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XBlaze Code: Embryo Review—BLOOD CAIN!

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Xblaze Code: Embryo is a visual novel set in the BlazBlue universe but occurs roughly 150 years before the story and events in those games. As such, it’s a definite departure from many of BlazBlue’s standard story settings.

Taking place in what is essentially current-day Japan, before the “Black Beast” has destroyed everything—without the miasma being as thick as it is in BlazBlue, cities still exist as we think of them—the story focuses on Touya Kagari, a supposed simple high school student. Of course, being the main character, he is anything but ordinary. His history, which is divulged throughout the story, is at first revealed to the player in simple terms. His mother worked for the Wadatsumi research laboratories. 10 years prior to the beginning of this story, the labs had some sort of fallout, resulting in the disappearance of thousands of people overnight, and no one has any idea why. Touya was the only survivor.

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This has left Touya in the care of two girls he met in the orphanage in which they grew up: Hinata, a girl Touya’s age, and her sister Yuki, who is older and provides for their small family. This is the backdrop to the story that unfolds.

I don’t want to talk about the story much for one simple reason—it is the only purpose of this game. Xblaze is the purest form of a visual novel, in that it requires literally zero input from the player. If you set the game up on auto, it will actually play from start to finish without you interacting with it at all. And that, unfortunately, means there aren’t even choice points.

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Instead, choice points (if you can call them that) come in the form of Toi articles. In the game, Toi is a news program on smartphones that automatically aggregates news articles that are deemed to be of interest to you based on what you’ve read so far. Throughout the game’s progression, more and more Toi articles are presented to you, and you have the option to go through and read all, any, or none of them. Which articles you read dictates which ending you get.

This streamlines the majority of the game because the paths don’t weave around one another; instead, they split off at certain points. This is similar to Fate/Stay Night, for example, which has three distinctly different routes through its story.

This ends up feeling rather unintuitive and kind of strange. The first time through the game, you’re given zero direction on what to read. You’re only told that what you read can affect the outcome of the story. This means that you’ll likely end up with either Hinata’s ending or the ‘bad’ ending, which comes from reading all the articles.

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Your second time through is when you’ll start to get some direction. Each of the Toi articles will display a character’s face next to them, showing which other character has read that article. This basically results in you picking the articles with the face of the character’s route you want to see. You want Kuon’s ending? Then only read articles with her face on them.

While I do think that interacting with something vaguely outside of the story to change the story is a neat idea, it has been implemented poorly here. Because the choices are so cut and dry, there isn’t any real choice here. You simply pick the girl you like. Interacting with a computer at the end of the day or something could be a neat way to deal with branching paths, but making the decisions a little more intriguing would be nice.

In any case, in addition to the game itself, there is a gallery where you can view CGs and rewatch scenes you’ve already been through. There is also a Toi Article checklist to keep you on track, by informing you what you’ve seen/read, and a large selection of the BGMs and other goodies that you collect through playing.

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Of course, Xblaze carries many of the traditional options of any visual novel. With so many routes, I was incredibly thankful that this game allowed the ‘Skip Read’ function, which skips any text you’ve read, leaving you only with new text as you go through new routes. You can also, of course, skip everything. When I played through, I also made use of the Auto-read function.

That brings me to the best part of this game. Despite my issues with the lack of choice in the game, Xblaze comes off as an incredibly high quality visual novel. The game’s animation, art, soundtrack, everything, testifies to the time and effort put into the art and animation of the game.

As I said, I played through on Auto-read, with the Japanese audio. The game progressed rapidly, and the VAs were top notch, I thought, the acting well done, although there were some hiccups here and there.

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However, playing through it that way, what caught my attention most were the translations. Some were just so far removed from what the character had said that I was almost taken aback. Of course, direct translation is usually colorless and no fun, so adding colorful language is always appreciated, but when you have a character calling another character names or insulting them when they didn’t do anything of the sort in the original, it’s a little off-putting. The biggest of those crimes was against Mei. Many characters call her out on being a bitch, when they never actually say that. Still, the translation, although not always accurate, was well-written and enjoyable.

