A couple of days ago, I was walking home from the station and I decided to pop into one of my favourite retro game stores near me. There’s an abundance of retro goodness to be found there – plenty of games for the SNES, N64, PS2 and many more. I’ve spent a long time in here over the last few years, popping in regularly to see what they had new in. One thing I’d never paid particular attention to however, was the gacha machine corner. They’d never been particularly interesting to me. Yesterday however, something caught my eye – a GBA gacha machine. Yes, a gacha machine where I could spend 300yen and receive a random GameBoy Advance game. It was too good to pass up, so I put my money in, turned the handle, and was rewarded with… Bleach Advance: アドバンス 紅に染まる尸魂界 translated to Bleach Advance: Crimson Stained Soul Society.
Now, I’ve never been particularly interested in the Bleach franchise., although I did read the first few issues of the manga back in the day. I’ve never watched the series, and I only really know the character Ichigo. I knew I’d be coming into this game a complete novice to its world, but I’d done a similar thing when playing One Piece: Unlimited World Red on the PlayStation Vita and that had actually been pretty welcoming. So, with my almost-zero-knowledge of Bleach, I dove in to Crimson Stained Soul Society. And I almost immediately bounced right back off it. The game is very clearly designed for fans of the franchise and not at all as an entry point – the short story doesn’t really explain who anybody is, and seems to constantly add new characters, who I’m sure fans of the series will love and know, but I was more than a little lost.
That said, I can’t exactly fault the game for this – I often find that fans of a franchise are the ones most disappointed when spin-off content is released via other media, as it tends to retread the same origin stories which long-timers know so we’ll already in a bid to win over a new audience. Crimson Stained Soul Society is not interested in doing this, something that I guess it could actually be commended for.
In terms of gameplay, this is a fighting game at heart, although not in the vein of the traditional 2D-style I had envisioned when I first looked the game up online. Instead battles take place on a square field where you have free reign over your character’s movement. You’re equipped with four attacks, which can be divided into two general categories: close and long range. By moving your character around on the field you accumulate soul points which allow you to perform attacks when your opponent comes into range. It’s not the most intuitive system and it definitely took me a while to get the hang of it, but I actually ended up quite enjoying it. When you enter the attack phase, you can choose one of your available attacks, which all fall under one of three attributes. When the game explains the system during the tutorial, it claims that these attributes work in a rock-paper-scissors fashion, but I found this doesn’t quite ring true. When you attack, you choose a move, and the defending character will do the same, if the attributes are different, your attack lands and you can deal damage to your opponent. If the attributes are the same however, they will block the attack (although they might still take a sliver of damage). Learning your opponent’s attack patterns and favoured moves will help you predict how they will attack and how you should defend.
It’s certainly a unique battle system, one I haven’t really seen in any other game before, but it does feel very much ‘anime game on the GameBoy Advance’ wherein the developers have attempted to create a system which feels wholly unique but can end up just feeling a bit over complicated. Nevertheless, I did actually end up enjoying the battles, even if there were moments of frustration when I couldn’t find a chance to attack under the onslaught of my opponent firing off close-range attack after close-range attack. While I had initially found the battle system somewhat cumbersome and thought I wouldn’t play much of the game, I stuck with it, ended up coming to like it, and actually finished the relatively short story mode, which took me about two hours. I haven’t really played much of the survival mode, but I have the impression that it’s going to be consecutive battles in a tournament style format. I have to say, that I think fans of the Bleach franchise would have a good bit of fun with this unique little game – and although it’s only available in Japanese, with the heavy focus that the game places on the actual gameplay, I wouldn’t think a lack of Japanese skill would be a problem here.
Overall, this game, while not amazing, gave me a little bit of fun for a time, which, considering it was only 300yen and given to me at random, feels pretty impressive. I have to say, in the words of Jade Jolie from RuPaul’s Drag Race fame: ‘I’m happy with what I got from the dumpster’.