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Bleach: The Blade of Fate


We review the best fighter on the DS.

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Two samurais wearing dark keikogis, the uniform associated with Japanese martial arts, stand silently facing each other, anticipating each other's move before the official start of the match. Suddenly, as the countdown begins, one of the men violently rushes towards his opponent, jumping through the air with a vicious swing of the katana. Stoically and calmly, the defender easily circumvents the assault by darting through the opponent with a special move called the flash step, nullifying the assailant's strategy. And, thus, the two men start over, both standing across from each other as adrenaline pumps through their system, waiting anxiously for a subtle hint of their opponent's next move.

So starts a typical match in Bleach: The Blade of Fate, a beautifully crafted fighting game by developer Treasure, whose superb work extends not only to the Shmups genre (Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun), but to the fighting genre (Yu Yu Hakusho and Guardian Heroes). The target audience -- those who enjoy watching and reading the anime and manga, and the fighting enthusiast -- will have a blast playing Bleach, not just because the game remains faithful to the source material, but because the game mechanics is accessible for the casual gamer, and yet thoroughly substantial for the hardcore.

A typical Bleach game consists of players fighting for position at the start of the round, much like the beginning bouts in Marvel vs. Capcom 2, where both players move around the ring during the pre-fight. While you can't attack during the pre-fight, you can psyche the opponent out by playing coy or aggressively standing close to them jockeying for the dominant position. "Do I block high, block low, or runaway?" you may ask, wondering how the match will start. There's only way to find out...

[Click the image above to check out all Bleach: The Blade of Fate screens.]

...finally, the tension breaks and the action begins. Depending on the player's behavior, you'll experience two distinct play styles. The first, an offensively aggressive game punctuated with constant rushdowns from the air and ground, giving the defender a slim -- or zero -- chance of counterattacking. The style emphasizes quick thinking, deft manipulation of the high/low game, and shrewd planning. Aggressive players who've played the popular Melty Blood, the underrated Darkstalkers series, and the fast-paced Guilty Gear franchise will feel at home here.

On the diametric end, however, there are players who are risk adverse, turtling (turtlers sit back in full guard and rarely attack unless the situation poses zero risk) throughout the match without exposing a weakness in their attack patterns. Through careful zoning and runaway tactics, they'll slow chip away the opponent's health by poking them with long range attacks, linking the attack with an occasional super move that takes off even more damage. It may seem like a boring way to play, but, methodically, they capitalize on the weakness of the opponent, antagonizing them through frustration.

The dichotomy, of being super offensive or super defensive, is attributed to the consummate character design, filled with interesting and eccentric characters who feel, for the most part, different from each other. Ichigo, the hero of the series, is quick and flighty, moving with the spirit of a Shoto, a type of character from the Street Fighter series with a repertoire of moves instantly familiar to any fighting fan: fireball and Dragon Punch-like attacks. While Byakuya, an enemy of Ichigo, is much less capricious, using his excellent skills of teleportation and flash steps to evade attacks, and to sneak up on the opponent's back.

[Click the image above to check out all Bleach: The Blade of Fate screens.]

With the exception of a few powerful outliers such as Byakuyu and Tosen, the character balance seems leveled. In our experience, most of the characters had viable and practical moves, even doing well against characters considered top tier. Plus, adding to the character balance, there are defensive move universal for all characters: Guard cancels and Damage cancels. Guard cancel gives the defender a slight opportunity to cancel the block with a counterattack or an evasive move, while the Damage cancel instantly breaks the combo state, which prevents long combos and infinites from happening.

The experience gets even better once you connect online and play random players across the world. Of course, whenever playing online games, the biggest question is the latency of the matches. Laggy? Slow? Lag free? From our experience, we experienced both good and bad connections. At times, matches were smooth and felt as if we were playing with someone in the same room. But other times, matches trudged along, sometimes to the point of being unplayable.

Beyond the shortcomings, though, Bleach: The Blade of Fate offers an engrossing experience unlike most fighting games in the Nintendo DS library. The visuals, bright and detailed and charming, faithfully represent the feudalistic atmosphere of Bleach. The gameplay is simple to learn, thanks to the helpful tutorial and challenge modes that depicts combo of every character. And, despite the easy learning curve, it contains enough substance for intelligent and adrenaline-fueled matches. In short, Bleach: The Blade of Fate stands as the best fighter for the DS.

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Bleach: The Blade of Fate
Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating:
Rating Pending
Release Date:
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1UP Editor Score: A-

Average Community Score: A

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