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It Came From Japan #6 – Bleach

Submitted by on Monday, 31 August 20093 Comments

BleachBleach is a cultural phenomenon.

In Japan, the manga series has generated an almost cult-like status while western audiences have also taken quite fondly to Tite Kubo’s quirky tale of spirits and teenage heroics.

It’s only from walking the streets of Akihabara, however, that a full appreciation of just how popular this series has become can be realised. Bleach has exploded across all forms of media. Starting off as a popular comic, the ongoing story of how a young man accidentally embodies the cultural equivalent to Japan’s version of Death is now serialised, on lunch-boxes, has its own anime series on TV and has even been the subject of a number of rock musicals. Bleach is big business.

It’s therefore of little surprise to see Bleach extend its reach into the gaming domain.

Featuring on numerous best seller lists in Japan with a multitude of titles appearing on numerous gaming platforms including the PS2 and PSP, Bleach games have a tendency to multiply like rabbits with new titles appearing on Japanese gaming shelves almost every other week.

Legend told of a warrior from the east

Bleach (known as Burichi in Japan) tells the story of Ichigo Kurosaki, a typical 15 year old with the not so typical ability to see ghosts. After an encounter with Rukia Kuchiki, a shinigami (or Soul Reaper), as she fights to send a hollow back to the spirit world, Ichigo inadvertently possesses a large chunk of Rukia’s powers, setting up our hero’s continuing fish out of water story in a secret — and exceptionally supernatural — society.

Bleach’s popularity has spawned a near countless menagerie of games – some of which are not even considered part of the blossoming Bleach canon – from Hanatareshi Yabou (Striking Ambition), Blade Battlers and Erabareshi Tamashii (Selected Soul) on the PS2 to Soul Carnival (along with its sequel) and the seemingly unstoppable Heat the Soul series on the PSP. These games’ genres are an eclectic bunch from Soul Carnival’s action RPG elements to the frenetic cel-shaded fighting found in any one of the abundant Heat of Soul PSP titles.

Unfortunately, these games have never made it out of Japan where the franchise has a large and loyal fan-base, but, if Bleach continues to resonate with western fans of manga and anime as we’re sure it undoubtedly will, we can only assume a port of some kind will happen eventually.

Your technique is magnificent

Truth be told, many of the Bleach games are more vehicles for the property’s vast and colourful cast rather than amazing examples of gameplay. The Heat the Soul series comes across as an exercise of what cel-shading looks like on the PSP rather than a comprehensive fighting game. Environment interaction is a welcome addition like Rukia’s ice abilities for instance where she transforms the ground into a slippery challenge for opponents. It’s hardly ground-breaking stuff though and, if we’re being honest, you’re not missing much. The Blade Battlers series is basically Heat the Soul on the PS2 while the Soul Carnival games, though selling like hot cakes in Japan, are far from the epitome of what the JRPG genre  has to offer. So, what do the Bleach games have going for them? A cast of dozens with each character memorable and well-developed, the games ooze Bleach’s unique and appealing edgy vibe. Fans of the series will attest to Bleach’s brilliant writing and off-kilter mannerisms with slivers of such qualities often popping up in the myriad of Japanese Bleach game offerings. We’re just waiting for these attributes to turn up in a killer title.

You must choose the sword, or the ball … I can not make this choice for you …

Ironically, the biggest opponent to Bleach appearing on the PS3 is its older and ubiquitous sibling, the PS2. Speculation of a PS3 outing for the franchise has been circulating since the PS3’s arrival back in 2006. Each time a new game is announced, however, it’s always either for Sony’s handheld device or the more widespread PS2. With the PS3 plummeting in price and Sony about to go on a massive advertising blitzkrieg, we can only assume the PS3 will penetrate even further into the gaming psyche of its home country. With an increased number of PS3 consoles sitting in Japanese homes, the chance of a Bleach game making the jump to HD from the safer choice – the PS2 – gets significantly higher. Of course, this still doesn’t insure that this mythical game will ever be translated for us in the west. Still, our hopes must lie on Japan getting a PS3 Bleach roll-out first with us in the west then crossing our fingers that the souls Ichigo so dutifully assists in the series might smile favourably upon us and declare such a title for all mankind.

Finally, we’ve bent the rules of It Cames From Japan slightly this week as, technicaly, a Bleach game has not appeared on a Sony platform outside of Japan. We make an exception for Bleach due to its rampant popularity in its home country and the fact that we know there is a large following of the franchise in the west. Because of this, Bleach has a better chance of making the jump to the PS3 than most other Japanese franchises.

It Came From Japan is a weekly column discussing past games from Japan that have enjoyed a release in the west on the PS1, PS2, PSN or PSP but have yet to see a PS3 outing. We discuss the title from three separate perspectives: its pedigree and how it performed upon its original release, the game in general with a view towards game-play and plot and, finally, the probability of the game finally making a PS3 appearance outside of Japan. The column covers all genres with games of varying quality and popularity given equal standing.