Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Sequels that got it Wrong: Bleach - Dark Souls

 Let's take a trip back to 2007...
 ...way back when Bleach was still good and going strong, I was in love with fighting games and had recently gotten my brand new Nintendo DS. Bleach - The Blade of Fate was right up my alley, as a massive fan of both the genre and the anime, plus, Treasure's pedigree was almost immaculate up to that point.
 To say that the game delivered would be selling it short. The simple control scheme lent itself to the console perfectly, and if you had trouble inputting the special attacks there was always the touch-screen shortcuts to rely on. The game's mechanics were simple and addictive, so much so that I dabbled in the Online competitive scene as well as tried my hand at making long, intricate combos(Soi-Fon was my girl!), add to that a fantastic roster that had every character that you'd want, as well as the fact that most of the cast was properly balanced. Sure, joke characters like Kon and Bonnie were downright useless, but why would you want to play as them? And while Byakuya could be a bit of a pain thanks to his powerful attacks and quick recoveries, it was nothing a good player couldn't overcome.

 Sure, the game wasn't perfect. Some special attacks, particularly the Medium variations, were unusable on 1 on 1 fights due to the long start-up times, and the addition of cards was a part of contention for a few players, and I regret admitting that I was part of the snobbish 'no cards allowed' crowd, or the fact that players using the 'Simple Input' mode had an advantage when it came to blocking, but in the grand scheme of things, the game was fantastic.
 Turns out, it took about a year for The Blade of Fates to reach USA. and in the meantime Japan was already enjoying the sequel, Dark Souls. There were videos online, and man, oh man was I hyped! Hollow Ichigo now sported his very own unique moveset! Kon was turned into a Ryu/Ken clone-parody! Hitsugaya's Bankai now looked like it did on the manga and anime! Not to mention the new characters, Izuru! Kira! Matsumoto! Ikkaku! You could even play as the Hollows! I needed this game in my life.

 And then it came out.... Well, y'see, The Blade of Fate was a fantastic game because it could be played competitively and most characters, barring Joke characters, stood a chance against any other character. But... it seems OUR version of The Blade of Fate was rebalanced for the North American market, as the original Japanese release was a bit of a mess... When it came to Dark Souls' turn, we got the exact same build Japan got, albeit with new bugs, and it wasn't pretty. Byakuya got nerfed, which was a good thing, but he was still a bit too good. Ichimaru Gin wasn't particularly strong back then(Mid tierish) but he nerfed into a pale shadow of his former self, still usable but unjustly nerfed. Other characters got off better, Ichigo definitely got slightly buffed, Renji as well, which sounds fair enough... until you get to Orihime and Ishida. To be fair, Ishida could be annoying on the previous game, but he wasn't too strong, in this game they nerfed his ability to spam arrows, which was fair enough, but they also nerfed his damage making him trash. Orihime now takes 0.25 more damage than other characters and deals a pathetic amount of damage, making her useless. And humans can no longer flash-step on air, which makes them sitting ducks, although at least they can flash-step into combos
 And to add insult to injury, the previous game had two joke characters: Kon and Bonnie. They were useless and wouldn't stand a chance against any other character. 1 Joke character is already pushing it when it comes to serious fighting games, so 2 Joke characters was one two many. Sure, they gave Kon an entirely new moveset, but he deals little damage and takes a whole lot more, but that's not the worst of it.... The worst of it is that they added an entire new slew of Joke characters. There's a 'Shinigami Nurse' character, who deals pathetic damage and takes extra damage, a 'Kid', who deals pathetic damage and takes extra damage, a tiny hollow, which deals pathetic damage and takes extra damage... notice a trend? There's also a new 'toy'/Compact Soul that takes Kon's moveset from the previous game, Hanataro, who actually HEALS the enemy and a Generic Shinigami, which at least I can understand why you'd want a generic Shinigami as a character, but doesn't excuse the fact that he sucks. That makes it six new joke characters for a total of eight. EIGHT useless characters that are only there to pad out the roster, eight useless characters that could be taking up slots for other more valuable characters.

 As for the new characters, some of them... felt kinda lazily made. Izuru, Kira, Menos Grande, Grand Fisher and the Screamer Hollow all reuse animations between their Normal, Special and Super moves, which looks incredibly cheap. Probably shouldn't have used their budget on trashy, useless joke characters instead of paking polished animations, huh? It's particularly disappointing with Izuru who's got one of the silliest run cycles I've ever seen on a videogame. Ever. At least some of the new Characters are fun to play, as cheap as Kira's animations feel, he is fun to use. Kon might be a useless joke character, but he is amusing to look at, Hollow Ichigo is probably my favorite of the new movesets, as he uses Zangetsu by throwing it around, Don Kan'Oji is a bit situational with his mechanics and specials, but all his animations look great, Matsumo and Kukaku are fantastic new additions and Ikkaku is easily my favorite new character, they even got his Bankai into the game!
 As far as mechanics go, my complaint is merely a subjective one: In the previous game you could use Flash-step to go through Reinforced Special Moves, which I felt added a lot of strategy and mind games to the game. Use a Flash-Step gauge to dodge an incoming attack? Save them up for Reinforced Special Moves? Or maybe use them up on your combos. This time around I feel as if using up your gauges on Reinforced Special moves is more of a no brainer, since they can't be dodged, which is something I personally didn't like as much. They also removed Masked Komamura, which isn't a big loss since he was a clone of Komamura, but if you're gonna have 8 joke characters, why not keep a clone? At least he stood a chance against the rest of the cast!

 But that is as far as my subjectivity goes, because, on a technical level, the game is objectively bad. How about all the glitches? One of the stages is actually missing graphical layers. How the **** did that pass by the testers? It's doubly baffling since this is one of the returning stages, and they screwed it up! Then there's the lot of graphical glitches related to color palettes. There's a few that are inaccessible due to some kind of glitch, it's specially egregious with the Menos Grande which only has 4 accessible color palettes. Or take good ol' Mayuri, with whom a few color palettes makes it so that his arm and face glitch into other colors when using certain animations. But there's a particularly nasty bug, which is very frequent on Survival Mode but which can happen on any non-competitive mode(Unless someone picks 'Random' when selecting a character) in which the game will try to pair you up against '?', rumor has it that it used to be a character that was scrapped, and then the game will freeze.
 Bleach - The Blade of Fate was such a well polished, finely tuned fighting game that it makes it sad to see what a mess Bleach - Dark Souls became. Extra work went into the previous game to make sure that it was a superior product than the Japanese original, but no such care went into bringing over its sequel, which could've helped ignore some of its most glaring flaws, like cheaply made characters. But the saddest bit about this game... is that at the end of the day, I'll always pick this game over TBoF due to the fact that it has more characters, since I just play casually against the CPU to waste some time.

 Bleach - Dark Souls is a sequel that got it wrong.

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