If you’re a shonen anime junkie, it’s doubtful you haven’t yet checked out Bleach. Like Naruto, Dragon Ball Z, and the several successful action series before it, the sprawling supernatural tale is packed with epic brawls, memorable characters, and plenty of filler. Ichigo Kurosaki, your typical teenager, is suddenly whisked away into the world of the Soul Reapers, powerful entities tasked with rounding up rowdy souls who linger in the living realm as malevolent spirits long after kicking the bucket.
Monstrous Hollows reside in the world of the Soul Reapers, and with the help of fellow Reaper Rukia Kuchiki, several teams of allies, and even his friends in the living world, Ichigo is tasked with keeping order. Bleach has spanned several seasons and plenty of tie-in video games to boot. Most recently, Bleach: Soul Resurrecion has entered the fray, and in a sea of mediocre strat-RPGs, brawlers, and cash-ins, it stands alone as the highest-quality and most entertaining Bleach video game yet…but let’s be honest here. That’s still not saying a lot.
Soul Resurrecion (aptly-named as many of the later enemies in the Bleach canon tend to use a Spanish-inspired dialect) is a hack-and-slash paradise for hardcore fans of the series. Newcomers or casual enthusiasts, due to the game’s failure to explain any real sort of back story, will be completely stupefied upon booting up story mode. Even as a longtime Bleach devotee after a long viewing hiatus, I found myself extremely puzzled when I pored over the wall of text provided as a preface to each story mission. Without so much as a cut scene to introduce the oncoming carnage, players jump right into a battle in progress, following Ichigo all the way through Hueco Mundo to rescue the captured Orihime Inoue (again, characters players who do not watch the series will not recognize despite their being main players).
Upon first viewing Hueco Mundo, the world of the Hollows, or most of the enemies in the game, I was taken aback by how bland it actually was compared to the lush and vivid cel-shading gracing the popular Bleach heroes. While our heroes pop and look akin to being pulled straight out of the anime series, the mostly open world was rife with bland colors (true to story, I’ll give it that) and absolutely yawn-inducing landscapes. What’s more, nearly each stage after Hueco Mundo resembles that first boring world as well. No matter which stage of the game you progress to, you’re still usually running forward in a straight line. The scenery may change slightly each time, but forget having doors, hidden areas, or anywhere of note to traverse. Run in a straight line, occasionally turn, and slash through a wall to make a passageway. And there you have the bulk of Soul Resurrecion’s gameplay.
Fortunately, as with the anime, the game truly shines when it comes to picking a fight. And whether you’re plowing through airborne enemies with ranged attacks or dancing with Menos Grandes (an enormous Hollow) using simple sword combos, battles are extremely smooth and satisfying. Pulling off melee combos is exact and incredibly responsive, especially when unleashing more powerful attacks such as Soul Reapers’ Bankais (essentially a Limit Break for Reapers) when building up the gauge on the left side of the screen. Pulling the left trigger button activates a more powerful mode for each character, and another press will unleash a deadly combo with devastating results.
Accompanied by this massive amount of damage is a quick cut scene to complement the carnage onscreen, such as Ichigo’s Visored transformation through Hollowfication or Ishida Uryu’s impressive Quincy power display. Though attacks and combos are easily displayed by visiting the menu, even if you’re happier simply wailing on the face buttons it’s hard not to enjoy every second of combat despite how repetitive it ends up becoming.
While exploring each different story chapter you’re not allowed to choose which character to play as, and are instead assigned different ones, however, each one moves and feels the same, so there’s not much variety to be found there. On the plus side, each and every special attack is awe-inspiring when you unleash it for the first time, so it’s always a treat to unlock someone new if only for that reason.
Collecting points throughout each level is a boon for players who want to get a little bit more out of the experience, and said points can be spent on upgrading character abilities via sphere grid-like upgrade section. As upgrades are purchased, newer augments are subsequently unlocked. When you revisit each character’s missions or play as them again in newer adventures, newer abilities will allow for even more explosive combat, which is what I came back for time and time again.
When you’ve completed the story mode and exhausted it for all it has to offer, Mission modes should fill the gap that the lack of multiplayer left behind. Usually I’m certainly no proponent for tacked-on multiplayer, but Soul Resurrecion could have been a chaotic guilty pleasure even with couch co-op, especially given its simplistic nature.
The game truly shines in its presentation, even more so than with the fun that can be gleaned simply from performing your favorite character’s special attacks over and over again. While lackluster environments take the “shiny” level down a notch, the characters look fantastic. This is some of the best cel-shading I’ve seen since the more recent Naruto fighters. And if the excellent English cast isn’t up to par for you, you may select the Japanese voice track to give the game an even more authentic feel, an augment I can always appreciate in import titles.
In the end, as previously mentioned, Bleach: Soul Resurrecion is a lot like the actual show — it’s got some great fights and awesome moments, but it also has its share of filler. In this case, the filler is the mind-numbingly simple act of running in a straight line to the map in the top right corner of the screen, killing everything in sight, and then doing it again. With a few sprinkles of potential here and there it is saved from being another completely throwaway anime adventure, but ultimately it falls short. However, if you’re Jonesing for a Bleach fix and you own a PS3, you could do worse. Just don’t be expecting to understand or care about the Bount saga any more than you already did.