A lot of hardcore fan service, but not a lot of gameplay.
Typically, Bleach video games are in the form of fighting games or brawlers. Bleach: The 3rd Phantom bucks this trend by providing a strategy role-playing game experience that's similar to other strategy RPGs on the DS. The game's biggest draw is its brand new, exclusive storyline that deals with the daily life of two Soul Reapers who defend the land from "Hollows" - evil, corrupted spirits that feast on human souls. Due to the heavy emphasis on this storyline, Bleach: The 3rd Phantom will really only appeal to hardcore fans of the Bleach series.
At the beginning of the game, you pick between Matsuri and her fraternal twin brother Fujimaru as your main character. The character that you don't choose becomes a support character in your party. Aiding the twins in their fight are various popular characters from the Bleach series, who join your party in specific situations.
The storyline is told through pages of dialog. Since the story depicts the daily lives of the two main characters, there is a lot of mundane dialog showing their daily grind. Luckily, there is heavy interaction between popular characters in the Bleach universe, which is sure to keep fans of the franchise happy.
The actual gameplay is presented as a strategy role-playing game on an isometric grid, similar to other strategy RPGs on the platform. The classic rock-paper-scissors mechanic is used in order to determine strength and weakness in battle. The battles are fought automatically once you engage an enemy, and each one is accompanied by fantastic battle animations. In order to win a scenario you must complete the winning objectives, and conversely you lose by fulfilling the losing conditions.
There are a couple of unique elements that makes this game stand out. The first is the Spirit Pressure mechanic. Each character has a pressure gauge; the more Spirit Pressure the character has, the more attacks that character performs in battle. To buildup more pressure, you select the Pressure command and your character adds a small amount to their total. If the character is near some tiles with Spirit Pressure, he will absorb all surrounding spirit as well.
The second is the support system, which allows two characters to attack or defend as a team. Attacking as a team allows two characters to attack simultaneously. If you assign a support attack, the support character will start attacking while the main character charges up his or her attack. Both types of special attacks seem to do around the same amount of damage, but team attacks look flashier. A support defensive move allows another character to take damage for the main character, or mitigate the damage altogether. This move is useful to support a character with low HP, or to cover a character that is weak against a specific opponent's attack.
While the gameplay portions are satisfying, the main issue is that there is a lack of balance between storytelling and gameplay. Every chapter begins with a rather long dialog segment with a lot of text. After that's finished, you play a portion of gameplay that is typically shorter than any of the dialog segments. Once the gameplay segment is completed, there is another long dialog segment to close the chapter. Occasionally you will see free time segments, during which you get to pick which character to converse with. In these segments you can earn additional items or other extras, depending on the order in which you talk with the characters. These segments happen in no particular order, duringchapters, and can't be skipped.
Ultimately, Bleach: The 3rd Phantom isn't a terrible game, but it isn't a very satisfying one either. The actual gameplay is a small part of the game, and due to the high degree of fan service it can only be truly recommended for hardcore Bleach fans.