By Phil Schipper / March 15th, 2016
|Title||XBlaze Code: Embryo|
|Developer||Arc System Works|
|Release Date||March 1, 2015 (PC)|
|Platform||PS3, Vita, PC|
|Age Rating||M (ESRB)|
I don’t know a lot about the BlazBlue series, but what I thought I knew was that they were all fighting games. Turns out that XBlaze Code: Embryo is pure visual novel, and as a spinoff it’s a pretty long way from its mother series. The good thing about that? Newcomers like me don’t need to know a thing ahead of time. Instead, let’s jump right in.
Touya Kagari is your average anime protagonist: a high school student with no real achievements, but a heart of gold. However, he is pretty preoccupied with Wadatsumi, an old facility that was wiped off the map 10 years before, where his parents disappeared. As he is walking by the site, an apparently crazy man appears and fires a powerful blast of energy at him. Luckily, Touya gets saved by the strange and very well-dressed Es.
Es is one of quite a few characters that are introduced almost right away, most of them female. Touya has been living with his simple-minded friend Hinata and her hardworking older sister Yuki since the Wadatsumi incident, and his old friend Akira comes by often. But when Es shows up again, she brings her quirky boss Unomaru and coworker Mei along with her. The number of different characters is overwhelming at first, but luckily, once Kuon is added to the cast a bit later, there are very few others to think about besides the villains.
XBlaze Code: Embryo is a weird hybrid, as far as the story goes. Much of the time, the pace is very slow, as the characters meet each other, banter, and go about their daily lives. However, early on, Touya discovers that he has a special talent for detecting Unions, people that are slowly trading their sanity for power. Thus, threats can show up at any moment, turning things towards intense action very quickly.
A unique feature of this game is that instead of making choices during dialogue, you direct yourself to different story routes using the TOi system. Basically, TOi is a news feed that you can check up on for information about the world around you, and it refreshes at certain points in the story. Some of it is relevant to the main plot and characters, and some is just extra flavor. However, your story route is determined by which articles you open.
If you open every single one when a new set appears, you’ll get one of the four normal endings. The other three require you to look at only the ones that pertain to specific characters in the game. That’s nearly impossible to do the first time you play the game, but if you’ve already gotten one of the major endings then you’ll start to see icons next to each article, indicating what you should read. If you don’t fulfill any of those conditions you’ll end up with a bad ending. One of the bad endings has a bit of extra story to it and is considered part of completion, but the others just kind of come out of nowhere and end your playthrough prematurely.
The TOi system is a neat idea in theory, but unfortunately, all the game tells you is that “the articles you read will affect the story.” I would be okay with that explanation (and you can even see in-world why it works), but the thing is that it doesn’t just affect the story in small ways. The very first time the TOi system gets introduced, it’s possible to do things that will lock you out of one route or another for the rest of the game. Soon after you can get yourself stuck with a bad ending. If you don’t mind glancing at a guide, this obviously isn’t a big deal, but otherwise you may have to make a lot of saves.
The first five chapters are basically the same for all routes, although many TOi articles cause very short extra scenes to trigger. The sixth chapter is where the main split occurs–there are two versions of it, and by the end of the seventh chapter you’re usually set towards the ending, if it doesn’t come up right away. The bad endings end the earliest, while the normal endings can take you up to a tenth chapter at the longest. It’s interesting to see how most factors play out the same in every route, but due to small differences the characters come up with completely different plans to win the day, and the results follow. Sometimes you’ll see a side scene in only one route, even though it still happens in all routes–they fill in a lot of details for each other.
Each chapter takes around an hour, but even if you don’t create enough saves you can easily skip through parts you’ve already done, so it’s easy enough to get all five major endings in around 15 hours. After you’ve done that you can access some hidden content, but it’s secret and separate from the main story, so I’ll leave its nature a surprise.
One thing that I find extra cool about XBlaze Code: Embryo is that although all the characters and backgrounds are rendered as 2D anime-style portraits, they don’t just pop up on each side of the screen when their lines come up. Instead, each character can be facing forward, sideways or away from the camera, and often they’re given the illusion of distance to stand in front of or behind each other–or even appear to walk across the screen. Their lips move in a perfect sync with the amazing Japanese-only voice acting. This gives things a particular cinematic touch, so that you can easily turn on auto-read and pretend you’re just watching an anime.
You might already know all this, though, since XBlaze Code: Embryo has already been out on the PlayStation 3 and Vita for some time. Maybe your question is just how it is on PC. Well, I’m happy to say that in a time of terrible PC ports, this game is not one of them. Yes, there were some pretty major bugs and other issues when it was released, but just two days later, all of the ones I know of were patched, along with some improvements to the localization. The only real complaint I have regarding the PC version is with the keyboard controls. The game is controller friendly, but if you’re using a keyboard don’t expect the controls to make a lot of sense. You’ll see menu controls while you’re in them, but during dialogue you’ll need trial and error.
XBlaze Code: Embryo is a very thorough and well-presented story with a relatively small, but very interesting and well-rounded cast. There are a few hurdles for players to get over in order to fully enjoy it, but once you know what you’re doing, it’s completely worth it. So, although I was expecting a fighting game, I’m happy that I got the visual novel instead.
Review copy supplied by the publisher.
Aksys GamesArc System WorksBlazbluePCvisual novelXblazeXBlaze Code: Embryo