Anime fans rejoice! Eighting has released its third Bleach game for PSP! Bleach: Heat the Soul 3, or HTS3, is the import fighting game based on a similarly named anime series. If you're unfamiliar with Bleach here's a synopsis: Bad souls eat good souls. Shingami (Japanese for Death God) protects good souls. Human boy unexpectedly becomes Shingami. Bad-assedness ensues.
Whether or not you watch the series, HTS3 is an entertaining game. It plays like Soul Caliber or Guilty Gear. There's a button to slash with your sword (most Shingami use swords), kick, jump, and charge your spirit gauge (more on that later). Stronger and more sophisticated attacks are performed using combinations of these buttons with those of the directional pad. Pressing the right shoulder button activates your partner character (if you have one).
A match begins with each player having two full life bars. When one player's bar runs out, the round ends and a new one begins. However, the first-round winner doesn't start at full health. All damage in HTS3 is carried over round to round. This means you've got to play smart. Beating an opponent when you're close to death means, next round, one kit can kill you – giving meaning to the cliché: it's not over until it's over. Here's something else that adds depth to the game: players share one power gauge. The Spirit Gauge measures your spirit power, which can be charged a-la Dragonball by holding down the square button. A lot of strategy goes into using your spirit power. Because it's shared, only one player can have a full spirit gauge. More spirit power means your special attacks do more damage. In HTS3, anyone can perform a super move at any time. The catch? Performing super moves with no spirit power is equivalent to shooting toothpicks at Master Chief - you'll only get him angry.
Charging your Spirit Gauge also creates a ring of reiatsu (spiritual force) around you. More reiatsu on your gauge's side means a bigger ring, and opposing players caught in this ring are momentarily stunned. Striking your opponent, which decreases their spirit power and provides a window to charge your own reiatsu, can increase your Spirit Gauge. Along with your Spirit Gauge, your Partner Gauge is also chargeable. Partners are assist characters that provide supplemental attacks, raise your attack strength, increase your speed or even teleport you behind an opponent. There is a partner version of almost every playable character and, like playable characters, some need to be unlocked.
Enough game modes exist in HTS3 to keep you busy for a while. There's Mission Battle (a story mode), VS CPU (with time attack, survival and free battle game-types), Soul VS (for fighting other PSP gamers), Training and a mysterious game-type called “Soul Road,” which allows you to enhance your partner characters. Training is cool because the computer can be set to fight back and it puts up a very good fight, with selectable difficulty levels. Don't worry, you can't die. With every hit, your health gauge automatically recharges. Memorizing attack combinations is also unnecessary because a full-disclosure moves list is accessible throughout all modes by pressing START and selecting “Combo List”.
Mission Mode follows the Bleach anime up until the Soul Society arc. Matches take place between cut scenes taken directly from the anime. Their original Japanese actors voice all characters throughout the game. The voice quality is impressive even though background music can get dull at times. Animation is simply superb. Characters are cell shaded and stages are detailed and varied. HTS3 intertwines graphical elements so well it doesn't look like a typical PSP game.
Each character in HTS3 is unique because of the unique abilities their weapons carry. A zanpaku-to, or soul slayer, is the predominant weapon of the game. There are also bows and more unconventional weapons like fairies and giant books. Depending on the character, you'll be limited to one or two super moves. The limited move library might be a turn off to some, but I think it's appropriate for a handheld game. If I'm playing on my PSP, it's in short bouts and not very often, so I'd like a game that doesn't require memorizing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, then tapping it out on the directional pad to execute techniques. Another way characters are differentiated is by speed and power. Quick, agile characters are almost impossible to touch, but their attacks may not be as powerful as their larger, slower counterparts. The difference between character performance isn't big (so you don't end up with one character that trumps everyone), but sufficient enough to make each one stand as an individual. Unlike games of the Street Fighter variety that carbon copy some characters. Ehem.. Ryu, Ken, Akuma, cough cough.
My motivation for playing HTS3 was to unlock and play with all the characters. This is not easy because there are so, so many to unlock…33 in total to be exact. Most characters are acquired by completing Time Attack mode with a specific character. Others are more difficult. Partner characters are unlocked when you unlock their playable character and some must be purchased from the Urahara Shop (the only menu option written completely in Japanese) with points you gain from winning matches. I didn't mention this before because I thought it was obvious, but please keep in mind that HTS3 is an import, so it WILL be in Japanese. However, it's easy enough to navigate if, like me, you don't speak the language since menu options are all in English.
With all these great things going for it, it's a shame HTS3 doesn't have better A.I. You'll either have really tough matches against your computer opponents or real easy ones. Most of the time, your opponent can be overcome by stringing attacks together, giving them little room to maneuver. Mission mode's fights are different because they place restrictions on your character. You might have one life bar while an opponent has two, or opponents might be tough enough to where you need partners to raise your attack strength.
Despite its shortcomings, Bleach: Heat the Soul 3 is terrific. Bleach fans can satisfy their cravings to wield a zanpaku-to and new comers are easily introduced to the show's flavorful cast of characters. Just remember you're buying an import here, so there will be parts of the game you won't understand.
Posted: 2007-02-04 08:11:58 PST