A visual novel set in the Blazblue universe sounds like it would work considering how visual novel-ish the story mode in the games are. Xblaze Code: Embryo feels like a natural expansion of Arc System Works’ beloved fighting series, although it certainly does stand on its own merits.
The story focuses on Touya Kagari, a Japanese high school student who seems normal in the beginning but turns out to be anything but. Without spoiling anything, the story feels rich thanks to a large variety of villains and heroes, as well as the many different ways events can unfold.
Xblaze plays out in a traditional visual novel way, lacking the interactivity of recent genre highlights like Danganronpa or the Zero Escape games. Players influence the outcome of the game by reading specific selections of articles from the game’s “TOi” device. Although this much is clearly explained at the beginning of the game, you’ll probably still end up simply searching for a route guide on the internet if you want to see everything.
Filling the story is a large cast of colorful characters, although several anime clichés are present throughout the game, not the least of which being the “ordinary Japanese high school student” bit. Arc System Works has a knack for crafting intricate and often complicated stories for their games and Xblaze is no different. The numerous factions, events, characters, objects and such can be difficult to keep up with as there are several, but the game makes an effort to assuage this with an easy to access glossary.
From a UI standpoint the game handles itself well on the Vita, when it isn’t bugging out (more on that later). A swipe down the screen pulls up the log, allowing you to read any text you may have missed.
Where the game really shines is with its alternate story paths. I say this because they’re more than just different endings, they really are different paths. Events played out so differently from one path to the next that I seldom felt like I was replaying a game (ignoring the first five chapters). Characters that were more or less meaningless to the plot in one path may be pivotal in the next path. In one path a character only hints at some sacred power they’re capable of, but in an alternate path we’re shown the power in full. This gave the characters a chance to really grow on me, even the likes of Mei.
Because of this, it also never seemed clear to me that there was any sort of true ending, and I came away unsure of what would be considered canon or what Xblaze 2‘s plot would look like but oh well.
As a huge Blazblue fan I could really appreciate the numerous references to items, weapons and even characters from the fighting series. In general I think any fan of shonen anime or manga will be able to easily enjoy the game’s story. There are several action scenes and the game remains mostly engaging.
As I’m sure you’ve seen by now, Code: Embryo has beautiful artwork and I’m pleased to report that there’s no shortage of it in the game. The character designs are unique and distinct. There are tons of scenes and all the art you unlock can of course be viewed in a gallery. The game has a bit of harem thing going, making for plenty of gratuitous eating, bathing and swimming scenes.
I appreciate the effort that went into making the action scenes seem exciting and dramatic, but the lack of anime cutscenes really brought things down. Whenever things got really good and going I expected at least a brief cinematic (similar to those in the Blazblue series) but I never saw one.
The game has a great soundtrack, however. Much of it is ambient, especially the softer tune that plays whenever you’re relaxing and what not. It sounds like more an anime than a game and perhaps that’s appropriate. There are Japanese character voices and English subtitles, which I’m sure every fan of this sort of game was looking forward to.
The biggest complaints I can leverage against Xblaze are of a technical nature. Often I opened the TOi only to be greeted by scrambled text; some sort of glitch. There was also apparently an issue with a certain scene not playing. Finally, many times the touch screen controls all but ceased to function altogether, only returning to normal after a full reboot of the game. I played only the PS Vita version of the game so I don’t know if the issues persist on the PS3 version. Maybe the issues will be assuaged in a patch at some point.
I also had an issue with the speed of the skip function as it takes far too long. On my fourth time playing through the first few chapters (which can be avoided to a certain extent with careful saving on your first play-through) I don’t want to have to sit through sped up dialogue, I want to skip it. Even when being skipped it just takes too long to trek through previously read text.
You’ll definitely get your money’s worth out of Xblaze. Even without the backtracking, players can spend several hours unlocking all of the different story paths and after that, there are additional gag scenes and a gallery to keep you playing a bit longer. It offers about the amount of content you would expect from this sort of title, only with more meaningful alternate endings than I’m accustomed to. If you’re new to the genre, just recognize that you’ll do a lot less “playing” here than in other video games and a lot more reading.
Xblaze is targeted at a very specific gamer – one who not only enjoys Arc’s own Blazblue series, but also Japanese games in general, as well as shonen manga and action heavy anime. If that sounds like you then the gorgeous art, catchy soundtrack and layered story should be right up your alley. It’s not without some notable flaws, but there’s certainly a lot to enjoy here.