Bleach is one of those animes that reminds me of Dragonball and Naruto. In anime circles it's an insanely popular action show which doesn't seem to end. At the time of writing I think the series is just under three hundred episodes in length and still going strong. As with many popular cartoons the show has been adapted into a number of video games. Most of the games in question have been fighting games, but The Third Phantom tries to break the mould by going down the route of being a strategy RPG. It's a bit of a gamble as fans of the other games may not care for tactical stuff, but as an RPG fan I am not complaining.
The game's story, which is penned by Bleach creator Tite Kubo, revolves around twins called Matsuri Kudo and Fujimaru who live in the spirit world. They get adopted by a captain in the Soul Society who trains them to become Soul Reavers. The player takes control of the two as they perform their duties protecting the world from evil spirits called hollows. After a big battle in one of the early levels the twins get separated. The main character which the player chooses gets transported to Earth a few years in the future. There they meet Ichigo, the anime's main character, and help him face powerful enemies called Arrancars who are after a mirror which can be used to control the flow of souls between Earth and the Spirit World.
As far as strategy RPGs go this doesn't bring anything new to the table. You control up to eight characters and fight on a map were you normally have to defeat all the enemies or a powerful boss character. Killing enemies or healing allies gives you experience points. Once you earn one hundred points your character levels up which makes them stronger. In between battles you can train up your fighters' weapons to unlock new abilities or boost their statistics (increase strength to do more damage, evasion to dodge more attacks and so on.)
There is no armour to equip in this game although items can sometimes be found on defeated enemies. These tend to be food which replenish health or fireballs that can be used to deal a good chunk of damage to enemies. Unlike other RPGs you do not earn money or have access to shops so it would be wise save up the items you pick up for when you really need them.
I have to say that the game isn't that deep when it comes to planning out tactics. I got through it with little trouble by mostly using the move and attack commands. Although enemies get stronger with each passing level the rate in which the characters you recruit improve surpasses them so I didn't have to use the optional "free missions" to beef up my team. Things can get especially easy if you use the powerful team attacks which can be executed when certain characters stand next to each other.
One of the game's strongest points would have to be the large number of characters you can recruit which gives fans of the show the chance of playing as their favourite heroes. Each character has their own strengths, weaknesses and abilities. Characters are classed into three different type (Power, Tech and Speed) along with non-combatants who specialise in healing, but cannot attack. When attacking with characters you should note their class to gain bonuses (if I recall correctly power is effective against speed, speed is effective against tech and tech is effective against power.)
In between battles you sometimes get "free time" which acts like a simple board game. In free time you control Kon the perverted stuffed toy who has to reach the goal at the end of a path. You select cut scenes to watch and depending on the one you choose Kon moves forward a few squares. The trick here is to land on squares which give you items and bonuses for your main character whilst avoiding pitfalls that prematurely end the free time. The cut scenes are on the most part fun to watch and some of them reward you with items or throw you into a training exercise were you can level up risk free outside of the main missions.
Graphically the game holds its own well when compared with other DS strategy RPGs. You get the bog standard isometric maps with tiny versions of the characters you control, but these are complemented by nice visuals which play out the battles when two units clash. Sound wise the game features speech acted out by the voice actors from the show and decent music.
Aside from the lack of depth to the combat my biggest complaint with the game would have to be the user interface which makes levels take longer than they should. In a game like Fire Emblem I can move all my soldiers and end a turn fairly quickly. In this game however you have to confirm every action you take. Having to confirm a move, confirm an attack/spell and a support move for everyone really adds up. Outside of combat even the cut scenes are slower than they should be. When you read a text box and press A to advance the dialogue you will notice that it takes around a second to register the button press.
Despite all that I enjoyed the game. I think fellow RPG fans will also like it if they can forgive the flaws I mentioned above. The game is probably aimed at Bleach fans, but those who are not familiar with the anime should not be discouraged from giving this a go. I for example have only seen a few episodes of Bleach, but still managed to follow the game's story with no problems. In terms of value for money I think this will keep strategy RPG fans occupied for a while. You get twenty five chapters to tackle with some stages being made up of more than one level. Once you complete the main story there is also a 30 level tower to beat for those of you who like to max out their party and unlock hidden characters.
