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Bleach DS Sōten ni Kakeru Unmei (Bleach DS 蒼天に駆ける運命) / Bleach: The Blade of Fate - Nintendo DS (2006)
The entertainment industry is more or less cyclical. You'll see the same kind of concepts and archetypes used and reused over and over, each time entrancing a new generation as the old one outgrows it. In that respect, it's easy to see that Tite Kubo's anime/manga Bleach owes a lot to Yū Yū Hakusho, to the point where it's almost its spiritual successor. Both deal with an average Japanese teenager getting involved with denizens of the spirit world, and both feature expansive storylines with a fairly large cast of characters. Except instead of being a spirit detective, Ichigo, the main character, joins the world of "Soul Reapers", also known as "shinigami". Seeing these similarities, Sega went to Treasure to get them to make a Bleach game for the Nintendo DS. And much like the anime/manga, Bleach DS is essentially an update of the Yū Yū Hakusho: Makyō Tōitsusen, but drastically upgraded to suit the enhanced technology.
Like Yū Yū Hakusho: Makyō Tōitsusen, Bleach DS is a fast paced, four player arena fighting game. The graphics and animation are much better, although the basics of the gameplay are pretty much the same. Each level is divided into two planes, although there's a bigger distinction between the foreground and background - characters in the other plane are darkened - making it easier to focus on your fighter. The controls are basically the same, although there are three attack types (weak, medium and strong) as opposed to two. Each character has a spirit meter which is used for special attacks, which slowly refills as you cause damage. The action is just as loose as before, allowing easy combos and plenty of juggling opportunities, although the speed has been given a bit of a turbo boost. Similar to Guardian Heroes and Guilty Gear, the screen now zooms out as the characters move apart, also allowing for air combos of even greater altitude. This has the unfortunate side effect of making the game look quite ugly due to the jagged sprites, and makes it hard to see the detail that the artists put into the characters. Although each fighter can run and double jump, there's also a dash button, which can be used to quickly move around the field.
Since the DS directional pad isn't exactly conducive for Street Fighter-style command motions, the control input is very forgiving - for instance, you only need to press Down, Right to execute a special move, rather than a full quarter circle. If that still causes problems, you can execute all special moves - including super attacks - by pressing panels on the touch screen. The touch screen is also used to activate a character card, which will activate a number of temporary powers, such as increasing your strength, disabling the ability to jump, or other abilities. There are two cards available at the same time, which are randomly drawn from a customizable deck. It's a fast and fun way to keep things fresh, and maybe even help turn the tides if you're losing.
There are a total of twenty eight characters, which is a pretty sizable roster considering this is the first game in this particular series. Many of them are pretty similar, but there's still a ton of variation, with a few amusing joke characters, like Kon the tiny little lion doll. Bleach DS does share another, similar problem with Yū Yū Hakusho: Makyō Tōitsusen - so many of the characters look similar - even when you've set them to use alternate colors - that it's hard to tell them apart unless you're familiar with manga/anime, but this obviously shouldn't be a problem for fans. There are also sixteen different backgrounds, which, again, is a pretty stunning amount of variety for an initial entry.
Bleach DS also contains a fairly expansive story mode, featuring a number of episodes focusing on various characters. At the beginning, you can only play Ichigo's story as he tries to rescue Rukia, but more and more open up as you progress through the game. These single player modes can get pretty annoying, since you usually need to finish off enemies with a certain move, or satisfy certain conditions, otherwise you'll just keep running in circles.
But at its heart, Bleach DS is a multiplayer game, and that's where the appeal truly lies. You can play over WiFi, which is always cool, but the best option is the Download Play feature. In other words, you only need a single cart to play with up to three of your DS-owning pals. Unlike a lot of games with Download play, neither the action nor selection of characters is compromised - the only problem are the long load times when making the connection or beginning a match, which can often exceed two minutes in length. Still, it's a small price to pay for such user friendliness.
The music is loud, with a lot of synth guitar, but it's mostly just background noises against all of the screams and sword clashes. There's a substantial amount of voice, which (somewhat annoyingly) announces the menu selections. The English version redubs all of the speech samples using the anime dub actors, and they actually do a pretty decent job. The "DS" part of the title was also dropped, and the subtitle changed to "The Blade of Fate", rather than "Sōten ni Kakeru Unmei" ("Fate Running to the Blue Sky".)
Like Yū Yū Hakusho: Makyō Tōitsusen, Bleach DS transcends the "anime/licensed games are awful" stereotype and manages to be a fast and fun game on its own right, one that both fans and non-fans can enjoy.
Characters (Portraits from Bleach DS 2nd)
Ichigo is the main character in Bleach, a regular teenager who's become entangled in the world of Soul Reapers. His primary weapon is a huge sword.
Rukia is a 150 year old Soul Reaper that just happens to look like a teenage girl. She was assigned to patrol Ichigo's town to hunt for hollows, but accidentally ended up transferring her all of her powers to him.
