Friday, October 21, 2011

Review: Bleach: Soul Resurrection (PS3)

A manga about a boy with the powers of the reaper, defending humankind from evil spirits? Sounds just dandy as source material for a game. Which is precisely why Bleach deserves better than this game.

Bleach: Soul Resurrection is a Dynasty Warriors wannabe clone. It’s a game about running down linear pathways, slaughtering hordes of enemies, then moving a bit further down the pathway and slaughtering the boss character. Except it’s not done nearly as well as Dynasty Warriors, in any way, shape or form.

Let’s start with the obvious starting point – the combat itself. People often level a criticism at the Warriors games that they’re button mashers. They’re not really, there’s usually multiple ways to go about the various objectives that a Warriors game battlefield throws at you. Some strategic thinking gives a slight edge to the hero you’re in control over, which is critical for the higher difficulty levels. In this way, the games are elevated above being button mashers, unless you leave the difficulty level on the lowest setting, that is.

Bleach removes that strategic element entirely. This game doesn’t feature the open battlefields. It doesn’t feature secondary objectives. It doesn’t feature the awesome weapon selection system that Dynasty Warriors 7 did. All it features is tight, enclosed passageways that lead directly to the end boss. There’s sub bosses and hordes of enemies along the way, but they don’t have loot drops, or anything to break up the action.

In other words, while I’ll dispute the Warriors games’ reputation as button mashers to my grave, Bleach is a button masher, and if Warriors games bored you, this one will render you catatonic.

Boss battles work a little differently, but not much better. Thanks to the lock-on system (which does work, like everything in this game, the controls are tight and highly functional) boss battles are a game of circling and strafing one another, waiting for your opponent to attack so you can dart in and get a few quick hits in. Given the sheer size of some opponent’s health bars, which can handle multiple hits from the heroes’ ultimate attacks, boss battles long overstay their welcome, even if they’re not necessarily that hard.

Then comes the utter brevity of this game, which is over in a way that only licensed productions can get away with. There’s only a handful of characters to play with compared to other games in this little genre, and aside from the story mode there’s only a half-hearted mission mode (roughly a quarter of the levels in that as Dynasty Warriors 7’s equivalent mode), and a high score attack with online leaderboards. That’s a nice touch and all, but where’s the actual multiplayer?

The in-game story is brutal on players who aren’t fans of the manga. To an extent, this is fair, as it’s only going to be the manga fans that pick it up, but I was able to enjoy Dynasty Warriors Gundam despite having little clue what’s going on; and I was able to enjoy Ken’s Rage, which offered a far more cohesive plot that non-manga fans were still able to follow. Bleach doesn’t bother to explain what’s going on, it just expects you to know. A massive narrative failure there.

Worse, I suspect that the manga fans will feel like this is a very shallow interpretation of the Bleach universe. Levels are introduced in 2-3 paragraphs of brief text, and then through the levels there’s only a couple of quick catch phrase banters between the main characters. It’s too brief to be very interesting.

In fairness to the publisher, NIS America, though, they did try to give people their money’s worth in terms of fan service. There’s a feature-length anime thrown into the box, and in terms of story, that’s far more interesting than the interactive game.

Redeeming the game somewhat is the presentation. The levels themselves are stylistically bland, and frankly the minimalism is an impressive effect when coupled with the cel-shaded characters. The enemies themselves are the real highlight, as the look appropriately nasty and weird, as you’d expect from manga devil things, but that bit of art team probably has as much to thank to the actual manga as their own skills there.

The music is exactly what you would expect from a game like this – electric guitar heavy, and for the most part terrible. The English voice actors would outpace the music for sheer awfulness, but thankfully there’s the ability to switch to Japanese, which is reasonable enough.

If you are looking for a Warriors game, you’d be better off with something from Tecmo Koei. Despite all this though, if you are a fan of Bleach, there’s some mindless fun to be had here. Nothing's broken, it's just that there's nothing especially inspired in here, either.

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