The Bleach DS games of the past were of the fighting genre which I found difficult to adapt to because of the shape of the DS, so I welcomed Bleach: The 3rd Phantom's dynamic change to a strategy RPG, however its flaws quickly become apparent and may turn off all but the most diehard fans.
You select between a male or female in a pair of twin siblings to be your main character. They are recruited as Soul Reapers after some berserk evil spirit tries to kill them. In terms of storyline, without trying to give too much away.. you're given a glimpse into the past of many characters and a period when a great evil entity who is able to command Hollows and is bent on eliminating every Soul Reaper resurfaces far more powerful than before. There's a point where things change up and you find yourself in modern times with Ichigo and his friends like in the anime.
One of the major downfalls is that you're bombarded with HEAVY storyline. I mean you'll probably go 15-20 minutes of endless boring dialogue before and after a battle. The battles themselves are relatively simple however slow. Options are layered into one another so its annoying to get to things. Rather than the typical strategy RPG where the in-game sprites attack one another, you enter a cutscene mode with some light voice acting which you can't skip where you watch the characters attack, counter or defend.
The stat system gives you full customization - you decide how to strengthen your character and what new skills and abilities they should learn. They also threw in things like support attacks and stat boosts if you're adjacent to an ally in battle. You can do things like enter the Bankai state, perform kunoso on spirits to send them from the human world to the spirit world, raise spiritual pressure for more power, etc.
You'll encounter all the characters from the popular anime & manga series. If you're not too familiar with the Bleach franchise, no worries, because this game introduces you to people, places and terms. I've only see a few episodes of the anime - it was really the games that got me interested in the series so I was afraid I'd be totally confused but they really break things down as you play.
If you play for an hour, you'll probably spend 40 minutes reading or desperately skipping text then maybe 20 or less in a battle which is only drawn out due to cutscenes and annoying "Player's Turn" or "Enemy's Turn" announcements slowly sliding across the screen. You can enter free battles to level up your characters and save in the middle of a battle.
If you're a Bleach fan who really wants this game, I'd say just wait for a price drop in a few months. No point in forking out big bucks on a game that's going to leave you passing out from boredom every time you turn it on. This is too predictable.
Overall, I'd say you're better off with a game like Final Fantasy Tactics, Luminous Arc, Advance Wars, or Disgaea if you're a strategy RPG fan with a DS. They'll provide more of a challenge at a lower cost and have a better balance that keeps you interested. Bleach: The 3rd Phantom just doesn't satisfy your needs as a gamer, its like reading a dull book with visual elements.
I have been a fan of the Bleach DS series, and this third instalment was rather disappointing in several areas!
The box art has always been slightly tacky and uninteresting, although very typical "anime to game" concept thrusting all the characters in with a massive logo of Bleach... totally unoriginal and slightly boring, although it would grab the attention of those knowing what they're looking for.
The game play of this third game is completely different to the previous two. Where the first two were "street fighter" and "Tekken" style fighting games with awesome graphics, this is a turn based, supposedly strategic (?) game that just doesn't work.
Progression is SLOW and it takes forever to just get through the text, even on FAST SPEED! This may seem like a long game, but is delayed by all the text. It feels like it tries too hard to get fans into the anime by all the storytelling but it just doesn't work as a game. After about 5 minutes game play we are thrusted into a 15 minute conversation where the constant pressing of buttons might cause RSI.
Yes, I mention buttons, because there is hardly any use of the stylus.
The whole game feels like a complete chore, and at times I wonder if I'll ever complete it, and it took courage and a lot of interesting music to get me through...
The graphics are acceptable, but does not feel anything special. Utilises the DS screens quite well, but nothing amazing or worth bragging about.
More jazzy Bleach style music that doesn't aid game play. I turn the sound OFF and listen to whatever's playing on my PC instead.
The game isn't difficult. I would say it's really quite easy. The real difficulty is bringing yourself through all the dialogue and still wanting to play. Willpower is a must, and there is almost no learning curve, as you are immediately thrusted into the turn based action. Slowly, tips and hints are revealed, which is too late as you are already going to have grasped the idea by the time they all pop out!
£24.99 retail price.
If you like Bleach DS games, I avidly urge you to avoid this one. This is not like the previous two games, where you are in direct control of the action. This change to turn based strategic play is a complete flop. With Bleach 1 and 2, there is high replayability but with this, it is a struggle to finish it once!