Bleach: Soul Resurreccion for the PlayStation 3 is the first PS3-exclusive title in the Bleach franchise, which has seen previous entries on the Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, Sony PSP and PS2 consoles. The anime-based game greatly benefits from the use of HD visuals, using cel-shaded artwork that closely resembles another popular anime title, Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2.
This entry into the long-running franchise focuses on story elements found in the later episodes of the anime, with series protagonist Ichigo Kurosaki facing off against the Arrancar in his continuing fight against the villain, Aizen, and his Hollow followers. If you're new to the series, there's a lot of backstory that you'll need to learn, and it can make some of the terminology and factions a little difficult to understand. The game doesn't really ease you into the process, as it expects the player to have a working knowledge of the series before tackling the game.
The Bleach series has been running in Japan and North America for quite some time, in both manga and anime forms. The main plot revolves around Ichigo, a red-haired high school student who has the ability to see the souls of the dead. This leads to an encounter with a Soul Reaper named Rukia, who is tasked with clearing out the souls that are unwilling to go into the afterlife. Most of these souls are taken care of quickly, posing no threat to anyone, but occasionally, a soul lingers too long and turns into a malevolent force known as a Hollow. Rukia is injured in a fight with one of these creatures, and Ichigo ends up taking on her Soul Reaper abilities to save her life.
This helps Ichigo discover his abilities as a Soul Reaper. He becomes embroiled in a plot that involves a former Soul Reaper turned rogue who has allied himself with the Hollows, and the overall story involves Ichigo and company battling against invasions by the rogue Soul Reaper Aizen, along with a various number of enemies that get progressively stronger as the series continues. In that regard, it's similar to popular franchises like Dragon Ball Z or Naruto, and it definitely falls into the Shonen (male-focused) category of manga tales.
Soul Resurreccion is primarily an action title, and it features elements that remind me of the Dynasty Warriors series from Tecmo Koei. You can control a variety of characters from the Bleach franchise, and the game features two modes for single-player gameplay: Story and Mission. Story features cut scenes intersecting different points of the level that cover the early stages of the Arrancar plotline, and you're forced to use a certain character for each stage. There are only 14 stages for the Story mode, which is quite short and not very challenging. You can change the difficulty for each stage from normal to hard, which provides a more sizeable challenge; it might be a better default difficulty for more experienced players.
Mission mode, on the other hand, is far more entertaining and challenging. Since this mode is not tied down by the plot of the series, you can opt to control any of the currently unlocked characters for every mission. There's also great variety to the boss fights, and the missions occasionally make use of unique stipulations, such as one-hit kills, not allowing you to use the jump button, two-on-one boss fights, and so on. There's also double the number of missions to tackle when compared to the stages in Story mode. Mission mode felt more like the game's main mode than Story mode did.
Gameplay makes use of simple combo strings to chain together attacks between enemies, of which you'll encounter a fair number in each stage. The enemies tend to be nameless hordes, which is where the Dynasty Warriors comparison comes into play. As you advance through a stage, you'll encounter chokepoints on the map that close off your progress until you defeat a certain number or type of enemy. Most characters you control have melee-focused weapons for attack, but all characters also have an optional ranged attack. By continually hitting enemies, you'll build up a special bar that allows you to unleash a more powerful form of your character for a limited time. While in this form, you can pull off a devastating super attack, which is best reserved for boss fights.
Level design is pretty bland overall. Most stages are corridors that occasionally branch to the left or right. When considering the dearth of stages in the game, a lot of levels seem to be repeated. This takes away from the fun, since you are quickly burned out from seeing the same handful of stages. One stage type seems pretty lazy; it features a city rooftop setting, but when you're moving over open air, your character still walks or glides with the aid of an invisible floor beneath him. The effect feels a little cheap, and it certainly lacks any depth or sense of awe that could be found by actually flying or jumping over a cityscape.
Soul Resurreccion incorporates a currency system called Soul Points, which are dropped by every defeated enemy and can also be found in breakable objects scattered throughout each stage. The Soul Points are used to level up your characters from the main menu, with a game board-like setting that allows you to spend points on specific power-ups to increase defense, health, damage, etc. This design reminds me of the license board or sphere grid from Final Fantasy XII and FF X, respectively.
The best way to generate Soul Points is to string together a long combo chain. If you can keep it up, you'll trigger multipliers that remain up as long as you don't let the combo chain meter get depleted. To aid you in this endeavor, each character can zoom across a stage by holding down the R2 button, and if you dash into an enemy or object, it'll count as a hit. This results in the player bounding around from enemy to object in an effort to quickly clear a stage while wiping out all foes in his path. It provides a unique way of playing the game, and I found it to be particularly entertaining.
There's a decent variety to the character selection, but I though the game could have benefited from expanding its roster some more. Since I'm a little familiar with the series from the manga more so than the anime, I was disappointed to find that characters like Chad and Renji were not playable. For a series that has as large a cast as Bleach, I expected to see a lot more than the dozen or so playable characters. You get some great additions, but it feels like a waste of time and slots to unlock Ichigo's different forms. The choice of Soul Reapers as playable characters isn't my cup of tea, as I'm not a huge fan of guys like Hitsugaya, so I'd have loved to see a few more characters represented. Also, some of the characters used aren't that fun to play, including Aizen. The developers attempted to make certain abilities feel very unique, which I guess is successful, but some of the attacks don't seem to mesh very well with the gameplay.
The visual style used for the characters is great, and it really does a great job of nailing the anime look. The same can be said for the enemies and bosses, but not for the stages. The levels are pretty sparse on detail, and the texture work is flat and plain. I've already mentioned that the stages are pretty linear, and the only benefit is that there is a decent field of depth present since the player is generally blocked in by invisible walls. It would be great if they opened up the world a little more for you to run around. It gives you an extra reason to explore with hidden items, collectibles, or other elements found in similar games.
Overall, Bleach: Soul Resurreccion isn't very good. It's not an awful game, but the Mission mode is the only thing that salvages an otherwise lackluster action title. With a little more content and design work put into a sequel, you may have a decent contender. The combat is pretty strong and somewhat unique for this type of game with its combo system, but it's not enough to hold a person's interest for very long. Unless you enjoy punishing yourself by grinding out character levels and replaying stages over and over again, I'd suggest skipping this release.
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