Bleach: The 3rd Phantom


Review by · October 19, 2009

As far as shonen epics go, Bleach is one of the most successful franchises to rock Japan. Countless video game spinoffs have been crafted as a result, most of them falling into the doldrums of normalcy, subpar gameplay, and showing a blatant disregard for quality. Bleach: The 3rd Phantom is the latest entry into the Bleach video game legacy, and it proves to be no exception. While it serves up delicious fanservice and well-written plot expansions for Bleach diehards, it cannot stand on its own two feet as a capable SRPG. Instead, what eager fans can expect is a humdrum visual novel sprinkled with meager, unsatisfying battles. Similar to how the Bounto arc turned many viewers off, this title will likely disgruntle genre loyalists looking for a solid anime-to-video game adaptation.

Perhaps The 3rd Phantom’s biggest downfall is its bizarre focus on a linear storyline that offers little authentic interaction. Fraternal twins Matsuri and Fujimaru Kudo (characters created specifically for this game) are both playable and offer slight deviations throughout the game depending on which gender you choose. After a Hollow nearly takes their lives, they are approached by former captain of the 5th Division, Seigen Suzunami, and his sister Konoka. The benevolent Seigen and Lady Konoka do their best to nurture the kids’ newfound careers and act as foster parents while providing a home, food, and all the moral support an aspiring shinigami could want. The brevity and might of renowned Soul Reapers shown by familiar characters Kisuke Urahara and Aizen Sosuke inspires the plucky duo, and straight-laced Matsuri and Fujimaru eventually graduate from their training as freshly minted Soul Reapers.

The game presents events of their daily lives patrolling Soul Society, as well as their eventual meet-ups with more current Bleach cast members as more of an interactive story than an actual strategy RPG. Through the pages and pages of in-game text you’ll need to absorb before any semblance of strategy can be found, it slowly becomes apparent that The 3rd Phantom seems to rebel against the idea of actual gameplay. Rather than following the “show, don’t tell” model, the game assaults the player with a constant onslaught of dialogue, plot advancement, and minimally-detailed character portraits. While narrative is integral to a good game, it should not replace exploration or interaction. Instead of being given free rein to wander through the world of the Bleach anime as one of the Kudo twins, the player is never allowed to become too involved. Instead, you will find yourself often checking the time as you await the next chunk of involving gameplay.

Those moments hardly ever come, and when they do, they can hardly be considered real gameplay. At erratic intervals throughout the long-winded narrative, you will be given a small mini-game to play using Kon, the series’ abrasive mascot character, as a game piece. Several tiles are presented via the touch screen. Each depletes a specific amount of AP and determines how many spaces forward Kon will move on the top screen.

You may choose specific panels representing different characters within the Bleach universe, and a short adage will then commence, giving insight into the back story of members of the cast or showing a different side to those you may have previously found unlikeable or overly joyous at all times. If Kon lands on an item after using up AP, the item becomes part of the inventory, and if he skips over it, the item is lost. Some events may only be experienced within the constraints of one “Free Time” block, so it’s prudent to check those out before they are lost.

Oddly enough, this little exchange requires more strategic outlook than the few battles you are required to participate in. You cannot see every single panel with the amount of points you have, so sacrifices must be made and scenes must be overlooked unless you can plan a specific way to avoid doing so. Unfortunately, these short segments do little more than serve as links between missions and a way to extend the meager gameplay.

After wading through seemingly endless conversations and plot progression, the occasional battle does occur. These take place in the most standard of fashions: simply choose your team from available units and commence battle. Each unit can perform an attack, stay on guard, and raise his or her pressure. Special moves known as “kido” can also be used while attacking, which fans should recognize immediately.

Though battles play out via strictly isometric views, the actual attacking or defending takes place as a mini side-scrolling brawler that ups the amount of detail with larger 2D sprites (think Marvel vs. Capcom) that duke it out in real time. Other than simply choosing your attack method, you have no real control of what your unit will do, though it’s an interesting spectacle the first couple of times. After that, you’ll find yourself wondering why exactly you can’t have input during these scenes when it would spice up the game considerably. There is a weapons triangle similar to that of Fire Emblem, as well as tag team attacks that require two units to be in close proximity to each other. All of these are typical elements that you would expect to find in an SRPG, and they play out well enough, but the ratio of narrative scenes to fighting is too low for any of them to really matter. If there isn’t enough of the elements of a game that work well to balance out the humdrum pages of text and visual novel-styled presentation, then obviously something is still very wrong.

The 3rd Phantom doesn’t look too bad, though the character portraits utilized in each scene could use a sharpening and greater detail. The static images shift expressions when necessary, but the same poses are cycled through over and over. Since there is no overworld navigation, there are no character sprites visible save for those in battle. The Bleach cast has been diminutized into super-deformed 2D sprites that should appeal to your inner Bleach keychain collector, but I would still call the overall visuals entirely forgettable, like the game itself. The soundtrack isn’t particularly engaging either, but at least Ikimono-Gakari, the Japanese band who provided the series’ seventh ending, provided a theme song for the game that isn’t half bad, although it’s certainly no “Hanabi.”

Overall, The 3rd Phantom isn’t exactly terrible, it’s just devoid of much real gameplay to satisfy gamers looking for more meat than just a bit of fanservice and origin stories. The battles work well when you arrive at one, but there just isn’t enough here to call this game a success. If oceans of text and minimal interaction tickle your fancy, or if you’re a diehard Bleach fan, I’d say it may be worth your time. Otherwise, there are far better SRPGs out there that won’t force you to spectate rather than get your hands dirty.

Overall Score 70
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Brittany Vincent

Brittany Vincent

Brittany was part of RPGFan's reviews team from 2009-2010. During her tenure, Brittany bolstered our review offerings by lending her unique voice and critique of the world of RPGs. Being a critic can be tough work sometimes, but her steadfast work helped maintain the quality of reviews RPGFan is known for.