Long before I ever watched an episode of the Japanese anime Bleach, I owned an import copy of Bleach DS. During the apex of my Nintendo DS love, I was importing almost many hot Japanese games that likely would never see the light of day here. Of that set were two notable fighting games: Jump Super Stars and Bleach DS . I imported both. While Jump Super Stars had more hype surrounding it, I had a really hard time getting into its Smash Bros-inspired gameplay. Bleach DS on the other hand was much more up my alley. Bleach DS was a hardcore 2D fighting game that played in line with many of the modern fighting games at the time. Bleach DS came out in North America as Bleach: The Blade of Fate almost two years after the original Japanese release.
As awesome as the original was, Bleach DS 2nd (or Bleach: Dark Souls in North America) was even better. In my opinion, it will forever stand as the gold standard for 2D fighting games on the Nintendo DS.
Bleach: Dark Souls at its core, it is a 2D fighting game that feels like a mix between BlazBlue’s core fighting mechanics, mixed with Fatal Fury‘s two-planes of field with nods to the source material. Though the DS will always have the reputation of being a casual gamer’s system, the Bleach series of fighting games were as hardcore as they come. At the time, I was not that hardcore into fighting games, and I enjoyed this game greatly off the strength of knowing how to do all the special moves and a handful of combos. Having gone back to it recently now that I’m much more knowledgeable about fighting games in general, it’s crazy to see how deep the game actually is. If terms like cross-ups, meter management, double jumping, guard cancelling, EX moves, air dashing, dash cancelling, wall bouncing and air juggling excite you, then Bleach: Dark Souls may be your cup of tea, as this game features all of those and more. If you’re a fan of the show, then the action is even better, as this doesn’t feel like they made a fighting game and slapped the Bleach license on it. The core of the action is still very true to the source material, which makes it that much cooler.
Adding to the interesting fighting mechanics was the huge character roster. Bleach: Dark Souls had 44 characters for you to choose from, which includes all of the major characters from the show at that time (everything pre-Bount) as well as a few joke characters. There is a ton of variety between each character’s fighting style, which means you’ll likely find a few characters that fit your style and that the fights themselves will be varied based on your opponent(s).
The biggest leap from the first game to the second game was its story mode. Bleach: Dark Souls story mode is very involved, has branching paths and goes a long way to providing a great single-player experience, which is important since most of your portable gaming time is spent by yourself. While my copy of the game had all of the dialogue written in Japanese, I could tell based on the scenes between battles and the actual fights themselves that it follows the original story very closely.
Bleach: Dark Souls was no slouch in the multiplayer department, either. Not only did it allow for 4-player matches (!), it also supported single-cart multiplayer with no restrictions (all characters and stages were available) and online play. The downside to single-cart multiplayer was that the download times were really slow, and matches could take minutes to start, but I’d rather have that then a faster experience that only lets me use one stage and 1/4 of the characters. I highly doubt that there’s still a community playing this game online, but I could be wrong.
Say what you will about the stigma surrounding licensed games, but Bleach: Dark Souls is a fantastic fighting game and one of the best Nintendo DS games, period. Unfortunately, the home console Bleach fighting games have been mediocre 3D fighting games, and every Bleach release on the DS since Dark Souls has been an RPG. If Treasure ever decides to go back to this formula for their Bleach games, I’ll be there day one.