Yasutora "Chad" Sado
One of Ichigo's classmates who also develops spiritual powers. He can summon armor to cover his arms, allowing him to completely wallop his foes. He's actually half-Mexican, half-Japanese, hence the non-Japanese nickname.
Uryu is a skilled archer, and a descendent of a long line of warriors called Quincys. He's the usual character type that starts off being a rival of the main character, but eventually becomes friends.
A stoic captain in the Soul Society. He's basically Rukia's older brother and Soul Reaper royalty.
A captain in the Soul Society with the face of a fox, he later defects to the bad guys. His angular sword strikes are similar to Charlotte's from Samurai Shodown.
One of the few black characters in Japanese anime/manga, he also turns his back on the good guys. Quite skilled for being blind too.
Sahin Komamura (Unmasked)
This warrior, with the face of a wolf, is massively huge and slow, but packs a huge wallop.
This laid back dude totally dual wields two awesomely huge Falchion-like swords. They can be used to summon wind attacks.
This old timer is pretty muscular for someone his age. He also wields a badass flame sword.
A captain of a squad of ninja who seems to have a bit of a crush on Yoruichi. She wields a weapon called the Suzumebachi. If you hit an opponent twice with it, you'll kill them instantly.
The artificially created daughter of Mayuri. As such, her body can handle damage better than the average human.
Kon is actually an artificial soul called a "modsoul" meant to inhabit Ichigo's body when he's a Soul Reaper, but most of the time, he's stuck inside of a tiny stuffed lion. He's extremely tiny and is pretty obviously a joke character - which makes sense, considering he's basically the comedic relief of Bleach.
Bleach DS 2nd Kokui Hirameku Requiem (BLEACH DS 2nd 黒衣ひらめく鎮魂歌（レクイエム) / Bleach: Dark Souls - Nintendo DS (2007)
A year after the Japanese release of Bleach DS (but a few months before the localization of the first game hit American shores), Treasure and Sega released Bleach DS 2nd. It's a pretty solid straight-up sequel that offers the frantic fighting action of the original, without too many change-ups.
The most notable change is obviously the expanded character roster, with seventeen new playable characters, making for a total of forty five fighters. These include a number of demon spawns, like the Tsukaima and Shriker foes, in addition to the absolutely massive Menos Grande, which is several times taller than any of the normal fighters and require that the screen be zoomed out during the entire match. Fans may be annoyed that more popular characters have been excluded in favor of minor characters, but that's not a huge blemish. The existing fighters have been rebalanced a bit, with a few new special moves added in, and some of the infinite combos have been tweaked out. It's still not perfect, but it's a bit more fair than the original. Additionally, the special move panels on the DS touch screen now black out for a few seconds after being used, to prevent spamming attacks. Additionally, the number of cards that are accessible at once has been increased from two to four. There are also twelve new backgrounds, in addition to the sixteen from the previous games, as well as a number of new songs. The intro is now animated and uses the song "Resistance" by J-rock band High and Mighty Color.
The story mode has also been changed up a bit. It's a non-canon plot that takes place after the Soul Society arc, and features four different paths. Unlike the original, which forces you to use certain characters, now you can pick any character you want for each path. Each path features a number of different branches, which include dialogue scenes, fights against certain characters (or hollow versions of the characters, or mini-matches where you face off against a number of smaller foes. It's still not particularly compelling, but it's a step up from the first game. The WiFi functionality has also been expanded with additional functions that generally make it better.
The only potential issue with this release is that it essentially makes the original Bleach DS obsolete, discounting the mostly useless story mode. Unfortunately, it seems as if Sega has given up with Treasure for future installments. Bleach 3rd for the DS is not developed by them and isn't even a fighting game. Perhaps it's for the best, because there's not really much for the game to grow, and further installments would probably just add more characters and refinements, so perhaps it's best to end it here before they got milked dry. None of them - including Yū Yū Hakusho: Makyō Tōitsusen - are really serious fighting games, because it's just way too chaotic and lacks much precision, but it's by far the best of its type on handhelds, and still loads of fun. They're also significantly better than any of the console or PSP Bleach fighting games, which are all fairly worthless unless you're into the series.
When localized in America, the "2nd" part of the title was dropped, in addition to "DS" part. The subtitle is simply "Dark Souls", rather than "Kokui Hirameku Requiem" ("The Black-Clothed Flickering Requiem".)
New Characters to Bleach DS 2nd
This guy is actually a crazy shopkeeper who sells various stuff to Soul Reapers under the guise of a candy store. He wears a striped bucket hat and appears to be always wearing dark eyeshadow.
This shy little girl helps out at the Urahara shop. She actually wields a bazooka too.
A bald warrior who wields a spear. For his super attack, he summons a series of three huge blades, which slow him down considerably, but turns him into a killing machine.
A cowardly little kid who calls on Retsu Unohana - a mother-like character - out to help attack.
A big thanks for Meghan Grant for her aid on this article!
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