Review: Xblaze Code: Embryo is an unimpressive visual novel
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita
Xblaze Code: Embryo is a visual novel based in the Blazblue fighting game universe. The story is a prequel to the BlazBlue series and takes place many years before the events of the other games. As a standalone story in the Blazblue franchise, Xblaze Code: Embryo presents an interesting, character-driven story and a different take on a choice system, but the whole package ends up as a rather lackluster game.
Storytelling and characters
You play as Touya Kagari, a 16 year old high school student. He is a bit awkward, loathes violence, and very quickly finds himself involved in a strange series of events pertaining to his mysterious past. An infection has begun to spread in Touya’s hometown of Shin Yokozaki City, an infection that turns its victims into “Unions,” people with special abnormal abilities who are quickly driven mad by the disease. The plot of Xblaze Code: Embryo revolves around Touya, the mysterious infection, and a cast of characters both virtuous and villainous all trying to manipulate the situation.
The story is fairly interesting with both serious and humorous moments. The characters aren't wildly complex but they are still likeable and they end up being the big drawing force of the game and probably the most appealing thing about it.
The story itself can seem very random at times. I had an intense scene chasing down a super-powered serial killer, and afterwards the characters argued about what to have for dinner. There are plenty of comic moments, but the story grows more serious as you progress, which is a good thing. Since the game serves as a prequel to the other events in the Blazblue franchise, you don’t have to be a fan of the series to enjoy the story (although it would probably help).
A different kind of choice system
There is almost no traditional "gameplay" to be had in Xblaze Code: Embryo, which isn’t out of place in a visual novel. The main interaction you’ll have in the game is the option to read stories on your TOI (Technology of Interest), which serves as a personal digital assistant to your character. The idea of TOI is that news articles related to your interests will be sent right to you, and reading or not reading certain articles will then affect your story. For instance, in one chapter I read three articles via TOI: one about a new pool opening, one about a pudding sale at a grocery store, and one about a couple that discovered a sunken ship. Later on, Touya went to the grocery store and bought pudding for dessert, which one character soon came to love. The couple that discovered the boat turned out to be another character’s parents, and the next day all the characters went to a pool.
Replaying the same chapter but ignoring the TOI messages made it so the main character didn't buy pudding (and there was no scene of one of the characters becoming obsessed with pudding) and no mention of the parents who had discovered the boat. But regardless, the characters all went to the pool. The game promises different outcomes and endings depending on what articles are read or skipped, but this system is just a bit odd. I felt like the TOI articles were just chances to unlock additional dialogue between characters and further their development and relationships. Since the big draw of this game is these characters and their interactions, I’m not sure why the article reading is really an option. The story seemed better with these extra interactions, and it didn’t feel complete to see events without the extra dialogue and scenes.
There are several endings to the game, however, and they will be determined by the articles you read. Most articles have a face symbol of one of the characters, and reading certain stories about certain characters will unlock their endings. You’ll get to see different scenes, or the same scenes played out differently, depending on your reading choices, and this adds some replay value to the game. It is an interesting idea and the explicit choice systems in many visual novels, but replaying the whole story to get these endings isn't very interesting unless the story really compels you. Having to stop the story mid-stride to read a new article is also a distraction, and I preferred to focus on the story unfolding by itself.
Visual and Audio repetition
Visually, Code: Embryo looks good. The characters and backdrops are well drawn, but you can expect to see recurrences of character poses and backgrounds. The action scenes in the game are mostly single image shots, or in some cases a sword or magic attack flashing across the screen. Occasionally, it will be a blank screen with a character saying what it happening rather than showing an image. Visual presentation is very important to these kinds of games, so I was a little disappointed to see the action scenes so poorly executed. Considering the BlazBlue series is a series of fighting games, I had hoped for some actual fight scenes.
The audio is well orchestrated, but the tracks do get replayed often. The Japanese voice actors are talented and the subtitles convey the story well enough so that you don't feel like you're missing anything. The characters do suffer from constant mouth-moving while voices are heard, even when they are screaming a single word.
Outside of the main game, a gallery of the story’s highlights is visible in the Extras menu on the title screen, as is an index of the game's music.
Here are the criteria I consider most important for judging Xblaze Code: Embryo:
Although a visual novel, the use of the TOI articles and variable endings do offer "gameplay" of a sort. The TOI was interesting to use, but I felt little reason to not indulge in every article. Taking moments out of the story to read the articles was an unpleasant distraction.
Everything looks well drawn. Action scenes are bland and character poses and backgrounds are recycled often.
Decent enough with a mix of seriousness, comedy, and some randomness. Multiple endings and additional dialogue options help flesh out the characters and plot.
Replay Value: 6/10
Credit is given for a game that features multiple endings, but replaying the game for the few scenes of additional dialogue just isn’t worth it. The changes often seemed insignificant enough that I was not very motivated to replay the story to see alternatives unless I wanted to see specific different endings.
Overall Score: 5.75/10
For a visual novel, Xblaze Code: Embryo is fine. Everything is decently done, but there is little that really captivates. The thing I enjoyed most about the game was the characters, and in that sense the extra dialogue and endings which could be achieved through the TOI system were a good way to present more content, though a little clumsy in practice as they take you away from the core story.
I’d recommend this game to someone who likes visual novels in general, someone who enjoys character driven stories, and to the fans of the BlazBlue series who want more lore. For everyone else I would suggest looking elsewhere.
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