and that’s almost insulting to rocks. It’s not uncommon to come out of a dozen-enemy scuffle unscathed, nor for them, particularly the ground-based types, to not even bother to attack. It often feels as if you’re just showing off all of the character’s cool special moves because the enemies come off as little more than mobile punching bags. Dispatching them isn’t nearly as enjoyable after an episode, either, because then you’ve seen all of the character’s tricks. The actual combo and move set is paltry, and the special moves aren’t nearly as exciting the twentieth time as they were the second. And to top it off, when an enemy does get in the rare hit, it can take off a disproportionate amount of life, as if that compensates for their general poor showing.
The main benefit to playing through all of the sequences is to gain the Soul Points. These are used to enhance the characters through the Level-up Grid, a linked system of upgrades where one unlocks the chance to purchase another. One sour point is that counter attacking is actually an unlockable ability, which, given the simplicity of the combat system, should’ve really been available from the outset. These benefits, whether it be increased vitality or attack power, carry over into the slightly more challenging Mission mode.
Mission mode consists of 28 standalone, objective-based tasks that can be played with any of the unlocked characters. The limitations that are often imposed, such as defeating a set amount of enemies (e.g., 100) or a time limit, can make the fights more difficult than those found throughout Story mode, but the enhancements gained from the earned Soul Points alleviates much of the challenge; however, those jumping right in without spending time completing the story might find some of the three-star-on missions quite challenging. As a bonus for fans of the franchise, in addition to being able to play as more of the characters, is the various unlockables (characters, figurines, and sound bites) that are rewarded as stages are completed. Though the game isn’t extended greatly by the missions, they do add a few more hours and make for a decent ender after the story has been completed.
Finally, there is Soul Attack, an online mode that is restricted by what missions have been completed. After unlocking stages for play in Soul Attack, which tend to be a bit more difficult than those in Mission, you can then play for the highest of all online stakes: bragging rights. While all of the modes grade performance, this is the only one in which the results can be posted against others online on a leaderboard. Fans will no doubt enjoy taking their favorite character up the ranks.
And fans is really who this is for. Most of those who try it on a whim, whether because of the attractive screenshots or the lure of upgradable characters in a new hack-and-slasher, will be nonplused and, ultimately, bored. The catchphrases and attacks endlessly shouted and played out on-screen will become as mundane to the uninitiated as they are fist-pump worthy to the fans. With very little in the way of inviting newcomers in and getting them up to speed as to who’s who or why they should even care what’s going on, the curious will get very little out of it. As someone wanting a solid brawler with wild characters, I was instead given an aggressively repetitive and lackluster adventure wrapped in a pretty package.
A license is a powerful thing; it can beguile interested parties into being diehard fans or just as easily ignore the opportunity and turn people away. The Lord of the Rings brawlers from EA managed to engage both fans and non-fans alike with solid combat, excellent pacing, solid production, and a sense that you actually knew what you were fighting for. Despite the fact that Bleach: Soul Resurrección could have served as the perfect opportunity to introduce newcomers to the wildly popular series, with its fast combat, unique character design, and gorgeous cinematic attacks, the game is content with assuming that everyone knows what’s going on and why it matters. For those going in who are already fans, they can look forward to over twenty characters bashing about a story that matters and spending more time with their favorites in numerous standalone missions as well as matching themselves against fellow fans online. For everyone else, the game quickly loses its luster and makes for a striking example of style over substance.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)