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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.