Despite all of the complaining I did in this review, I didn’t hate the game. Xblaze is presented well and it’s hard to not appreciate all of the work that went into it. However, if you’re looking for a visual novel that really reacts to your input, this isn’t it.

However, if you like the BlazBlue universe, I would absolutely recommend this visual novel. It’s great backstory to one of the most confusing storylines in videogame history. (Let’s be honest—BlazBlue makes very little sense.)

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The final word? Xblaze is literally a visual novel. There is no real ‘game’ here, it’s just a trip through a narrative. If you’re interested in the story, you’ll enjoy your time with Xblaze Code: Embryo. If the story doesn’t capture your attention, you’ll get bored. Fast.

XBlaze Code: Embryo was reviewed using a code provided by Aksys Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamers review/ethics policy here.

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Chris Gregoria

About

I'm a pretty chill guy. Huge video game fan, but a bigger anime fan. I also love to write - obviously.



8 comments
  1. Silvachief
    Silvachief
    October 22, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    I enjoyed most of the review, though I don’t think that calling a visual novel out on not having much player input isn’t useful critique, since player input isn’t exactly something visual novels focus on as an entire medium (I noticed the same issue in your Planetarian review). Certainly, visual novels with unique and interesting choice mechanics (few and far between) deserve praise, but when the choices are more of a way to split the story apart rather than attempts to have the player take action I don’t think they can be considered a major reviewable aspect. Visual novels don’t pretend or even aim to be games so it doesn’t make sense to use the same standards. That’s just my two cents though; i’m not sure how others feel about that.

    On another note, having not played any of the Blazblue games, is this a visual novel I would enjoy? Are there tons and tons of references that only fans of the series will get or is it a worthwhile story that newcomers will be able to keep up with?

  2. Chris Gregoria
    Chris Gregoria
    October 22, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    There are certainly a lot of side references that fans of the series will understand, that people who haven’t played them will miss. However, they really are nothing more than references – there isn’t anything that is particularly important you must know, you’ll just miss a bunch of what are essentially in-jokes.

    If you like visual novels, give it a shot. It’s certainly worth a few playthroughs if you like them. The quality of art, music, and animation were amazing, and blow many famous VNs out of the water. Thankfully, the story here is a prequel, so you’ll be able to understand everything.

    As for the player input bit – you’re right. I tend to mention it in the reviews so people going into the game are aware, but I don’t really deduct points or anything from the game for it. That’s not how my reviews work. However, in this specific case the thing that bugged me was that there is a little bit of input, but how it works is never explained to the player – which means the first time through you are essentially forced into one specific ending not through necessity, but rather from lack of explanation to the player.

    The other issue here being that BlazBlue is a fighting game spin off to another action game, so people may expect fighting or what have you going into this specific game.

  3. nonscpo
    nonscpo
    October 22, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    I bought this launch week on impulse and damm were the production values in place; the 2D art looks gorgeus on the Vita Oled screen. Unfortunatelly I wasnt aware of the importance of the TOEI system and got the bad ending on my first try :(

  4. Red Lagoon
    Red Lagoon
    October 22, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    The art looks great, but that 7… hem… well will wait a little before deciding!

  5. Silvachief
    Silvachief
    October 23, 2014 at 12:00 am

    Those are fair points. A lot of other visual novels have pretty poor logic when it comes to choices and what effects those choices have, so I understand where you’re coming from there. Thanks for the clarification =)

  6. patyos
    patyos
    October 23, 2014 at 10:27 am

    Sounds like a great visual novel for ps3 think imma take a look at it .!

    also i noticed on vndb http://vndb.org/v13059
    The japanese version is rated 15+ and english 17 + even though they have the same thing

  7. nonscpo
    nonscpo
    October 24, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    Different cultural standards in the west compared to eastern gamers.

  8. landlock
    landlock
    October 25, 2014 at 4:42 am

    Is “Very little player input” a thing when it comes to visual novels though. I haven’t played many but that seems to be pretty much the norm. It’s mostly about sharing the story with extra visuals.